A Call to be Bolshie

At the birth of my third baby the midwife commented “Third time around Mums are so bolshie – they won’t do as they are told”. This was when I yet again refused to sit up to have my pulse or blood pressure done until ‘the next contraction was over’. I had a deep sense of well being and was focused on birthing my baby with ease – these ‘examinations’ were an irritating and painful distraction. And I had the confidence to tell the midwives to push off ( with all due respect of course!)

Last week I went to a fab waterbirth study day done by Dianne Garland (cf details below) and the evening before I had the opportunity of dining with her and the organisers. Well as happens tends to happen, as the food went down and we relaxed the funny stories came out – Dianne told us about her colleague only just managing to retrieve her computer (with all her lecture and resources in it)from the Israeli bomb disposal team, when she left it at the local post office. And Sarah told us how she send an 80 year old couple on a 24-30ies holiday.

I can’t remember recounting my own embarrassing incidents(!) but I found myself telling the tale of having a ‘how to breastfeed my baby video’ pressed upon me by my then midwife, when I was pregnant with my fourth child – having breastfed the previous three! My response was just that – and to comment that it was not videos that would raise breastfeeding rates but proper support (ie postnatal care) for breastfeeding – and women are not getting this. Needless to say this exchange was a symptom rather than the cause of our difficult relationship.

But then again I found myself talking ( not all the time this was over the course of an evening!) about the postcard campaign and my plans to present the cards en masse with a flourish, of standing up at the Foundation Trust AGM and asking why the Trust was not supporting Homebirths or why the appalling lack of continuity of midwifery care was being tolerated. And in the humour of the meal it was pointed out that I was a stroppy woman.

And I reckon I am. Not because I am bitter or unhappy. I love life and have faced up to many of the tragedies and difficulties of the past, and enjoy the good things I have now. I reckon I am stroppy because I know how easy it is to offer good customer service – because it is my daily job – I know how easy it is to give choice, and options even within a limited range. I know what it means to be treated and listened to, with respect. And because I do it, and because I receive it from many areas of my life I expect it from those working in maternity care – consultants, doctors, midwives, auxiliaries – and I expect that as the woman carrying the baby that I should be the centre of care.

I am impatient, with a system that punishes and castigates good practice in midwives and hacks away the choices women can make. I am impatient with the continuing hegemony of doctors and consultants too many of whom continue to act like gods and do not listen, understand or respect either the women or the midwives they see every day. I am impatient because I know how costly bad maternity care is to the women and children who suffer under it, both personally in my own experience and as I listen to the pain and the stories of others.

We women do not deserve this and neither do our babies. And it needs to change, and we as women have to be responsible for our own liberation. And so we need to be stroppy if that is what it takes, we need to ask questions, write letters, demand the care we and our families deserve – because our unborn children, our daughters and daughters in law depend upon it.

And so utterly exhausted with another day of being bolshie (in my spare time of course over and above work and family) I crawl to bed. In the last couple of days I have sent out 20 cards and added 8 to my pile. I have met with three other ‘user reps’ to look at an effective strategy to have real user involvement in consultation – focusing around the formation of the required Maternity Services Liaison Committee. I pray God this will not be a committee but a movement, a working party towards understanding, mutual respect and positive change for women – because O Lord save us from another bloody committee! Finally tonight it was the Choices group – a fantastic evening where women felt empowered realising they had more options than they had been offered or were aware of. These women are wanting to take responsibility for their own health and birth and babies, and why should the maternity system not let them?

And this time I really should go to bed!

Dianne Garland, Midwife Expert and International Waterbirth Lecturer. Her website is www.MidwifeExpert.com

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