Part of the tipping point: a time to ROAR

Reflecting on the roar....Torquay, Australia

Reflecting on the roar….Torquay, Australia

What a month February 2015 has been so far.  We are in Australia on an extended holiday, and as well as enjoying the positive culture and bright skies, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of so many inspiring maternity related conversations, twitter chats, initiatives and book publications. The ‘Tipping Point’ in maternity services, that I often talk about, is ever closer.

From the other side of the world I am excited and encouraged to see the connection of so many like-minded individuals in the UK, ‘meeting’ on Twitter, helping to improve the maternity experience for women and families in England. Initiated by the wonderful Kath Evans, head of patient experience for NHS England,  Gill Phillips, founder of ‘Whose Shoes’ is working closely with midwives, obstetricians, policy makers, parent organisations, academics and most importantly those using maternity services, to find out what really makes a difference to those using maternity services. Florence Wilcock, #FabObs obstetrician and divisional director at Kingston Hospitals in London, and a member of the London Maternity Strategic Clinical Leadership Group, is helping to lead this much needed initiative. You can read about, follow, and get involved on Twitter here #MatExp. The project is gaining momentum and beginning to influence services in London, and the fact that social media is being used to spread the word, to engage and to influence is adding to the success. It means the potential for exclusion is reduced, and collaboration increased. I can’t wait to get involved in person when I return to England.

I’ve also been privileged to review two fabulous books. The first is Milli Hill’s inspiring book ‘Waterbirth: stories to inspire and inform’ which is a collection of personal accounts of waterbirth, by mothers, fathers, siblings and maternity care workers and you can read my thoughts about the book here.

I finished reading the review copy of Rebecca Schiller’s new book All That Matters: Women’s Rights in Childbirth yesterday, and I was rocked. This superbly crafted and revealing book, written for the Guardian, is a ‘must-read’ for all those providing maternity care, and if we really aim to tip the balance, policy makers, parents to be, teenagers, in fact each member of society would do well to read and act on Rebecca’s words.  Rebecca is a mother of two young children, a writer, doula and birth activist, and she begins by making it clear that her book is about women, yet acknowledges those who support her during childbirth. She also clarifies early on that her book, whilst highlighting many appalling situations around the world, suggests that the problems are usually systemic and cultural, and not the fault of individual practitioners.

As well as detailing the horrors of reality that women experience in  several countries, All That Matters is full of insightful conclusions, which gave me assurance that Rebecca really understands personally and politically, what is happening around childbirth practices globally, and what needs to be done. There are examples of excellence too, where organisations and countries have responded to potentially damaging reproductive care practices and are providing positive approaches to supporting women around conception, pregnancy and childbirth. Connecting ‘childbirth’ as a reflection of societal attitudes, and feminism, really resonated with me…

‘As a mirror to society, childbirth, the attitudes to it, practices around it and experiences of women going through it, reflect the progress that has been made in advancing women’s rights’

I could carry on here explaining why you should buy and read All That Matters. I could fill two pages or more. However Maddie Mahon, doula extraordinaire, has written an excellent review of the book here, which represents my opinion and reflections too. Rebecca Schiller’s book is more than timely. It is being released just shortly before our book, The Roar Behind the Silence: why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care.

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This is incredible, as collectively these books hold the potential to inform and influence the ‘tipping point’ by adding to the evidence already available that improving maternity care and respecting women’s rights enhances societal wellbeing.

Claire with baby, and Lynda her midwife and friend

Claire with baby, and Lynda her midwife and friend

And finally, I want to share this beautiful photograph of Claire having skin to skin with her newborn baby, and her midwife, Lynda Drummond. I worked with Lynda many years ago, and also supported her after a traumatic birth experience. I saw this photo on Facebook, and contacted Claire to ask if I could use it. This is what Claire said:

‘I’m so glad you like this photo, I really do. Through each of my 3 births my midwife has seemed like my angel and I’ll never forget the roles that they each played. Although Lynda was at my 3rd birth as a friend to me, she was the one who helped me get the birth I had always wanted, having her there gave me the confidence I needed to believe I could do it, she had me laughing and dancing throughout the labour, she managed to persuade the midwives on duty that I could go in the pool even though my first birth was an emergency section . This photo to me sums up how utterly amazing she is, gentle, caring, supporting, angelic. I hope she knows it.

 

I’ve also included a photo of me at 7cm dilated, the big cheesy grin is totally drug free and totally genuine. All down to Ina May and Lynda Drummond……… oh and the cheesy radio station playing Valentines day songs, I think Rod Stuart ‘If you think I’m sexy’ had just been on!’

Claire Riding

With our book in mind, I look at Claire’s birth photo and description of her midwife, and I sense the Roar Behind the Silence.

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The Lancet Midwifery Series: by a ‘Midwife’s Midwife’

At the end of June, and amidst a flurry of excitement and extensive publicity,  the much awaited Lancet Midwifery Series was launched.   The Series, produced by an international group of academics, clinicians, professional midwives, policymakers and advocates for women and children, is the most critical, wide-reaching examination of midwifery ever conducted. The papers systematically summarise the current global picture of maternal and infant health, and provide a framework for policy makers and maternity providers to maximise potential for improvement.

 

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The Series also highlight key issues on the role of midwifery in the world today, and challenge much of the current thinking and attitudes about it among health professionals and decision makers.

For me, the papers have given us the additional tools to enable and strengthen the drive to lobby for change. The paradox of lack of timely and coordinated life saving interventions in some countries, and over-use of the same interventions in others, needs to end.

Dutch Midwife Petra ten Hoope-Bender , who works as the Director for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at the Instituto de Cooperación Social INTEGRARE (ICSI) in Barcelona, Spain, co-ordinated The Lancet’s Series on Midwifery. I was recently connected to Petra, via Soo Downe, and after reading about her here, felt it would be great to ask her about her role, and about what she hopes her work will achieve.

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Hi Petra, thank you for so willingly agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. I know how busy you are! I think many individuals will be very interested to hear about the role you played the development and co-ordination of The Lancet Series on Midwifery, recently published.  Would you introduce yourself please, including a little about your professional background?

