Doncaster mum with Down's Syndrome daughter blasts Emmerdale over baby termination storyline

A Doncaster mum whose daughter was born with Down’s Syndrome has blasted TV soap Emmerdale over an upcoming storyline in which a couple choose to terminate a baby with the condition.

By Darren Burke
Friday, 6th November 2020, 12:44 pm

Melissa Lockwood has urged the writers, producers and directors of the ITV soap to reconsider the forthcoming plot where characters Laurel and Jai make the decision to terminate their baby after discovering it has Down’s.

The angry mum of three, whose youngest daughter Francesca, six, was born with DS, says the story is sending out negative messages about children and adults with Down’s Syndrome.

In an open letter to bosses of the Yorkshire soap, she wrote: “I understand that soaps aim to address real life issues and tackle difficult situations, however I feel this storyline will only negatively impact the lives of those with Down syndrome rather than highlight any positives.

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Melissa Lockwood's daughter Francesca was born with Down's Syndrome and she says a storyline in Emmerdale where Laurel and Jai choose to terminate a baby is sending out the wrong signals. (Photo: ITV).

"Imagine the impact on viewers, those who are parents or family members of children with Down’s Syndrome and those with DS themselves.

"Seeing a much loved character happy and excited at the prospect of a new baby, only then to see them devastated that the baby has Down’s Syndrome. The emotional impact on those viewers couldn't be anything other than heartbreaking.

“As a parent of a child with Down’s Syndrome I want people to see how amazing she is and what a positive impact she has, not only on our lives but on the lives of all who she meets.

"She attends a mainstream school, goes to Rainbows and dance classes. She's a signed model having represented companies such as Mothercare, Tomato Glasses, Primark and even web giants Google. Her life has value and as a person she brings such joy wherever she goes.”

Yesterday, spoilers for the show announced that the show’s Laurel Thomas (Charlotte Bellamy) and Jai Sharma (Chris Bisson) will make the heartbreaking decision to terminate their pregnancy after learning their unborn child has Down's Syndrome.

After a prenatal diagnosis, it is said the couple then make the heartbreaking decision to terminate the baby.

According to statistics, annually around 40,000 women are told that there is a possibility their unborn child will not develop as expected.

And while many are reassured and will go ahead with the pregnancy, around 5,000 women every year make the heartbreaking decision to end the pregnancy after learning of the baby's genetic or physical condition.

On the poignant storyline, Emmerdale said: 'The Emmerdale story team felt it was a story that needed to be told. With the support and guidance of Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) we endeavour to ensure this story will be sensitively told whilst reflecting the reality many couples face.'

Meanwhile actress Charlotte Bellamy, who plays Laurel, said of the storyline: 'Terminating a pregnancy is an emotive subject, but I think as a programme what Emmerdale does brilliantly is portray difficult stories that are important to tell.

'The statistics tell us that a majority of people faced with similar news resulting from a diagnostic test, do take this decision. So I hope Laurel and Jai's story will take the audience on the journey of them coming to this conclusion and having some understanding why they do.'

Series producer Laura Shaw commented: 'Right from the moment the idea was first mooted for this storyline, we knew it was one that if we went ahead with, it had to be fully researched, which involved us speaking to medical professionals, charities and parents with lived experience.

'Listening to women and men telling us their stories, hearing what brought them to make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancies, cemented for us that this was a topic rarely shown on soap, but a really important one to highlight.'

She went on: 'Translating what we had learnt into Emmerdale scripts led to what was arguably the most challenging and difficult writing our writing team had ever been tasked with.

'What we have produced and Charlotte and Chris have both brilliantly brought to life, is some of the most heartbreaking and emotional episodes of Emmerdale viewers will have ever seen.'

Jane Fisher, Director of Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) said of the plot: 'We have over 30 years’ experience of supporting women and their partners through the painful circumstances of ending a wanted pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis.

'Thousands of parents go through this every year, but it is rarely spoken about. This can lead to bereaved parents feeling very isolated in their grief. We are really pleased that such a popular drama as Emmerdale is tackling this story in such an empathetic and thoughtful way.

'I have been particularly impressed by how they have valued input from us to help make sure it is as true as possible to the complex reality for couples. It won’t make for easy viewing but will do much to break the silence around this sensitive topic.'

However, Melissa, who lives in Wath with her husband Alan and children, has urged bosses to rewrite the episodes.

She said: “If only mainstream media showed more of the positives, the view of the general public would be far less negative and those faced with agonising decisions wouldn't feel so daunted.

"I’d like the producers of Emmerdale to take a different stance. This storyline will have a massive impact on people.

“We need to change the narrative so that people see that having a child with Down’s Syndrome is not a bad thing. They need to show the positives rather than the negatives.”