Childbirth and a mother’s right to choose

I wanted to write a post about childbirth. Not the easiest or most popular of topics, I realise and a bit different from my usual diet of photography, camera and lens reviews. Yesterday an article was published in The Observer, a Sunday newspaper in the UK.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/16/mothers-fighting-against-birth-intervention

It was all about the way birth is dealt with by modern medicine and it would have been heart-breaking to read the case studies even if my partner hadn’t been interviewed for it.

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As those who have read this blog over time may know, my partner had a traumatic birth of our son and the hospital we trusted really let us down. My partner was subject to the classical “cascade of interventions”.

For those who don’t know this is the scenario in which medical staff, through their interventions (including but not limited to breaking her waters and an augmentation of labour we hadn’t consented to) to “encourage” birth in a fixed timescale which suited them and the hospital actually end up having a counter-productive effect ending up slowly but surely in an emergency c-section in our case, or an instrumental delivery. Indeed, my partner wasn’t upset about the c-section (that can happen to anyone) as compared to the interventions that happened before that. My partner was abused, ignored, subject to unnecessary procedures and interventions and botched epidurals. Except for the c-section, her consent was not sought. Both of us were simply told what we should be doing or what would be done to her.

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When I did query what was going on (having unfortunately gone along with some the bonkers instructions because it tallied slightly with what I had read – don’t try and get a woman who has been in labour all night, is exhausted and wants to sleep to walk down a corridor lads, it sounds stupid and it is stupid) I was asked to move to the end of the room (the implication being I would be asked to leave if I asked any more questions). Largely this was by or at the initiation of the midwives involved. I remember being prepared to shout had the obstetrician been listening to the midwife who suggested some kind of instrumental delivery.

After my son’s birth a midwife told me to leave within 15 minutes otherwise I would be removed by security (this was because it was outside of visiting hours). When my partner asked for help as she was still unable to move she was told she “was lucky to have had a baby”. Only one of the midwives we saw actually seemed like she was acting in my partner’s and my newborn son’s interests. Interestingly, we found out she had later left the employment of the NHS.

The maternity department of the hospital concerned is threatened with closure and, I’ll be honest, it isn’t fit for purpose and I would be happy enough if it was closed down. Yesterday I posted on the newspaper website stating the extremely strong and negative feelings I have about the hospital – I certainly wish it wasn’t there any more (I ended up stating that in an emotional way, a prat complained and it was removed) but it’s worth noting that the hospital concerned is at the end of our road. For both my partner and me it sits there, like a shadow, never changing and always bringing back bad memories.

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The hospital acknowledged our experience was substandard following our complaint. They told us they could understand it if, given our experience, we would choose to never go there ever again.

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After our son’s birth, we realised that our (horrendous) experience was not an outlier. That led us to realise that something was broken about maternity care, certainly as we and others we knew had experienced it. My partner has become involved in a charity (Birthrights) which is launching in the new year, promoting and protecting human rights in childbirth, or as I describe it, fighting for mothers to be listened to, whatever they want. I support that 100%.

All too often people trying to belittle such things try to paint them as homebirth vs hospital birth. Not so. Whether a woman opts for a hospital birth or not, her views and wishes should be respected and her consent should be sought for interventions. Parents should be able to trust the staff caring for the mother rather than wondering who might be for them and their baby (and who against them).

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This video, a shortened version of the Freedom for Birth film created earlier in the year, explains things better than I possibly could here:

Taken with my M9 and 90mm summicron lens and GH3 and 25mm PL lens.

4 thoughts

  1. Thanks for writing this. Many women opt for home birth because they feel they can be in control at home but it is just as important to feel in control in hospital – important for the progress of labour. Ironically the Birthplace Study (National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit) found that labour takes nearly twice as long in obstetric units than it does in midwife-led units or at home. All that disempowerment backed up with threats of ‘You don’t want your baby to die do you?’ makes intervention more and more necessary.

    • Margaret, I completely agree with your comment (perhaps not surprising given that I’m the mother in the photos above!).

      I also just wanted to say that reading your piece on “Bystanding Behaviour in Midwifery” (http://www.midwifery.org.uk/?p=239) was one thing that was hugely helpful to me in starting to make sense of what had happened to us and put it in its wider context.

  2. Excellent post! I had a very similar expeience to your wife, and it left me and my partner very traumatised. I actually started with a homebirth though – midwives still do procedures without consent at home, it isn’t limited to hospitals!

    My experience was so awful, I trained as a doula to try to provide women and partners with the emotional support that I needed and didn’t get in labour. And seeing bad midwifery practices when you aren’t in labour yourself is even scarier. There are some fantastic medical professionals working around birth. But there are some dreadful ones, who really ruin lives too.

    And huge thanks for the Birthrights link – I will be having a homebirth, but if I have to transfer in I will be refusing care at the hospital that gave me both an epidural without consent and opiates against my stated will (I’m allergic). But I’ve been told that if I transfer in then an ambulance will take me to the nearest hospital – which IS that one, no choice.

  3. I am Australian and my wife and I had two births via the private system in Australia which went well. There were complications but we were received clear consent to any interventions and respectful care. I have female medical friends who had children whilst in the uk when they worked there and they describe very similar experiences to you. Being doctors they were shocked as they knew things should be a lot better. It was the disrespectful authoritarian attitude of the nurses but also some doctors that they found shocking.

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