I’m a midwife by trade and held an independent midwifery practice in Rotterdam for 12 years before moving into the area of international health. I started as Secretary General of the International Confederation of Midwives in 1998 and later I moved to Geneva to start the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Could you explain briefly what the papers are, why and how they were developed?

The idea for a series on midwifery started during the development of the State of the World’s Midwifery 2011 report, when the author team realised there were many gaps in evidence about midwifery that urgently needed filling. They approached Zoe Mullan and Richard Horton of The Lancet to find out whether they would be interested in publishing this and received a positive response. There were many topics suggested for inclusion in the series, but after several discussions the content settled down around the four topics we have now. These include an evidence base for quality maternal and newborn care from the perspective of women and newborns that expands the notion of what needs to be provided to how and by whom. It sets out an evidence based definition for midwifery and measures the impact of the lives that can be saved by the midwife working to her full competence and scope of practice. The series also identifies the steps that some countries have successfully taken to deploy midwives and thus reduce their maternal and newborn mortality and finally provides an international policy brief that calls for effective coverage (coverage + quality) of midwifery care and shows how this can contribute to the achievement of international targets and initiatives.

What was the extent of your involvement?

I was the coordinator of the series as well as the lead author on ‘ The improvement of maternal and newborn health through midwifery’. I was also a co-author on two of the other papers in the series.

If midwives or maternity care workers want to influence political agendas using the series, what advice could you offer them?

The first step would be to lay their maternity services against the Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care to see where the differences are and then identify what the most important issues are in their services that they would like to change.

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Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care

 

 

These can be changes in the midwifery curriculum, or in the way the profession is regulated, but they can also be about service delivery and how the care providers are enabled to provide respectful care that optimises normal processes and strengthens women’s capabilities to take care of themselves and their families.

What impact do you hope the papers will have? Has there been any influence so far?

The series has already gathered a lot of support and positive responses. We have started a website called Solution98 where we explain for the general public, what the series means and what they can do to support the provision of such quality services in their health system and facilities. There have already been quite a lot of requests for support and even accreditation of facilities to this new standard of care. What I hope most for the future is that women will understand what we’re talking about and start demanding this kind of care for themselves and their families, friends, colleagues. Without the voices of women, the effort to improve maternal and newborn care will remain in the realm of the health care providers and will not be half as effective.

What are your plans for the future Petra?
In the near future we’re working towards inclusion of the messages and the framework from the series on midwifery, to be taken up and linked with the work on reducing maternal and newborn mortality world wide that is currently being pushed by the UN and its partners in large initiatives such as the Every Newborn Action Plan, Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality and the discussions about the post 2015 sustainable development agenda. But this series is not written for low and middle income countries only. It is as important for high income countries where overmedicalisation threatens normal pregnancy and childbirth and where midwifery is under pressure.

 

Petra, this work gives us hope for the future, and is a pivotal element of the momentum for radical change. Women and their children will benefit as a result of the recommendations, when they are appreciated and implemented. Women and families, together with midwives and all maternity care workers around the world are thankful for the expertise, time and energy you and your esteemed colleagues have given to addressing the issues that they see, hear, feel and suffer from on a daily basis.

And now we must speak out.

Petra’s email address is: petra.tenhoope@integrare.es

Find Petra on Twitter at: @Ptenh

 

 

‘Keep fear out of the birth room’: an interview with Professor Hannah Dahlen

When I first heard Hannah Dahlen speak, it was in Grange-over-Sands, England, at the Normal Birth conference. Hannah gave a talk on the ‘Juggernaught of Intervention’, describing the potential consequences of unnecessary medical intervention in childbirth,  and  I was hooked. Each of Hannah’s words rang true to me, I was, and still am, concerned about the ever increasing focus on ‘risk’ in maternity services, and the impact this is having on childbearing women and those caring for them.    Since then I have followed Hannah’s brilliant work, via academic publications, with enormous interest. After the success of interviewing Prof Soo Downe OBE and Dr Helen Ball, I asked Hannah if she would be willing to participate too. I am thrilled that she said yes!

Hello (or G’day!) Hannah! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed… could you introduce yourself, please?

 

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Hi Sheena, my name is Hannah Dahlen and I have been a midwife for nearly 25 years. I am currently the Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, which is in NSW, Australia. I am also a practising midwife and I work with five other lovely midwives (Robyn, Jane, Janine, Emma and Mel) in the largest private group practice in NSW, called Midwives@Sydney and Beyond. I provide continuity of care for women throughout pregnancy, labour and birth and for six weeks following the birth. Around 90% of our women give birth at home. I am also the national media spokesperson for the Australian College of Midwives, which means I can be woken up as early as 5am to tiptoe through political landmines as I try and represent midwives in the best possible light. Once I did a radio interview at 4am and had a very funny time talking to truckies about birth, as apparently they are the only ones awake at that time. I am also on the executive committee of the NSW branch of the Australian College of Midwives and I have held this position for 17 years.

When did you realise you wanted to be a midwife? 

I don’t remember realising that I wanted to be a midwife because I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. My mum was a midwife and I grew up Yemen, where I was also born. My earliest memories were being cordoned off in a playpen in the corner of the clinic with a kidney dish and tongue depressor to play with as my mum worked. I also remember being sat on a tin in a backpack so I could see the countryside as mum and dad trekked into the villages to vaccinate people. Because I was so blond and fair skinned and had vivid blue eyes the Yemeni people found me fascinating and my hair was always being pulled to see if it was attached to my head. When I squawked in protest they concluded I must be a wizened up old woman with white hair. But of course there was a moment that I knew without a doubt the kind of midwife I would be when I was 12 years of age. My next door neighbour gave birth to her third child and I helped the local midwife catch the baby. When my neighbour saw it was another girl she turned her head away and said , ‘take it away.’ She feared that her husband would divorce her or take a second wife as she had not produced the much valued son yet. I remember carrying this perfect little girl, which they named Hannah after me, to the window as the dawn was breaking and the minarets began their melodic calls to prayer. I remember as girl on the brink of womanhood feeling both spellbound by the miracle I had witnessed and outraged that girls should have less value than boys. I knew then that you could not be a midwife without fighting for women’s rights and that was when I think the political passion I consider inextricable from the job of midwifery was born. I believe if you are apathetic about women’s rights then you are not cut out to be a midwife and if you are frightened to be political then choose another career.

