Birthrights Dignity Forum

This week, my employer and manager (thanks Joe) gave me a day off to do some charity volunteering for the UK Charity, Birthrights. The story starts earlier in the year, when, after covering the Birthrights launch, the trustees asked me to cover this event, held at the Royal College of Physicians in London.

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Of course, at the time I immediately said yes. Perhaps foolishly I also offered to video the event. I’m extremely relieved that Jared Schiller, someone far more skilled with a video camera than me, was able to take over the video side of things. That let me offload my GH3, which was a good camera, but ultimately not for me – its killer capability was video, and that isn’t my talent. That meant I was free to get a Nikon 70-200mm F4 lens which was perfect for covering this kind of event. But, I digress!

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The Birthrights Dignity in Childbirth Forum (to give its full name) is part of Birthrights’ campaign to promote dignity for women in childbirth. At one of the most special, but also most vulnerable, times in their lives, some women have terrible experiences of “care”. There is also a theme here, broader than childbirth, that in some cases there seems to be a pernicious trend in UK healthcare (which one of the presentations focused on) for those who are the most vulnerable to receive the worst treatment.

Dr Patrick Cadigan, Registrar of Royal College of Physicians

The most recent public examples of this is the findings of the Francis report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, where healthcare and institutions were found to have “provided” “care” of the worst quality. The audience in this case was made up of a group including practicing midwives, doulas and other healthcare professionals.

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Unfortunately I cannot cover all of the speakers in this post, but I will do my best to give a flavour of the day. Following the introductions Professor Lesley Page, President of the Royal College of Midwives, spoke to forum about why dignity in childbirth matters.

Lesley Page, President of the Royal College of Midwives

Two actors, Jennifer Kidd and Peri Olufunwa, presented positive and negative experiences of birth from a mothers perspective. The negative one sounded all too close to the experience my other half had in our local hospital. It was hard to listen to that.

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Elizabeth Prochaska of Birthrights presented the results of a survey of birth experiences. Only half of the women surveyed had the birth they wanted. The majority felt that their childbirth experiences affected their self-image and relationships with their baby and their partner. A significant proportion of these women believed that the effect was negative. Three statistics stood out to me: (i) 20% of women said healthcare professionals did not always introduce themselves; (ii) 12% of women did not consider that they had consented to medical procedures; and (iii) 24% of women who had an instrumental birth said they had not consented to procedures.

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The celebrity speeches were given after lunch by Davina McCall, the TV Presenter and Carrie Longton, internet entrepreneur and founder of Mumsnet. It was Davina’s Birthday, so Birthrights had bought her some cheese (which I’m reliably informed she likes) and the White Ribbon Alliance had brought a birthday cake.

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Both Davina and Carrie were incredibly down to earth, fun and both spoke movingly about their own experiences of childbirth. Davina’s with an independent midwife at home, Carrie’s first birth another horrifying experience too close to home for me to listen to without having a bit of a flashback.

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Carrie Longton, Mumsnet founder

Brigid McConville and Felicity Ukoko spoke about the global perspective. I personally think that it’s important to address issues of dignity in the UK, but we cannot forget that there are shocking instances of “care” in the developed and developing world. The stories of the women basically imprisoned in hospitals until they pay for their caesareans sounds like a modern equivalent of something from Charles Dickens.

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I wanted to mention Beatrix Futák-Campbell, an academic who lives in Scotland, who introduced her own birth story on video about her first birth via instrumental delivery. Beatrix lost her first baby, Alexandra, as a consequence of the treatment she received in an Edinburgh hospital. In the video she speaks movingly about the experience. About the only reason I did not cry (many there did) is that my other half had shown me the full video before and I cried then. Medical care cannot and should not be like Beatrix’s experience.

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There were a number of other amazing presentations given by speakers over the course of the day. I’m really sorry I can’t feature all of the presenters.

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The experience was like nothing I’ve done before in photography. I was incredibly glad that I had brought the lens I referred to above (the Nikon 70-200mm F4) as about 60-70% of my shots were taken with it. I also used the Nikon 135mm DC F2 AF-D lens a lot and for almost all shots I used my SB-910 flash. I was exhausted by the end of the day and a special thank you to the catering staff who grabbed me some water when I was parched in the afternoon. There were interesting dynamics in that it was far harder to move through the breakout/food/stalls room than it had been to make my way through the crowds at the Birthrights launch (partly down to a bigger camera, partly down to it being earlier in the day). I could have done with a smaller camera to accompany my D800E rather than another DSLR (for just such situations). It would have been handy to have a helper so we could cover all the various breakout sessions.

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One lesson learned is that I will never again be fooled by an empty room into using a 50mm! As the entrance hall was relatively empty in advance of Davina’s arrival, I slapped on my 50mm F1.8G. Of course, once Davina turned up, so did everyone else, so I was left elbowing people out of the way to get shots 😉 . It wasn’t quite that bad (!) but I did feel like a plantpot for not using the Sigma 35mm F1.4 I brought with me. I was so busy stressing I didn’t think to shout for the shot (not really something I do in street photography!) – you live and learn.

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All in all, it was a great event (I couldn’t believe how much work the Birthrights team and the presenters had put into the event), a great experience for me and I was glad I could help out in some small way!

Taken with my D800E, 70-200 F4, 135mm F2 DC, 50mm F1.8G, Sigma 35mm F1.4 and 28mm F1.8G

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