Myleene Klass has had a remarkable career. She is a classically trained musician, TV & radio presenter, businesswoman, and designer. In 2023 however, she changed history. Following four of her own ‘tortuous’ miscarriages, Myleene joined forces with MP Olivia Blake and spent over four years campaigning for changes to the Women’s Health Strategy in UK Parliament. It was in July of 2023 when the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care announced a package of new measures which included a pilot scheme providing much-needed medical intervention and support for women after every miscarriage. The changes Myleene successfully campaigned for mean that women in the UK will no longer have to wait until they’ve had three miscarriages to receive the medical help, mental health support and pre-conception advice they need after such a major health event.
As Ministers noted, “...Pregnancy, for most people, is meant to be one of the most wonderful times in their lives. While most pregnancies have a happy outcome, for some families their dreams and hopes of new beginnings are cruelly cut short. Pregnancy loss before 24 weeks’ gestation is a common outcome, but too often it is not spoken about. Every year in the UK, an estimated 250,000 pregnancies end through miscarriage, making it the most common complication of pregnancy experienced by an estimated 1 in 5 women. There are also around 11,000 hospital admissions each year for losses due to ectopic pregnancies, 19,000 admissions for molar pregnancies and, in 2021, around 3,300 women made the difficult decision to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy for medical reasons…”
The taboos which sadly remain around pregnancy loss (of which there are over 23 million annually, worldwide) and the impact such health events have on women’s physical and mental health showcase that whilst we have come some distance, we still have a long road ahead of us to achieve equity of consideration for women’s health.
In this interview I speak to Myleene Klass, businesswoman, musician and campaigner. We talk about her extraordinary campaign to change the laws surrounding pregnancy loss, her own journey experiencing the injustices women face around health, and how campaigning can create real change.
Q: Why is there such inadequate coverage of women’s health & pregnancy loss?
[Myleene Klass]: Unfortunately, we’ve become so adept at concealing our problems that we often brush aside reproductive and women’s health issues. It’s as though discussing them is taboo, which is vastly different from how my grandmother’s generation handled things. They faced challenges head-on without much fuss. Now, it feels like showing strength means not voicing any discomfort or pain. Over time, we’ve internalized this notion so deeply that many of us fear speaking out, as if by doing so, we’re the ones creating the issue. We’ve become too familiar with this restrictive script. However, there comes a point when silence is no longer an option, nor should it be. This feels like the last remaining taboo. Professionals from both the medical and public sectors have voiced their concerns, wondering why it took so long to address this. It’s not just an issue for the public sector; even doctors sometimes don’t receive the support they need, especially when they’re affected by miscarriage policies.
Q: Did you feel a sense of taboo when you went through your own pregnancy loss?
[Myleene Klass]: When I first began, the word ‘miscarriage’ was so heavy on my tongue that I couldn’t utter it. I remember starting to film a documentary about miscarriage, and as the cameras rolled, I hesitated, feeling unable to speak on it. The sense of shame was so overwhelming. There’s this societal expectation that women’s bodies are designed for childbearing – we grow up with this constant dialogue about pregnancy, about nurturing. Yet, there’s a deafening silence around what to do when things don’t go as planned. My own daughters are learning about reproductive health in school, but there’s still no discourse on the possibility of things going awry.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t hand someone car keys without briefing them about potential car troubles, right? You’d inform them about the toolkit, the oil, or how to change a tire. You wouldn’t want someone driving aimlessly without any knowledge. Yet, with women, it feels like we’re just careening through our reproductive experiences, unguided. We have women experiencing miscarriages in A&E, waiting alongside patients with diverse emergencies. In such critical moments, timely intervention with progesterone could potentially save thousands of babies annually. But because of how the system operates, many chances are lost.
Furthermore, the availability of Early Pregnancy Units (EPUs) – which are de-facto an emergy service – has been erratic due to a postcode lottery. They aren’t always open, disregarding the fact that miscarriages don’t just conveniently occur between 9 to 5 or on weekdays. Adding to the distress, many clinics and general practitioners dismiss miscarriages as ‘one of those things,’ suggesting follow-ups days later when it might already be too late.