 

What does a typical day in your working life look like?

Gosh, I have no typical day, as that sounds too much like the definition of boredom. My life is often very eclectic and unpredictable. I get to work about 9am after putting my youngest daughter on the school bus and then I might be doing several things, such as teaching, undertaking research, going to meetings, answering telephone calls from journalists or the women I care for. I have lots of wonderful PhD, Masters and Honours students who give me such delight, as I love growing the future of our profession, and they are indeed the future. I might end my day with a postnatal or antenatal visit in a woman’s home, and if I get called to a birth it is usually at night. I have only had to get someone to fill in for me once in the past four years of being on call because a woman gave birth when I had a lecture on. Once back home I do what all mothers do: get the dinner on, nag about homework, listen to stories of the day and hopefully collapse on the lounge to watch Call the Midwife with my daughters, or Modern Family, which is another favourite.

 

I am a great advocate of your work on how the ‘risk agenda’ is influencing maternity care. Can you tell us why this is so important to you?

Fear is ruining birth and we have to stop the fear. When I am asked what I do as a midwife I say my job is to keep fear out of the room. I knit at birth now and work very hard to keep fear at bay in my own practice. I left the hospital system after 20 years of practice because I recognised I had become undone by the fear that was manufactured around me and I was no longer providing women with the best care. Now that I work in private practice and out of the system, supporting women mostly to give birth at home, I have re-found my faith in birth and realise it is not birth that is dangerous, it is us! I love working with midwives on how to put risk in perspective and manage the fear that is so endemic in our maternity systems. We need to make friends with fear and work out when it is protecting us and when it is destroying us. We also need to stop blaming women for their fear as I think the models of care, attitudes and language of health professionals are most to blame. I love watching women give birth without fear now, surrounded by love and trust. Women are so amazing and we are so lucky to share this magic journey with them and their partners and families.

 

We have a situation where maternity services are focused on risk reduction, and yet outcomes aren’t improving. What do you think the answer is?   

Get women and midwives out of the hospital. Move back to primary health care, community based models. Give every woman a known midwife and make relationship based care the priority. I often say to my students the largest organ involved in childbirth is the brain not the uterus. If you want the uterus to function well then start working with the brain. Value women and value birth. Base practice on evidence and make health services accountable to the evidence and provide cost effective care. In Australia we have been calling for private obstetricians to make their caesarean rates public so women know when they are cared for by a doctor with a 90% caesarean section rate. In my country I think this would have a big impact on our caesarean section rate which is nearly double in the private sector. Lastly, and most importantly, if women are to trust in themselves and birth then surely those caring for them need to trust in women and birth.

 

What other areas of maternity care are you interested in?

Just about everything, this is my problem. My mother always said the worst thing you can do with Hannah is make her bored. I can promise you one thing there is nothing about being a midwife that is boring. I say my job is perfect because I combine teaching, research, clinical practice and politics together. I would hate not to believe in what I do and I really, really do believe in the amazing job midwives do. I would love to see my colleagues hold their heads up high and say ‘I have the most amazing job in the world’, after all we usher in the future! I really love history as well, as I am convinced that the past has much to teach us and some really good midwifery practices happened in the past. This is why I chose to undertake a randomised controlled trial looking at the effect of perineal warm packs in second stage for my PhD, as it was branded an ‘old wives tale’ with no evidence to support it. This so called ‘old wives tale’ is now Level 1 evidence. It does give me a thrill that amidst all the ‘machines that go ping’ a midwife can hold her head high as she walks down the corridor with a bowl of steaming water and flannel to give a woman in second stage comfort. I am also very interested in how birth is shaping society and founded the group EPIIC (Epigenetic impact of Childbirth) with Professors Soo Downe (UCLAN) and Holly Powell Kenney (Yale) in 2011. I think this is where we need to really channel our energy in the future. If the way we are born is re-shaping society, which is increasingly looking likely, then we need to urgently get the message out before it is too late.

What are your plans for the future Hannah?

I never think about the future and I never really have. I never thought I would do a PhD – I kind of fell into that. I never thought I would be a professor and that just seemed to happen. I believe in doing what I love and believing in what I do and whatever eventuates usually is a good thing. But most important of all you sleep well at night when you adhere to this philosophy – that is if the phone doesn’t ring to call you to a birth of course. Best of all I can honestly say I have no regrets. Every part of my life, even the sorrows and mistakes have made me who I am and provided me with such valuable lessons.

 

And lastly, what inspires and motivates you to be proactive what you do?

Women’s rights motivate me and making the world a better place.   None of us should come into this world and leave again without making the world a better place. Until we do right by women and recognise, value and facilitate their amazing role in society then everything we do will be incomplete. The hand that rocks the cradle does rule the world whether the world is willing to acknowledge it or not. When every girl baby is born into the arms of parents who want her as much as they want their sons then we will be on the way to bright and certain future. In many ways I feel today that I am still that 12 year old girl standing by the window in the dawn light gazing at that perfect little girl, spellbound and outraged but always full of hope that we are on the way to a brighter future.

 

Hannah, thank you SO much for taking time to tell us more about yourself! It’s such an honour having your input into my blog….I am thrilled!

 

You can follow Hannah on Twitter:  @hannahdahlen

 

And her website: http://www.uws.edu.au/fach/fach/key_people/associate_professor_hannah_dahlen

 

Photograph by Holly Priddis

 

Obstetric violence and humanized birth in Brazil

Student Midwife Oli Armshaw @olvinda has written another post for my blog. With others, we have been corresponding by email over the past few days, following the horrific revelation below.

 

Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés, with her daughter after the forced caesarean

Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés, with her daughter after the forced caesarean

 

With sadness and horror I read about Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés, a 29 year old pregnant woman, in Torres, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, being forced by the authorities to have a caesarean, on 1 April.

On 31 March, she had a scan and was examined by a doctor, who said she needed an immediate caesarean as she had already had two previous caesareans, the baby was breech and her pregnancy was 42 weeks.

