Hollyoaks‘ Mandy Morgan (Sarah Jayne Dunn) is reeling from the confirmation her unborn son has spina bifida, but that’s not all – there is now a question mark over the paternity of the baby which could turn out to be jailed ex-husband Luke Morgan’s (Gary Lucy) rather than current partner Darren Osborne (Ashley Taylor Dawson).
E4’s Monday 17 December episode showed the heartbreaking moment Mandy and Darren were told at a scan their baby had developed spina bifida in the womb, a condition caused by a defect in the neural tube affecting the nervous system that can lead to possible symptoms including paralysis and brain damage.
As the couple digested the information, an emotional Mandy secretly visited incarcerated spouse Luke on her own in prison and ended the instalment telling him she thinks she is having his baby, not Darren’s…
“Luke comes into the equation because as the doctor is explaining everything, Mandy remembers he had a relative who had spina bifida,” Dunn tells RadioTimes.com. “It can be hereditary so she goes to talk to Luke about the possibility that this could be his baby.”
As the ‘who’s the daddy?’ aspect of the story kicks off, with Darren oblivious to the chance the little one might be someone else’s, so does the in-depth exploration of the subject of spina bifida and the medical options open to Mandy and Darren, which promises some thought-provoking dilemmas for the pair – and the audience. With both of them rejecting the idea of a termination, one of the next steps is a new form of pioneering surgery, as Dunn explains:
“It’s quite a new thing but there is an option now to have an operation once the baby is still in the womb, to close the gap in the neural tube. It obviously comes with risks, and the doctor points out it’s not a guarantee of no symptoms developing further down the line. There are pros and cons.”
“You can imagine the implications of having surgery on the spine while the child is in the womb,” picks up Dawson, “there are dangers to consider. Mandy is thinking about giving the baby the best life possible, whereas Darren is also worried about what could happen to Mandy. The surgery could be dangerous for her as well, anything could happen.
“It’s a massive pressure on their relationship, a big difference of opinion – plus they have a short window to decide whether to have the operation or not as you can’t do it beyond the 26th week of pregnancy, and Mandy is currently at 17 weeks.”
Adding to the pressure is Luke maybe being the father, which Dunn reveals will be its own ticking time bomb alongside the baby’s health. “There will have to be a DNA test once the baby is born so they won’t know for certain until then. Mandy wants to tell Darren the baby might not be his, but Luke is in prison so is that the right thing to do? Darren has already stepped up to be a dad to Luke’s son Ollie…”
The tough choices ahead form the basis of a special episode airing early in 2019 focusing on diversity and disability within the community, and both actors have immersed themselves in researching the difficult topic in preparation. “Ashley and I are both parents in real life,” shares Dunn, “and we’ve learnt a lot through reading up on spina bifida, which is more common than I realised. I’ve had storylines about Mandy and motherhood before but this is the first time where I’ve actually now got my own child and it’s easier to relate to how the character feels, and the decisions they’ve got to come to – and what it means moving forward for her and Darren as parents.”
“Their relationship was built on negativity and lies as it was an affair,” says Dawson. “Darren and Mandy have not cemented themselves as a very steady couple, and now this is thrown in. But in some ways the news about the baby brings them closer together, but they will deal with it in different ways.”
Visit our dedicatedHollyoaks page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.