Q: When did you get the spark to really campaign to change the law?
[Myleene Klass]: Upon experiencing my first miscarriage, I was incredulously told I’d need to endure three consecutive miscarriages before further action would be taken. The idea itself was staggering to me. At that moment, advocating for change wasn’t on my mind; I was merely grappling with the sheer absurdity of the situation. You wouldn’t ask someone to undergo multiple heart attacks or even endure recurrent minor injuries like broken fingers before intervening. Yet, the system requires women to face the trauma of three successive miscarriages. To clarify, even if a woman has a baby after two miscarriages and subsequently faces another, the count starts over if they’re not consecutive. This policy is an absolute miscarriage of justice.
The trauma women face under this protocol is intense, and the fact that there hasn’t been a significant platform or voice challenging this is distressing. After the birth of my rainbow baby, I felt empowered to take action. I’m not sure if I would’ve found the courage without experiencing the joy of having my child after my struggles. My journey involved enduring four miscarriages and then diving deep into the political realm—a world previously foreign to me. I’m a broadcaster, a musician, and a mother, not a politician. However, navigating these political waters made me realize that many of our so-called politicians tend to merely pay lip service, appeasing different groups without genuinely committing to concrete decisions or solutions.
Q: How did you create change, how did you campaign to change the law?
[Myleene Klass]: Though I’m not a politician or involved in politics, I found myself deeply entrenched in the political world because, as I’ve come to realize, decisions about our bodies aren’t made in clinics or doctor’s offices. They’re made in Westminster. And when you step into those corridors of power, it’s astonishing to witness the detachment many decision-makers have from real-life issues. I recall one interaction where, when discussing Filipino culture, the closest reference point a parliamentarian had was his Filipino nanny. It was disheartening to see such limited perspectives from those addressing women’s health and daily challenges.
Luckily, I teamed up with Olivia Blake MP, a remarkable and brave woman who willingly made herself vulnerable to advocate for change. Our collaboration might have seemed unexpected to some: her political and scientific background paired with my experiences as a broadcaster, musician, and mother, all driven by a shared commitment to making a difference. Being a musician has taught me to examine the facts before me and adapt accordingly. And so, challenging MPs was something I was ready for. I’ve had MPs tell me there was nothing they could do. After four years of persistence, while I managed to influence the pregnancy loss review, the women’s health strategy fell short. Surprisingly, miscarriage wasn’t included in the women’s health strategy. When I questioned its exclusion from a plan that was supposed to span a decade, I was told it simply wasn’t relevant or crucial enough. It’s mind-boggling, especially considering the secretary I was liaising with was a woman who had personally experienced this. It’s indicative of how deeply ingrained the passive acceptance of these issues is; it’s been the norm for so long that questioning it seems anomalous.
Q: What are the wider cultural factors we need to consider as part of the campaign for a better understanding of pregnancy loss?
[Myleene Klass]: It often feels like there’s an expectation for women to silently bear their burdens, as if we’re accustomed to a culture of ‘endure and stay silent’. Discussing these issues can make people uneasy, so many opt not to address them. But I’ve had enlightening cross-party conversations, proving that, when it comes to real-life struggles, political affiliations don’t really matter. At Westminster, men who had experienced stillbirths and women who had gone through miscarriages joined the dialogue. The beauty of these discussions was that they transcended political boundaries. Yet, once we tried to implement real change beyond those walls, the urgency of addressing miscarriage in women’s health was consistently downplayed, almost as if it’s just another thing women have historically ‘dealt with’.
Considering miscarriages occur in 1 in 4 pregnancies, it’s astonishing how common yet underdiscussed it is. Almost every woman has either experienced it or knows someone who has. The aftermath isn’t minor either; the PTSD levels in women nine months post-miscarriage match those of soldiers returning from combat zones like Afghanistan. Coupled with elevated suicide rates and the broader impact on families, it’s a glaring issue.