Adelir, saying she would prefer a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) in the hospital -although there was no staff to support her choice, signed a document taking responsibility for her decision and went home to await labour, with her doula, Stephany Hendz. In the middle of the night, when Adelir was already in established labour, armed police and medical personnel arrived in two military police cars and an ambulance, to force her to Hospital Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes, for a caesarean. In the name of risk to the unborn baby, the doctor had asked judge Liniane Maria Mog da Silva, to issue an injunction to bring her in for caesarean section. She was submitted to surgery by force, against her will. Yesterday, the result of her ultrasound scan circulated on Facebook, showing a gestational age of 40 weeks.

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Brazil’s major press, including Globo G1, reported the story on 2April, which you can see here and also translated here.   According to Adelir, “Two military police cars came and an ambulance to take us from our house. I was very anxious. I was all but handcuffed,” she said, alleging verbal abuse by police.

Here, you can see Adelir speaking about the terrifying experience of police arriving at her house when she was in established labour, contracting every 5 minutes, and being forced to hospital for surgery. You don’t need to understand Portuguese to see how she feels.

The response in Brazil has been mixed: Most Brazilians do not sympathize with Adelir, the outraged birth activists or the ‘crazy feminists’, who support a mother’s right to make her own choices about birth and risk. But there is a strong, groundswell movement for the humanization of birth, fronted by ReHuNa (League for the Humanization of Childbirth), which considers this brutal incident to be an unacceptable breach of human rights, and is demanding that the Justice Department take action to address it. Peaceful protest demonstrations are being staged on 11 April in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Torres, Belem and across the world at all Brazilian embassies. The UK embassy of Brazil is at 16 Cockspur St, London SW1Y 5BL. For more information please visit: weareadelir.blogspot.co.uk

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Birth activists have started a petition on Avaaz, which you can sign here, to oppose the infringement on civil liberty, and extreme technical incompetence of doctors and government. They claim the incident not only breaches the Code of Medical Ethics, but goes against basic evidence: “Labour is a safe and appropriate choice for most women who have had one or more previous caesareans” and “pelvic planned vaginal delivery of breech babies may be reasonable under the guidelines of hospital protocols.” (ACOG Bulletin for clinical practice No. 115, 2010). You can read a full translation of the Avaaz petition here.

A formal complaint has been lodged at the Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic by Artemis, a Brazilian NGO promoting women’s autonomy and the prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women. Here, you can see their letters on Ligia Moreiras Sena’s blog. @birthrightsorg have responded with this excellent blog on obstetric violence and use of ‘risk’ to legally justify treating women’s bodies “as public objects subject to the whims of the medical profession backed by the coercive power of the state” (Birthrights, 2014). Read also @KathiValeii’s powerful and passionate blog, ‘The war on women just got bloody brutal’ at Birthanarchy.

As Daphne Rattner, president of ReHuNa points out, this incident has occurred in the week that Brazilians are counting fifty years since the military coup d’etat in 1964, making it all the more grimly poignant that armed police were involved in forcing Adelir to hospital for unwanted surgery. It has Brazilians wondering who will be next to be dragged away by police, and if Adelir or her husband, Emerson, had resisted or reacted, would they have been shot?

Thanks to The Iolanthe Midwifery Trust, I’m going to Brazil for an elective midwifery placement at Hopsital Sofia Feldman, a beacon for the humanized model of care in Brazil, and attend the 9th Normal Labour and Birth Conference. It’s going to be an incredible journey back to Brazil, the country I adore. I anticipate learning a lot from the brilliant midwives there, who are committed to supporting women to birth their babies where, how, with whom, and when they want; and fighting for an end to obstetric violence of all kinds.

“Humanized Birth”, as Elis Almeida puts it so powerfully in her blog Parto Humanizado no SUS, (translated here) “contrary to what most people think, is not background music and/or low light at birth, but a set of actions aimed at a satisfying birth experience, in which the woman and the baby are the protagonists, where attention and care are fully focused on the mother and baby dyad, and not on the doctor and institution”. A bill was passed by the government on 25 September 2013 legislating for humanized conditions at birth, but ‘what’, asks Almeida, ‘is the point of having a law if it is not supported and enforced by existing policies and practices?’

I trust that Adelir’s case will mark a turning point, a pivotal moment in the ongoing fight against obstetric violence, and catalyse lucidity and urgent action to humanize childbirth in Brazil.

 

Oli Armshaw @olvinda, April 2014 #NOobstetricviolence

 

 

 

 

Oli Armshaw @olvinda, April 2014

 

C/S Photo source

England needs more midwives: but legal services are fine

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I was interviewed on Radio 5 Live yesterday, in relation to the news coverage of the National Audit Office revelations of maternity care.  The report confirmed the fact that England IS short of midwives, and revealed that the NHS spends nearly £700 on clinical negligence cover for each live birth in England. I wonder how many times audits and reports will confirm what we midwives have known and shouted about for years, and how long the message will continue to fall on deaf ears.

The Royal College of Midwives,  National Childbirth Trust, AIMS,  Women’s Institute and other organisations have campaigned long and hard for more midwives, needed urgently for the rising birth rate and increasing complexity in caring for mothers and babies. But there is something else going on here. The financial implications of England’s current negligence insurance scheme (Clinical Negligence Schemes for Trusts) mentioned above are bad enough, but associated processes also significantly increases the workload of maternity care staff, and adds to the growing culture of fear in maternity services.

In an attempt to increase safety through implementing standards of compliance, activity related to the scheme potentially increases risk by putting extra pressure of individual members of staff. ‘Tick box’ activity, extra form filling, and duplication of records add to the human cost and potential for mistakes. In many organisations midwives are taken out of generic posts to work as ‘risk midwives’ or governance leads. Usually these midwives are highly competent clinically, and their absence in the clinical area is missed-adding to the risk.

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However, an important impact of our legal system is related to practitioner’s fear of recrimination, and fear of litigation. Defensive practice or ‘covering your back’ ‘just in case’ is a recognised symptom of fear of litigation-and subsequent over treatment increases the risk of iatrogenic harm.  The increased and often duplicated recording of information becomes the focus of ‘care’, as practitioners complete patient records which are audited for insurance purposes. What the carer writes becomes more important than what she/he does, and women and families increasingly experience this distraction negatively.

