Over the last month in the UK, there has been a lot of news coverage of the Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) decision to end their campaign for normal birth. It’s been met with a predictably mixed reception - agreement and an outpouring of emphatic support from some and confusion and worry from others. A lot of people, like me, fall somewhere in between. The Times had it as front page news and then the RCM issued a clarifying statement a couple of days later. Since then, stories of negative birth experiences and sad outcomes have been filtering out, filling the news once again with the most popular view of birth in Western culture - that it’s the most dangerous day of our lives and that medical intervention is a requirement for most.
Full disclosure - I’m a hypnobirthing teacher and I had my baby naturally at home. I know I was extremely lucky to be able to do so. I know this. My heart also goes out to the families who didn’t receive the care they deserved and are still missing their babies who they so rightly had expected to arrive safely in the world. It’s the worst possible outcome to what should be the best day of parents’ lives. I can’t imagine what it is to live with that kind of heartbreak.
As I write this, I also hold in mind all the many, many mothers who didn’t have the kind of birth they had hoped for and still feel the effects of that today. I know full well what it is to live with the small injuries, the changes in how you feel about your body and the shift of emotions you experience - the outright shock of going through such a life changing experience in a way that you don’t feel prepared for at all. I also know how hard those first few months are and that if your early days care with your newborn isn’t as supportive as possible, how that can impact your feelings towards your baby and your new role as a mother for months to come. I understand.
I have to be honest though - I’m worried that natural birth will once again become something that isn’t encouraged and this in turn will have its own negative effect, perhaps exacerbating the problem of women feeling unsupported and steam rollered. That women will stop believing in their ability to deliver their babies and that fear of childbirth will return to previous levels. Being afraid and treating birth as a medical emergency will become normal once again. It seems like a step back in the open and ongoing conversation around finding what's best for each and every unique case.
I'll also make clear at this point that hypnobirthing principles hold that women should give birth where and how they feel safest, which means they make all the decisions and can give birth in exactly the way that makes them feel most secure - at home, in hospital, with drugs, without… it all makes no odds. The goal is always a healthy, happy baby and a mum who has felt she was able to do things her way and was empowered in all her choices even if she did have a birth which went off her plan. The emphasis is always on her.
When I hear the stories of births that went wrong, I'm truly shocked. Every midwife I've ever met seems so far from the picture built in the media reports and goes above and beyond to support the women they work with. I can also imagine how hard it would be for the mum to not feel informed and like she was able to steer the decisions made too. After all, it's her body and her baby. She will live with the long term impact of whatever choices are made by her and the team around her.
I also find it pretty tough to swallow when I see Jeremy Hunt jumping in to the fray with a tweet that (whilst it looked like a valid, mainstream opinion) actually makes it seem like he lacks basic understanding of how the system works for most women and that he was commenting on the details of a relatively small unusual set of occurrences.
I have no crystal ball to help me see how this will play out of course. I have a suspicion that the resurfacing of difficult stories will have an impact on pregnant women for a few years to come. Whilst I don't think we should shun hearing more negative stories (and certainly shouldn't diminish their impact or tidy them away), we would do better to have a conversation about them to enable the birth professionals in attendance to learn from them and for the mothers to get the support they need.
After all, as Sarah Wickham so succinctly points out, stories really do make a huge difference.