Emmerdale reveals special episode for laurel baby tragedy
Emmerdale will air a special episode featuring only five characters as part of Laurel Thomas (Charlotte Bellamy) and Jai Sharma’s (Chris Bisson) emotive storyline which sees them reach the incredibly difficult decision to end their pregnancy.
Laurel, who is already unsure of the pregnancy due to her own battles with alcohol and Jai’s battle with drug abuse, is also concerned about their respective ages and the fact they have four other children in a busy household. She previously underwent the trauma of losing a baby in devastating scenes years ago with husband Ashley.
The couple learn that their baby has Down’s Syndrome and the episode will focus on many angles of the contentious issue, with Laurel and Jai agonising and discussing the different aspects of their eventual decision while across the village, Rhona Goskirk (Zoe Henry) and Marlon Dingle (Mark Charnock) watch their son Leo at play.
Ten years ago, Rhona learned that there was a risk of her baby being born with Down’s Syndrome and she even contemplated a termination but she and Marlon went on to welcome Leo to the world. In the episode, they will discuss how much Leo means to them, what joy he brings to their lives and their difficulty in understanding Laurel’s decision.
Rhona will have previously discovered in a conversation with Laurel that she is considering a termination and is left aghast and struggling to comprehend.
Emmerdale has worked with a number of families and charities and continues to do so as the storyline continues and there is no question over the fact that viewers will be divided.
One charity, ARC, admitted to initially having reservations about the storyline.
The director, Jane Fisher told Metro.co.uk: ‘Soaps in general tend to be keen on high drama, so I was a bit nervous about how it would be presented. But once I saw the script, all those anxieties went out the window, because it was clear from early stages that such a lot of thought and care had been put into getting this right. So our job as advisers was fairly straightforward.
‘I think it’s really important that people can speak about this, not that they must, because for many people this is a very painful and private experience. And that’s fine, they may not want to talk about it openly. But thy need to know that they can, and at the moment many people feel reticent to talk about what’s happened to them because they fear judgement.
‘There are going to be people, however well this is portrayed, who are always going to have strong views. But I think the majority of people watching the episodes as written will have an insight into the reality, the complexity.’
Clarifying the role that ARC takes when approached by people with fears and questions around a pregnancy with a prenatal diagnosis, she added: ‘I can absolutely confirm that ARC does not encourage people to terminate their pregnancy after a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome or any other prenatal diagnosis.
‘ARC provides information and support to women and couples all through antenatal screening and diagnosis. Our aim is to support couples in making decisions in their pregnancy that are the best they can be in their individual circumstances.
‘If they come to us after a prenatal diagnosis, we listen to and take the lead from them and help them gather information and support to proceed in the way they can best live with.
‘We have a great deal of experience in providing bereavement support to those who make the difficult decision to end the pregnancy because we are the only organisation offering this specialised support (which is why Emmerdale contacted us when they had decided on the storyline).
‘We also support those who choose to continue after a diagnosis through their pregnancy, but signpost to other organisations better placed to give ongoing support after the baby is born e.g the Down’s Syndrome Association, SHINE for spina bifida and others.’
The storyline will be long running and will explore the aftermath and impact Laurel and Jai’s decision has on them and those around them.
Producer Laura Shaw shared with us: ‘We’re confident that what we’ve produced has been done in a really balanced and sensitive way,” she said. “We haven’t gone into this blindly, we’ve spoken to as many people as we possibly can. We’ve got the research, this is based on real life, and I think people will see that.
‘You’re going to feel uncomfortable at times watching it, but I hope that people will then, as they watch it, understand why we’ve done it.
‘I’m sure we’ll get some mixed reactions, I’m well aware that it’s a hugely emotive subject. But I do honestly think that once everyone has watched the episodes play out, they’re going to feel huge sympathy for what an impossible and difficult choice these couples face, and an understanding.
‘And what you’ll see through Jai and Laurel’s story is how that decision goes on to affect their lives for years to come.’
Emmerdale has received a range of responses to the storyline from people of all stances, having both received complaints about selecting the storyline but also received communication from women grateful that the story is being brought to light.
For between 700 and 1,000 babies born, one will have Down’s syndrome, meaning they have an extra chromosome and a learning disability
About 40,000 people in the UK have the condition and it is thought that 90% of prenatal diagnoses of Down’s Syndrome lead to a decision of termination.
The Down’s Syndrome Association told Metro.co.uk: ‘The DSA can provide balanced and up-to-date information about Down’s syndrome for anyone in Laurel and Jai’s position.
‘We would encourage anyone in this situation to contact our confidential helpline to talk with our trained staff for non-directive information and support.’
The episode will air towards the end of the month but the storyline is expected to carry through into the next year.
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