The medical negligence solicitor who took part in the radio programme with me yesterday, said midwives and doctors need to increase their skills, and he suggested that England’s medical negligence processes were the envy of the world. I have a different opinion. Ensuring safety through appropriate skills is crucial, and whilst mistakes will happen, there is no excuse and we should continually work on improving services. Along with others, I believe improvements will only come if NHS workers are sufficient in number to have time to care, and that they are supported and nurtured enough to feel safe themselves. Where fear prevails and defensive practice in normal, women and families will continue to suffer. Radical but carefully planned changes are needed. Malpractice claims are rising, and there is little evidence that safety is improving, despite the laborious and bureaucratic systems and process imposed in the name of such. Our negligence claims insurance schemes aren’t working, and midwives are on their knees. Even though politician Dan Poulter is an obstetrician by profession, his responses to the NAO report reveal limited insight into the detail underpinning the facts that matter. We’ve said it before many times. If we don’t get it right for mothers and babies at the beginning of life, the impact can last a lifetime.

Childbirth has far reaching public health implications. This specilist medical negligence solicitor reveals the fact that many of the claims she sees are the result of pressures within the maternity systems, and calls for more resources to be invested.  Maybe it’s time to revisit a no-fault compensation scheme, the attempt in 2003 was never taken forward. Scotland has pursued this in light of the success in other countries.

Whatever we do, we can’t continue in the same vein. I would love to know your thoughts.

Why women don’t often get the birth they want: my thoughts on the topic

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At the beginning of last week, Kirstie Allsop guest presented a BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour special. During the programme, Kirstie ‘embarked on a personal journey to investigate why women often don’t get the birth they want’. I was initially asked to participate in the programme, and I gave it a lot of thought. I have commented on Kirstie’s views about childbirth before. Once following her public criticism of NCT antenatal classes, and another post in response to a letter she wrote to the Telegraph newspaper, concerned that women were being made to feel like a failure if they didn’t nave a ‘normal’ birth, or chose not to breastfeed.

I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to the radio show. The guests gave some fairly balanced viewpoints, around topics such as women’s expectations and preparation for childbirth classes. I was delighted that Kirstie chose this topic for her guest session, as it gave the issues some airtime.

Kirtstie began the programme by asking how society has gone from being thankful for the birth of a healthy baby, to ‘desiring an experience’ at the time of birth. Good question I suppose. But then should women not expect what they plan for, with some understanding that there may be deviations? I have to wholeheartedly agree with Rebecca Schiller  (@HackneyDoula) who was part of the panel on the programme, when she reminded listeners that how women experience birth plays a huge part in how she bonds with her baby. Indeed, childbirth has far reaching consequences on the whole family. Whilst a positive birth is what women and her childbirth carer should be aiming for, we know that most women want a normal or straightforward birth; one with minimal intervention.  This is usually one of the main reasons pregnant women (and partners) attend childbirth preparation classes. Kirstie debated childbirth preparation sessions, and their content, during the programme, in a quest to discover why women are frequenly ‘disappointed’ by their birth experience.

BUT I didn’t feel the matters discussed really addressed the issues of ‘why women don’t often get the birth they want’. I believe the reasons are far more complex and go unnoticed by most, and yet are staring us in the face. I am going to use an example of a birth that demonstrates some of the detail and dilemmas that potentially lead to a negative birth experience, or a sense of ‘disappointment’. The story is not unusual. In fact, it is incredibly common.

My good friend’s daughter recently gave birth to her first baby. This is what she told me.

I had done a ridiculous amount of research into childbirth.  From the moment I found out I was pregnant, my whole focus was on the birth, the birth, the birth, and if I’m honest, not so much on what came after.  I decided quite early on, that is was very important for me to be in a calm environment to ensure a good flow of oxytocin.  I have always been pretty sensitive to my environment, and not a huge fan of hospitals.  Therefore,  my husband and I, after a great deal of thought, decided that home would be the most natural place for me to stay calm and relaxed throughout.  I liked the idea of being in control of my birth, and creating a calming sanctuary to bring our new boy into the world.  As the weeks went by, excitement mounted as we  prepared for the big day.  The community midwives (all of whom were very experienced midwives) were all very pro-home birth and made us feel really excited.   We had the birth pool up, gas and air delivered, millions of towels and waterproof coverings, candles  and even a selection of cakes to keep the midwives going.

Johnny came 6 days late.  My waters broke at 4am and I knew straight away that something wasn’t right as the water was a funny colour.  Staying calm, we rang the hospital and spoke to a lovely midwife who told me to save sanitary towels and call the community midwife first thing in the morning.  She said it could have been the ‘show’ causing the strange colour.  At this point, I remained extremely calm and felt excited that things were moving and our boy was on his way.  

So the contractions were regular throughout the early hours of the morning, and by 9am, they were coming every 6 minutes.   The community midwife called at 9.30am, took one look at the sanitary towels I had saved, and told me it was meconium in the waters, and I would have to go straight into hospital.  Instantly, I felt anything but calm.   My plans for a home birth shattered, we headed straight to the local hospital, and sure enough my contractions had stopped as the adrenaline kicked in. 

At hospital, by 10.00am ish, I was measured at 2cm dilated and told I would have to go to delivery suite as lots more greenish-tinged fluid was coming out of me.  I knew that this was the doctor-led unit and continued to try to remain calm in an anxious state. The very young male doctor told us we would have to have to have a synthetic -Oxytocin drip, to speed up labour as there was a 1 in 4 chance that the baby was in distress.  From prior reading, I knew that interfering with my own oxytocin could be problematic, and despite my husband and I questioning the doctor asking if it was absolutely necessary, we really felt backed into a corner.  It was our first baby and we were being treated as though it was an emergency, that we must get the baby out as quick as possible.  The contractions I had felt in the early hours of the morning had still not come back and we really didn’t feel as though there was any other option.

The drip made the contractions stronger and more painful, I was told, and I would probably want an epidural as most women do in these circumstances.  Already my labour was already proving to be the exact opposite to what I had envisaged.  The one thing I could still control was my pain relief.  So, despite not having the active birth, subtle lighting, birth pool, hyno-birthing, calming music, I battled through the pain with no pain relief other than gas and air, a tens machine and controlled breathing with my husband and mum for moral support.  At least I was in control of something. 

