Health · Maternity Matters · Parenting

tea and toast: don’t feed the fears of childbirth

Save the Children UK have launched an admirable and worthy campaign to help end the unnecessary deaths of newborn babies around the world. An unacceptably tragic 1 million babies a year don’t live past their first day of life, with nearly 3 million not living to see their second month. save the children

The majority of these deaths would be preventable, if the mother and her newborn were attended by a health professional, namely a midwife, at the birth. Lack of access to basic medical supplies, antiseptics, antibiotics, a clean environment, intervention when required – all of the things we take for granted in the UK – make giving birth in developing countries a frightening and unpredictable experience, with mothers often having their babies in traumatic circumstances with little or no support, not even knowing if they will survive.

How lucky we are, I thought, that we don’t have to worry about such things here. From the luxury of our NHS maternity bed, with all modern techniques and equipment at our disposal; midwives or obstetric consultants at our beck and call; in a safe, clean, well-equipped hospital ward or state of the art birthing centre – what could possibly go wrong?

Frightening? Unpredictable? Traumatic? These are not words we would use to describe giving birth in this country.

Are they?

According to blogger Feminist Mum, sadly among others, they are. Her brutally honest post about the very real fear too many mums in the UK have about giving birth highlights some uncomfortable truths.

NHSThe medical advances which supposedly make our maternity services so much safer, actually seem to be contributing to the traumatic experiences of some mothers, with upsetting memories of an assisted delivery or unwanted intervention casting a shadow over future pregnancies, or even putting them off having any more children at all. Leaving hospital with a healthy baby does not necessarily mean the experience of care was good; that the woman was wholly supported by an attentive midwife; that she was given choices about what happened in the delivery room; that she felt respected and treated with dignity.

And in some tragic circumstances, the highly trained consultant will not make the right decision; the overstretched midwife will not recognise a complication; the desperately needed ambulance transfer won’t make it in time. Even with all our relative luxuries, too many babies don’t see their first day in this country, never mind in the poorest places of the world.

Sadly, this is a fact of life, and placing the blame for every pregnancy loss and neonatal death squarely at the feet of the maternity provider is neither accurate nor helpful. The insistence of some sections of the media, however, to report every terrible story of hospital negligence (which does happen, we should not deny) as the norm in today’s maternity services is only fuelling the fire of fear burning under the expectant mums in their care. Even the language used with the best of intentions in the antenatal setting can lay the groundwork for an anxious pregnancy – ‘high-risk’, ‘complications’, ‘interventions’ – potentially decreasing the likelihood of a ‘normal’ birth.

fearFear plants the seeds of doubt in the woman’s mind that maybe the midwifery-led unit wouldn’t be the best choice after all; what if something goes wrong; maybe she should go to the hospital; something doesn’t feel right; she’d rather see a doctor; she’d rather have an epidural; is a caesarean really necessary? Does she have a choice in the matter?

Of course there is a necessity for medical intervention in many pregnancies with very good reasons – I was induced early due to pre-eclampsia myself and I thank the midwife who spotted my high blood pressure and the team who ensured the safe delivery of my son from the very bottom of my heart. But such an experience should not have to mean that I am terrified to fall pregnant again for fear of another complication. I have the midwives who attended me to thank for the fact I would have confidence in them again. When maternity care is done right, we provide amongst the best in the world.

But where women have had negative experiences within the NHS, we need to know, so that as an organisation we can move towards making the necessary changes to ensure safe and positive experiences for all parents and their precious babies. Better training, more midwives, quality control and accountability, compassionate care – none of which are insurmountable and should be recognised as necessary to protect women at their most vulnerable.

But before the big changes, come the little ones. Sometimes all it takes for a traumatic experience to become a positive one is a kind midwife bringing tea and toast, and five minutes of her time to listen to you. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to hold your hand. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to tell you not to be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

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3 thoughts on “tea and toast: don’t feed the fears of childbirth

  1. From my own experiences I’d say more needs to be done to ensure women’s expectations are realistic, neither terrified by horror stories or convinced they will have a natural birth and that all interventions are bad and unnecessary. What is so wrong with saying – “It’s usually fine, but if it’s not – here’s how science has your back” ? That way women won’t feel so shocked, or like they have failed somehow, if help is needed.

    We also absolutely need the tea and sympathy afterwards. I was treated dreadfully by some of the night staff after my first, traumatic, birth. The rest were at best indifferent. Ten minutes of reassurance that it wasn’t my fault and it would all be fine. would have made a world of difference to me.

    As you say, the NHS needs to know when these things happen, but in the physical and emotional aftermath, I found it impossible to finish a letter to the hospital. I did, much later, get to go through my notes with a consultant, but she was very defensive which left me more upset. I just wanted to know what had happened, what had been done to me when I was too exhausted to understand. I had no interest in blame or litigation.

    Thankfully, I also know from experience that it doesn’t have to be like that. Second time around I was in a different area, I won the postcode lottery. My GP made sure I was treated for trauma before I was pregnant again. Then, my consultant listened carefully to what had happened to me and gave me a free choice between VBAC or C-section. Most importantly I was with a small team of caseload midwives who saw me throughout my pregnancy, birth and for for over a month afterwards. Just knowing they were there, that I knew and trusted them was enough to make me confident that everything would be ok this time and that even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t take me nearly 2 years to ask for help.

    The NHS can be utterly amazing, I only wish every woman could have the care I did second time around, I am sure far fewer would be left feeling traumatised if they did.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, and sorry you had a tough time of it first time round. I think your experience highlights the wide variations in maternity care that just aren’t acceptable.

      And absolutely, women need to be adequately prepared and have realistic expectations – a skill in itself as a midwife to be able to do this. Caseloading goes a long way to helping women trust their midwife but this may be an ideal scenario that is still some way off.

      Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  2. This post has sent chills down my spine. After I had Luka, I was a mess! The second night after he was born I was in the hospital, around 11pm and everyone was asleep. Luka had just had an awful choking episode and had been screaming for what seemed an eternity. His reflux started early! I left him for a moment to make a cup of tea and I remember walking down to the kitchen in absolute agony, tears pouring down my cheeks, feeling desolate. A midwife followed me into the kitchen and made me a cup of tea. Such a simple act of kindness, I’ll never forget it.
    You’re right. A healthy baby doesn’t mean everything was done correctly, but if we don’t speak up about it nothing will ever change.
    Thanks for linking up to #MaternityMatters x x x

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