And we’ve barely scratched the surface regarding the role of paternal factors in reproduction. It’s not solely about women. Men’s age, lifestyle choices, and even seemingly trivial activities—like excessive cycling, being overly unfit, driving long hours, taking overly hot baths, or heavy drinking—can influence reproductive outcomes. The paternal role in this narrative is significant and requires attention too.
It seems like there’s a reluctance to challenge notions of virility, particularly in places like Westminster where perceptions matter a lot. The topic of lost pregnancies is undeniably uncomfortable, but that’s precisely why it’s crucial to engage in these conversations. Especially when it happens during a pivotal period in a woman’s life, the experience can feel isolating if she’s not actively trying for a child. We need to start educating at the school level. Beyond teaching just about reproductive health and conception in PHSE (personal health, social & economic) lessons, we should also address what to do when things don’t go as expected. After successfully giving birth to two children, I was still at a loss about where to turn during my first miscarriage. There’s a real lack of guidance.
That’s why the law we’ve changed is so monumental and necessary. Affected individuals can now access a structured care model without having to endure multiple miscarriages before receiving aid. With this change, women can now approach early pregnancy units instead of rushing to A&E or can seek progesterone from their GPs to potentially save their baby. This could result in up to 8,500 babies being saved annually. Now, there’s a clearer path for both the affected individuals and their healthcare providers. But up until now, that clarity and education have been sorely lacking. Even medical professionals were unsure about the right course of action or prescriptions.
Q: What would the perfect level of care look like?
[Myleene Klass]: Experiencing the loss of a child is the most heart-wrenching and isolating feeling for both parents. In such a harrowing situation, the least one would expect is appropriate help and support. But what does ‘appropriate’ mean? It certainly doesn’t mean enduring two more devastating losses before receiving intervention. And this arbitrary number, ‘three’, holds no genuine significance. I’ve had discussions with Professor Arri, the lead at Tommy’s, whose outstanding work has introduced a graded care model that the government aims to implement by December. The ‘three consecutive miscarriages’ rule before offering any assistance lacks any medical or logical backing. Why should there be a need to wait for three? In the US, it’s just two. This number seems to have been chosen without any real basis.
The ideal approach should be: after a miscarriage, let’s conduct tests, consult with the partner, explore options, and establish a tailored care plan. Experiencing a miscarriage isn’t like the dramatized scenes in movies where everything is staged and timed. In reality, they can occur anytime, anywhere. I’ve had it happen to me live on air. Women face this while shopping, on school runs, and during other routine activities. And this unpredictable nature is what catches many off guard. As a mother, I desire to equip my children with the knowledge to navigate such situations, be it for my daughters or my son. Men often feel sidelined in this discourse.
It was only when I worked on my miscarriage documentary that I learned of my aunt’s experience and the reason my cousin is an only child. This silent suffering speaks volumes about the societal taboos that surround us, building invisible barriers. The ideal scenario should guarantee women the healthcare and support they deserve. When discussing this with politicians, one remarked that the appropriate intervention might be too costly for the NHS. But when I countered, asking about the current cost, he was clueless. For the record, it’s £431 million, largely because women are being directed to the wrong facilities—A&Es and GPs—instead of specialized EPUs.
Q: What more do we need to do to improve care?
[Myleene Klass]: We’ve made significant strides—we’ve actually changed the law. Before, a woman’s uncertainty after a miscarriage was amplified by the notion that she had to wait for two more before receiving aid. Now, I hear from medical professionals who express gratitude for being able to direct their patients immediately to relevant tests and facilities based on the new graded model of care. While the transformation is gradual, the momentum is undeniable.
Nevertheless, there’s a vast landscape of improvements ahead. For instance, Norway has implemented an essential data collection service, something we should emulate. Curiously, I can access data about a child breaking their arm at age seven, but not about a baby’s loss unless it’s been proactively registered. This kind of information is indispensable. Future generations, including my children, will need to know their family’s medical history. When doctors ask about familial health issues, they should have comprehensive data at their fingertips. And while I did advocate for this within the women’s health strategy and the pregnancy loss review, and it was acknowledged, the battle is far from over. Together with Olivia Blake and the team at Tommy’s, our next mission is clear: data collection. We meticulously record countless other aspects of life, so why not data on our lost little ones?