The contractions came strong and quick and I soldiered through them despite the anxiety-inducing sounds of the monitor transmitting Johnny’s heart beat, interrupted frequently by various midwives/doctors anxious that our baby’s heart beat and oxygen levels were dropping. 

At one point, the heartbeat machine stopped picking up Jonny’s heartbeat. The doctor suggested it could be the TENS machine, so I had to stop using it. Then the staff decided to place a tag on Johnny’s head to monitor him more effectively. The worst point of the whole labour was when the young male doctor, accompanied by a young female doctor (whom he was training it seemed) burst into the room declaring that they needed to take a sample of blood from the baby’s head as they were worried about oxygen levels and needed to make a decision on whether an emergency Caesarean was necessary.  Legs in stirrups, their poking around was the single worst experience of the whole birth. So utterly painful.

During this episode, they told me I was fully dilated.  Thank God.

The pushing stage started as a relief as it felt much less painful.  I got on to all fours on the bed, and pushed with all my might. However, it took a long time (2 hours) for Johnny to come out, and I didn’t feel very encouraged by one particular midwife, who kept telling me I needed to push harder with no acknowledgment for the serious pain I had just endured and the effort I was giving to push my baby out in such an unnatural environment.

Johnny arrived at 20:50 after around 12 hours of labour. They had turned me onto my back, and placed my legs in  stirrups, to perform the episiotomy.  There were 8 people in the room including my mum and husband. As soon as he was born, the cut was cord immediately by a medic and he was whisked away after a brief moment on my chest.  I had requested that the cord stop pulsating before it was cut by my husband.  However, they were so anxious about the baby that it was all done so quickly to check that he was okay. 

Despite all this, we were elated to see our son who was a completely healthy little boy, with Apgar scores of 8 and 10! We are grateful for the care we had received.  However, on reflection of the whole labour and birth experience, we both, despite all the anxiety, had had a strong feeling all along that he would be okay.  Was this because we were in the safe hands of the medics in hospital? Or did we instinctively know he was safe?   Could we have had the natural home birth we had planned? 

So many thanks to lovely Kate and husband Nick for allowing me to use the story of Johnny’s birth.

My thoughts:

I do feel that Kate’s transfer to hospital was appropriate. But I do question the increasing use of intravenous synthetic hormones (Oxytocin in UK). Whilst there were clinical signs that her baby may have been compromised (this is debatable, and more information can be found here), the detail in Kate’s story around being induced is often similar for women with pre-labour rupture of membranes or those being induced for post-dates. We know that the use of Oxytocin to induce or augment (speed up) labour ‘has an impact on the birth experience of women. It may be less efficient and is usually more painful than spontaneous labour, and epidural analgesia and assisted delivery are more likely to be required’ (NICE 2008). Yet in general, women are happy to be induced.

When there is a risk that all may not be well with baby, and dependant on how this is articulated, labouring women will naturally go along with suggestions from midwives/doctors. Midwives and doctors follow hospital guidelines or protocols, with the mother and baby’s best interests at heart. But they are also protecting themselves, and are frequently fearful of reproach.  I fear that in many circumstances there is over treatment, and defensive practice.  My intention is not to blame maternity care workers, but to highlight the fact that the maternity care system doesn’t help them or the families they care for, and neither does the legal system, nor the media.

For childbearing women and partners

Try to find out as much as you can before you go into labour. There is so much positive information out there to help you, and as Milli Hill of the Positive Childbirth Movement says, DON’T BE AFRAID TO PLAN FOR THE BIRTH YOU WANT! 

For midwives/doctors:

How can you make sure you know and understand the evidence base to share with families you care for? How do you pass on the evidence? Do you give unbiased and balanced information in an accessible way, or do you use ‘protective steering‘ because you feel anxious about the choices women may make?

Kate’s labour stopped due to the release of adrenaline associated with unfolding events, and going into hospital. This happens on a daily basis, everywhere. Have you ever ‘walked in the shoes’ of a labouring woman coming into your maternity service? What does she see, hear, smell? Who greets her? What is the environment like when she enters the birth space?

We know that Syntocinon puts more pressure on baby, so should it be used when a baby is deemed already compromised? Do you tell that to women when advising the drug? By using Syntocinon, do you consider that you may be replacing one risk with another?

Kate was directed to push during her labour. What is the evidence around directed pushing?

Why did the CTG machines (heart rate monitor) need to be audible (and even too loud), even when there is no healthcare professional in the room?

Do TENS machines interfere with CTG machines? And are we focusing on the machines here, instead of women?

If a woman is pushing on all fours (and having an intervention because of fetal compromise) would you encourage her to lie on her back with legs in stirrups, to perform an episiotomy and ‘deliver’ her?

If Kate had agreed to an epidural (should this be offered?), do you think the outcome would have been different?

Do you think the baby was in good condition at birth because of the intervention, or in spite of it?

In response to Kirstie’s radio programme:

Should Kate not have expected or planned to have a home birth in the first place, free of intervention, then she wouldn’t feel disappointed? Next time Kirstie, can we address some of these issues?

And finally, a note for our Governmental Ministers

The shortage of midwives that persists, and is letting mothers (and babies) down. You gave promises to increase numbers, and your lack of attention continues to influence the experience of childbirth. The effect of this is both short and long term, and is both physical and psychological. As a midwife, mother and grandmother, I plead with you to  really listen.

Photo credit 

Hypnotherapy research-SHIP Trial Update

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The SHIP Trial (Self-Hypnosis for Intrapartum Pain management) lead by the University of Central Lancashire and involving East Lancashire Hospitals Maternity Services, involved offering a group of pregnant women the opportunity to attend a short course explaining how to use self-hypnosis to control the pain associated with childbirth. The course involved two one hour training sessions with an experienced midwife as well as a self-hypnosis CD to take home and practice with. This group of women will be compared with another (similar) group of pregnant women who will not receive any self-hypnosis training. By comparing the childbirth experiences of the two groups, and paying particular attention to the type of pain relief they receive, the study should be able to tell whether self-hypnosis is a useful way of reducing and controlling the pain associated with giving birth.

