Thursday 9pm – 10pm, BBC2
An astonishing and sad statistic presented by the NHS reveals that 80% of parents who are presented with the fact their baby has spina bifida during the 20 week scan choose to terminate that pregnancy. Spina bifida, believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, is a birth defect that occurs at 4 weeks after fertilisation when there is an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord. The defect leads to difficulty with bladder and bowel control, reduced walking mobility, tethered spinal cord, hydrocephalus and even a latex allergy. 1 in 1000 births in the UK features a form of spina bifida and a surprising number of cases occur when a mother fails to follow simple folic acid care instructions from medical professionals.
The impact of spina bifida is expertly explained and explored by actress Ruth Madeley (Don’t Take my Baby, Cold Feet) in this documentary, she was indeed born with the birth defect 30 years ago. Ruth started her media career off by studying to be a screenwriter and it was a case of perfect timing that led her to acting. A volunteering job with the charity that gave her her first wheelchair aged 5 sought a wheelchair user actor for an audition, Ruth went along for the audition to help her with her studies – she ended up getting the part instantly.
In this documentary Ruth explores a variety of factors about the condition, openly admitting she does not fully understand it, despite having it. Seeking out the root causes of the defect she looks for answers as to why she has it and in a very moving interview with her own mother learns what her own diagnosis meant to her. With an understanding of the defect she seeks out to understand if it could have been prevented and what the future will hold for her.
Travelling to Belgium she learns of innovative and fascinating surgery where babies diagnosed with spina bifida have their spines repaired in the womb; surgeons cut open the mother, then the uterus and then the baby, we are then fortunate enough to see how that surgery turned out when the baby was born.
Ruth also meets a Lord who believes that thousands of birth defects could be avoided by changes in the law.
A humbling yet fascinating insight into this little know condition.
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