…the perspectives I’ve encountered are both enlightening and baffling. An MP, a woman, once told me that they hesitated to collect data because an initial spike might reflect poorly, as if they were failing in some way. I countered, ‘Surely, people can grasp the concept of data. The absence of prior data leading to an immediate rise in reported numbers doesn’t imply an actual surge in miscarriages, just that we’re finally documenting them.’ The defences and justifications I’m presented with are mind-boggling. We’re being bound by these outmoded, chauvinistic, and outdated standards. Such mindsets have no place in 2023.
[Vikas: this also therefore highlights the importance of what may be considered uncomfortable conversations?]
[Myleene Klass]: Witnessing your deceased child in a toilet is a heart-wrenching experience no woman will ever truly move past. And the harrowing process that follows, like undergoing a D&C, then being handed a pen and paper to decide the fate of your baby’s remains—it’s unimaginable. But we’re making progress. We’ve changed some of the language and procedures surrounding this ordeal. We’ve introduced compassionate ambulances, so mothers don’t find themselves in the unbearable position of placing their baby next to tomorrow’s lunch in the fridge, ensuring both mother and child are treated with the dignity they deserve. These stories are horrifying, almost surreal, but they’re a reality for 1 in 4 pregnancies. We cannot stay silent. Someone has to stand up for these mothers and their babies, to amplify their voices. And despite the weight of the topic, I’m here. After enduring 4 miscarriages myself, I feel compelled to advocate for those little souls who didn’t get the chance to speak. Perhaps this advocacy can be their lasting legacy.
Q: This also perhaps means we need to have uncomfortable conversations about how pregnancy loss is spoken of in different cultural contexts?
[Myleene Klass]: When it comes to culture, there are layers of complexity. In South East Asian and Asian communities, the dialogue is often missing. But let’s not forget the black community; they face even higher rates of miscarriages. Yet, without proper data, we’re left in the dark about the reasons behind this. We have so much ground to cover culturally. I’ve spoken to women who’ve faced blame from family members, mothers, or mothers-in-law, questioning them with accusations like ‘What did you do? It’s your fault!’ These women have to defend themselves, clarifying that it wasn’t some trivial act, like climbing a box or eating a specific food, that caused the miscarriage. It could be a chromosomal issue, or even an issue with the partner—though society hesitates to acknowledge that. We need open conversations about these issues. The narrative around women’s health is steeped in negativity: ‘failed pregnancy’, ‘incompetent cervix’. When will this change?
[Vikas: if in our conversation I’ve got any of that language wrong I do apologise because I’m still learning along the way as well]
[Myleene Klass]: Look, we’re all on a journey of understanding. Before I went through this, I’m certain I said things, unknowingly, that might have hurt someone. But it’s a process of learning and evolving. You can’t undo the past, but you can educate yourself moving forward. The pain of a miscarriage is profound; you can’t just explain it away with comments like ‘it was only cells’ or ‘it was nature’s way.’ Sometimes, less is more. If you’re at a loss for words, a simple ‘I’m sorry’ can mean the world. Maybe bring them a meal, offer a comforting presence, and then give them the space they need.
Q: What can we do as leaders, as donors?
[Myleene Klass]: It’s more widespread than many realize. Even in the corporate world, miscarriages touch lives deeply. I recall a conversation with a CEO who intimately understood my pain because they too had experienced it within their family. This isn’t exclusive to one profession or another – it’s universal. However, the workplace often struggles with how to address it. Where does a miscarriage fit? Is it bereavement leave? health leave? Is it time off for a funeral? The language and protocols surrounding miscarriage in the workplace are still undefined. From a practical standpoint, the impact on the workforce is significant. Addressing this not only supports those affected directly but also creates a more compassionate and efficient work environment. It’s in everyone’s best interest to foster a workplace that genuinely understands and cares for its employees.