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The steering group for the study recently reported:

Our youngest SHIP baby is 6 weeks old this week, so the last of the 6 week postnatal questionnaires for study participants has gone out.

We’re hoping that any participants who haven’t yet filled in or sent back their questionnaires etc. will do so now, before it’s too late.  The information they contain is really important to us.

The last prize draws for participants who return all study questionnaires will take place in 2 weeks.

More news to follow!

Photo source

Midwifery in the NHS: my opinion

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Those who know me well will confirm that I have spent most of my 35 years as a midwife, pushing for change to improve care. Just last week I was asked for my opinion of current NHS midwifery services, for a TV programme claiming to be supporting the cause for more midwives. Whilst I haven’t worked in the NHS for more than two years, I am in constant contact with midwives in the Trust where I worked for all my career, and with midwives and student midwives throughout the UK.
So these are some of the questions I was asked, and my brief responses. I would love to know your thoughts too, via the comments box at the end of the post.
How do you feel the role of a midwife has changed from when you first went into the profession? (Staff numbers, continuity of care etc)
The work of a midwife is significantly different now, in terms of workload pressures as a result of inadequate staffing levels, medical and social complexities of women’s pregnancies, increased UNNECESSARY intervention rates, service models and bureaucracy. So much has impacted on maternity services, and midwives are increasingly under pressure due to the afore mentioned, and also due to fear of recrimination. Lack of understanding of the purpose and use of clinical guidelines, and activities related to Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts (CNST) has added to midwifery workloads, and the fear factor.
Because of excessive workload issues, midwives have less time to spend with women, and this in itself is stressful, and demoralising. Midwives (and obstetricians) increasingly practice defensively, over treating those in their care because of fear of recrimination or litigation. It’s the ‘just in case‘ scenario.
Maternity services feel to be entirely focused on the reduction of  ‘risk’, which has the potential to cause more harm. Over medicalisation of childbirth can lead to iatrogenic damage, and it seems the more maternity services focus on safety and risk the more worried and frightened women become.
Pressure to save money in the NHS is taking it’s toll on maternity services, and because there are few Trust targets for maternity, the service is more likely to be bypassed. Maternity services’ position within an NHS organisation’s budget or profile isn’t a priority, and therefore departments such as medicine and surgery frequently take precedence (in terms of resources).
Women didn’t seem to be as fearful of childbirth during my early years as a midwife, and whilst services weren’t ideal, (i.e. we had moved from home birth to hospital birth for all women without any evidence to suggest we should!) in the main women believed in themselves, and their ability to birth their baby. As we have ‘done to’ women, increased screening, focused on reducing risk, we have increasingly disempowered women.
What are the main concerns for midwives today?
Lack of time to do their work well, fear of recrimination (getting into trouble).
Do you think midwives today are over stretched and unable to perform their role sufficiently? Or does this depend on the hospital in which you work? 
This is addressed above. I think in the main midwives are overstretched. There are some services with exemplary models of care for women, where midwives, obstetricians and mothers feel respected, valued and able to do their work even if it is busy. We must highlight those services and channel energies into getting it right for all families.
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And do you feel there is sufficient postnatal care in place for women? 
Postnatal care is suffering due to lack of human resources, and because of the focus on risk, areas of the service where ‘risk’ is deemed to be greatest (delivery suite/labour ward) takes priority. Because of increased unnecessary intervention in the antenatal and intrapartum period, postnatal wards are busier too. Bed reduction programmes in NHS organisations significantly reduced ability for women to stay until feeding is established, so women get little support to breast feed. Postnatal care in the community is reducing due to pressure on resources. This is a great pity as the lack of support potentially leads to morbidities that cost more for the NHS.
There is no resemblance to the postnatal care I delivered on postnatal wards during the first half of my career, to latterly. This is because there are more:
-Operative births
-Babies who need extra monitoring due to an issue that was potentially caused by mode of birth, or choices made.
– Excessive use of antibiotics on neonates (‘just in case’), and the extra input needed from staff.
– Excessive record keeping activity and paper work
Did you ever experience or see women’s lives being put in danger because of a lack of resources? 
This is hard to determine. Midwives and doctors always try to do their best, and usually go way beyond the call of duty. Sometimes, however, the pressure on staffing is so great that women receive substandard support and care, usually by way of time spent with them. The potential for harm is always greater when there aren’t enough midwives to care for women, at any given moment.
Could I also gain a bit more information about your career as a Midwife – how many years you were in the profession? What you liked / disliked about the role?
I worked as a midwife for more than 35 years in the NHS, and continue to work freelance, mostly on a voluntary basis. I feel immensely privileged and honoured to have been part of each woman’s journey into motherhood, and to have worked with the most inspirational teams. Women, both those I cared for and worked with, never fail to amaze me with their courage, strength and determination. Whilst working in the NHS I loved most of my work as a midwife, and grossly disliked the pressure and desperation when unable to help women, and midwives.
There is so much to do. The Royal College of Midwives continue to lobby for more midwives, and a group of well respected activists are pushing for better continuity of care, amongst other things related to Maternity Services. We mustn’t give up.
What do you think?

Childbirth and the language we use: does it really matter?

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Yesterday several student midwives tweeted about their dislike of some of the language used in maternity services.

I hate the phrase “failure to progress” it’s so disempowering’ was one comment. And “trial of scar”’ was another phrase tweeters disapproved of. Indeed.

It’s an old issue. I remember in the early 1990’s the Head of Midwifery (Pauline Quinn) where I worked saying how she didn’t like the use of the word ‘patient’ as she felt it disempowered women. She also disliked women who used maternity services being called ‘ladies’, as she thought it patronising and it reminded her of ladies at the golf club! And in addition to that, could saying  ‘she’s one of my ladies’ be an even bigger crime, even though unintentional? The woman doesn’t really belong to anyone, does she?

Mrs Quinn interestingly also changed our midwifery titles, and dropped the use of ‘sister’ and ‘staff midwife’, as she believed it potentially influenced the midwife-mother relationship by establishing a defined hierarchy.

These ideas really made me think. I was always careful from then on to consider the words I used. I listened to others, and read interesting articles on the topic. I became more and more aware, and talked to others about it.

