Fear of Birth, fear of the system.

I I’ve just spent a day with midwives at the Fear in Birth conference at Huddersfield.  I love going on midwifery conferences, because the energy in the room is always one of care, compassion, power and hope.

The many speakers were thought provoking, interesting, and inspiring.  The thread throughout the day was of the important of continuity of care – that if we can provide women with the same midwife throughout her perinatal journey, we can do so much to dispel her fear, and that will have a positive consequence for her  and her baby.    I don’t know why, after so many years of it being so obvious that continuity of care is a “no brainer”, we are still failing to provide this basic need in our NHS system.  It almost feels like every effort is being made to AVOID continuity of care, and the part of me that is prone to “conspiracy theories” begins to wonder if it is a subconscious but deliberate attempt to stop women connecting and uniting.

There were two areas that were not raised, which I have been mulling over.  One is the fact that midwives are the only NHS profession who understand what birth actually is.  I will repeat that.  Midwives are the only profession in the NHS who understand normal birth.  Every-other profession  shares the cultural view of society – that birth is dramatic, dangerous, fast, excruciatingly painful, and usually goes wrong.  Midwives, as a whole, do not share this view.  They know that birth can be joyful, empowering,  ecstatic, easy, and safe.  They know the joy of birth, the miracle of the birthing body. No one else in the NHS does. In my opinion, midwives are the only profession in the NHS who can really address birth fear, because they are the only ones who really get that it doesn’t have to be feared.

The second issue is about what causes birth fear and why it is growing so dramatically. I’m sorry to say, that one of the main reasons, is because women have had poor experiences of the system.  They don’t trust the system, and they are scared of it, because it has let them down so many times.  Only two hours ago, I have had a woman on the phone, looking for support.  She told me eloquently and clearly, why she wants a doula.  Her words saddened me deeply, and I can’t give the full depth of raw emotion and beautiful wording that she used, but here is a snap-shot.  She told me that at the last birth, “they left me on my back, in stirrups, with my leg up, I felt like I was being raped, there was so much wrong, I can’t even begin, in the end they wanted to do a c-section, and they told me that they were doing the c-section because they needed the bed”.  Whilst in tears, this strong, able women, tells me that while she is trying to negotiate a VBAC, “they make me feel like my choices are ridiculous, I feel so vulnerable, manipulated, their words are so heavy, they’re pushing on a bruise, I want to trust my instincts but they’ve taken that away from me”.  These stories are what scare women.  We can’t just blame media portrayals of birth, we can’t just blame individuals with a history of child abuse.  We also have to look to a system which denigrates women, belittles them, tells them what they are and aren’t allowed to do, puts them on their backs for “internal examinations” that do nothing to progress labour, leaves them on their backs against all the evidence, straps them to the bed with wires that they are told are necessary to keep their baby alive, even though the evidence tells us otherwise, tells them they are too old, too fat, too overdue, too thin, to have the baby, play the dead baby card (as if mum is putting her needs above her baby’s) and so on and so on.

So, midwives, you are so important in reducing birth fear.  You can spread the word, that birth is a positive incredible natural process.  And you can continue to fight to keep the midwifery-led units alive, along with their ability to respect birth and respect the woman.  The more of those we have, the better things will get.  You know that, I know that, but I just wanted to say it again.  Midwives, you rock!

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