The words ‘Not allowed’ became intolerable. Hearing women saying ‘They wouldn’t let me go over my dates’ started to sadden me.

Other examples:

She told me I was only 3cms’ instead of ‘Wow! You are 3cms! Your body is working brilliantly!’

Using the name Labour Ward, or Central Delivery Suite instead of Birth Suite.

The list goes on.

Research carried out into the power of language in relation to infant feeding suggested that midwives used language that influenced decision making to what the midwife wanted rather than words that enabled the woman to make her own choices. Interestingly, the study’s (Furber and Thompson 2000) implications for practice confirmed my managers beliefs from all those years ago:

‘It is important that the language used when interacting with women is considered carefully in order to facilitate an unbiased perspective and to promote partnership. The word ‘women’, rather than ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’, should be used when referring to users of the maternity services.

Working in the same organisation, decades later, things were different. From time to time my colleagues would ask me, ‘does using different words really matter Sheena? We don’t mean harm and what we do is more important than what we say. We have enough to worry about!’ But my answer was (and is) it does matter. Because what we say and how we say it, influences what we do. If we are mindful of the language we use ( i.e. facilitate not teach, share instead of educate) we are thinking about the relationship we have with women and families and our actions will reflect that. Being with, not doing to. It doesn’t take much effort, and needs no extra resources.

See the photograph at the beginning of this post? The use of the word ‘BORN’ instead of ‘DELIVERED’ on the Birth Suite board to let staff know the woman has given birth? This is the result of a couple of committed (and strong!) midwives thinking about the language they used and the consequential impact on care. They started the ball rolling and although there was much opposition, years later it’s regular practice. It makes my heart sing.

So maternity care workers. Words do matter. To you and to all in earshot of you.

Lead the shift in your workplace even though it may take years for others to follow. Remember Pauline Quinn OBE, and golf. Make a difference, and

Be the change you want to see!’ (Ghandi)

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Reference

Furber CM, Thomson AM (2010) The power of language: a secondary analysis of a qualitative study exploring English midwives’ support of mother’s baby-feeding practice Midwifery Volume 26, Issue 2, April 2010, Pages 232–240

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Childbirth and infant feeding: why the war?

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The polarisation of opinion with regard to these topics is growing by the minute…and there is much to debate. For this post my thoughts are focused on childbirth, although both subjects are absolutely interlinked.

My initial response when I read condemnations for those who promote and support normal physiological childbirth or breastfeeding is of sadness and shame. Sadness that there has potentially been some degree of personal distress for the one proclaiming their opinion. Shame that my profession is often part of the ‘problem.’

I see and hear opposing yet valid viewpoints about childbirth on almost a daily basis, mainly via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. We are all entitled to our opinion, and it’s good that there can now be a degree of open debate via social media channels. The problem arises when journalists and high profile individuals sensationalise a particular topic through mass media, basing their opinion on their personal experience. This can be inadvertently damaging, especially when related to childbirth.

Kirstie Allsopp’s response to the recent ‘too posh to push’ coverage in the Telegraph is an example of this. I can fully understand Kirstie’s retaliation to the implications that the Caesarean Section (CS) rate is higher in middle class areas, there may be something personal in that. The fact may have an element of truth, but the reasons for the increasing unnecessary intervention and related CS rates aren’t as simple as this. There are other suggestions for the relentless shift.

As stated in the Telegraph article, and in opposition to what the article headline actually suggests, women choosing to have major surgery instead of giving birth naturally are in the minority, and if there is a request is it usually for a very valid reason, usually associated with unprecedented fear.

Instead, the evidence and debate on the declining normal birth rate points to factors such as increasing maternal age, complexities of pregnancy, increased numbers of multiple pregnancies due to assisted conception, lack of senior doctors to make decisions on birth suite, low midwifery numbers, midwifery skill mix, focus on risk factors, women’s uninformed choices, inappropriate use of clinical ‘guidelines’….the list goes on.

For decades, childbearing women have been marginalised. I witnessed this during the thirty plus years I worked as a midwife, as did (and still do) my midwifery colleagues throughout the UK and beyond. Women’s belief in their ability to birth their babies is declining rapidly as a result of unnecessary medicalisation in maternity care. This was recognised as a growing problem more than thirty years ago, and midwifery organisations such as the Association of Radical Midwives and service user organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust thankfully and successfully campaigned for change.

Whilst practices of unnecessary medical intervention in the childbirth process continues globally, there is a continued and renewed uprising; women, midwives and obstetricians are recognising the potential consequential harm to mother and baby. Childbearing women in particular are the catalyst for change. Instead of remaining afraid, women are forming organisations to support parents to be, such as The Birth I Want, The Positive Birth Movement, One World Birth and Birthrights. Doctors and Midwives are active too. I imagine if Kirstie was having her babies twenty years ago she would been amongst those initial radicals campaigning for change. But with the drive and energy for change comes expectations of parents, and when those expectations aren’t reached for whatever reason, disappointment seems to initiate the need to blame instead of pursuing further change.

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The topic is a complex one. But take a look at the chart here. The Caesarean section rate is increasing, and the normal birth rate decreasing. This alarming fact isn’t matched with improved health for mother and baby, in fact I would suggest it has had the opposite effect.

So, are we wrong to try to influence the way babies are born? I think not. But instead of arguing and blaming others, women, men and families must try to move together. The evidence is stacked high that where birth is as close to nature as possible, where women are cared for respectfully and her caregivers are respected then maternal and child health is at it’s best. Some women need intervention. Both my daughters did, and it was life saving. But we are now in a danger zone where medical advances are replacing nature, and that causes harm and was never meant to be.

So come on. Women are not ‘too posh to push’. They are strong and powerful, and if they are given respectful and supportive maternity care they will flourish as women and as mothers. But they need to know and understand the evidence behind the implications of some of the choices they make, and that others try to make for them. Those providing that information and encouraging them to achieve their goal does not mean they have a ‘luddite obsession’ and they are not the purporters of guilt. Midwives are feeling more desperate for change by the day, and they need women (and their partners) to help them to reverse the trend.

Let’s get together Kirstie, and see what we can do.

Childbirth chart BirthChoiceUK

Photograph copyrighted to SevernJonesPhotography