Midwifery Without Fear

Here are the random collection of soundbites that managed to make it home with me from the Association of Radical Midwives Conference in Nottingham a couple of weeks ago:

If you ring delivery suite and find the homebirth service has been withdrawn – don’t ring your lawyer, ring the Supervisor of Midwives!

Lisa Bacon LSA officer in the Northwest told the conference of a case where a woman had a normal homebirth at 35 days over due.  The woman in this case said there was no end date to her pregnancy the baby would be born when it was ready.  It was her 4th or 5th child and reduced liquor ( the issue the medics were  pushing at her) was normal for her.  She was put under enormous pressure, midwives would go through the ‘risks’ every time they visited, the Trust wrote letters.  Finally the LSA was approached for support, and their response was: “Back off! and leave the woman alone.”  She had all the information, she was making an informed decision, leave her alone and give her the support she needed.

The fabulous human rights lawyer Elizabeth Prochaska  received a long ovation from the conference for her information and robust support for women and midwives.

She says that under Article 8 Respect of Private Life, women have the right to choose the circumstances of their childbearing.  And there has to be regulated provision for homebirths.

She said that Negligence and other such legal proceedings were ‘back end’ law – trying to sort out what  had gone wrong, and it is the increase in these cases that has led to a culture of risk averse practice in the NHS.

Her work and interest is in ‘front end’ law, that is the law taking a pro-active role in framing the debate and the political landscape for birth in respect of human rights.

She saw midwives as the Guardians of women’s human rights and so midwives themselves need legal protection and support.

Elizabeth has set up an organization called Birthrights to provide information in regard to human rights and childbirth and to provide information and advice to women and midwives . This is a female led and female staffed organization.  The vision is to provide accessible and accurate legal information on all aspects of childbirth.  Their mission is to provide free advice and assistance to caregivers.

She said that women are entitled to safe, compassionate, and appropriate woman centered maternity care, and this was not  happening as a reality in many places and wants a Dignity Charter for Birth which in the context of front end human rights law will set the framework for policy and practice for maternity care.

There were also misapprehensions of the law for instance about the right of  women to an unassisted birth, also the attendance of a midwife at a homebirth outside Trust policy but within the Midwifery Code of Practice.

She advised midwives threatened with LSA investigations to get good advice early on. She said some good advice at the beginning can prevent a case going any further. She said this whilst commenting that Lawyers frighten people! The Conference midwives were immensely grateful for her offer of such free advice.  And there was concern that this sort of support was not being provided by the RCM.

Zuzana Stromerova Vice President of Czech Confederation of Midwives gave a presentation on the situation in the Czech Republic.  Here midwives are trained in hospital to be medical assistants to Doctors conducting medical births.  Few midwives will see a normal birth during her training.

Midwifery outside the hospital establishment is prohibitively regulated with many unnecessary provisions that make it expensive and difficult to practice for many midwives in many areas.  For instance an office with a parking pace, waiting room and toilet facilities which has to be inspected and passed by several different bodies.  Also midwives have to practice where a doctor can be at a birth within 5 minutes ( not an ambulance) this makes it impossible for some areas to have an independently practicing midwife.  And the list continues.  Only 8 midwives in the whole country have a full license to practice, new midwives finding it virtually impossible to gain a license these days, and midwives are forced to practice subversively.  Midwives are also now being taken to court by the authorities and Suzana herself has a court case pending regarding a birth.  However mothers are taking action and calling for provision of a properly regulated midwifery service and supporting the midwives.  Mothers are also taking legal action to ensure the right to birth how and where they choose with the carers they choose.

We wanted to extend our thoughts and prayers to the Czech Midwives and salute the courage and tenacity of midwives like Suzanna.  We were also thankful for the rights we currently have in the UK.

Nonetheless, this stands as a warning  as October 2013 approaches as to what may happen to midwifery in this country if we do not act to ensure its independence and health.After October 2013, women will want midwifery care outside the NHS but may not be able to obtain it within the rules.  It also makes those of us who are mothers think about the power and the responsibility we have to ensure birth choices and good midwifery for our children.

Finally, ending on a high we were entertained and inspired by Virginia Howes, who shared the antidote to One Born Every Minute a new documentary made about her work.  So don’t forget to look out for ‘Home Delivery’ a documentary about the care that one independent midwife is giving to women – we saw a lovely exert which had everyone in tears.

I can’t do justice to the work of this conference, as chair of the conference I could barely take any notes however I hope there is enough here to inspire and inform.

Blessings on all our Radical midwives!

Agnes Gereb: the latest news

Here is the latest press release concerning Agnes Gereb, obstetrician and midwife imprisoned for attending women choosing to birth at home.

As you know the story of Dr. Geréb, is one that has been played out in the Hungarian criminal courts for the last two years. On December 6th a further phase commences, when she will face a new set of 5 charges before one of the criminal courts here in Budapest.

As u are probably aware Ágnes has been detained without trial  since a birth incident of Oct 5th, 2010 (prison, 77days; house arrest, 710 days and counting!). In February this year she was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment connected to birth incidents occurring in 2006 and 2007. However, the enforcement of this sentence is still pending as the President of Hungary ruled on October, 10th (see his translated statement at http://www.szuleteshaz.hu/en/press-releases-of-the-clemency/) that Ágnes’s request for clemency in this matter will not be decided upon by him until the December, 6th trial charges have reached a conclusion in the courts. This upcoming trial will deal with the birth incident of Oct, 5th, 2010, two further birth incidents and also two “administrative” matters.

The Campaign for Justice for Dr. Geréb would very much welcome your involvement and coverage of this new trial as it continues to raise issues around the situation of Ágnes which we consider important for her but also for the rights she is fighting for:

  • her own human rights,
  • the rights of Hungarian birthing mothers, and
  • the rights of midwives in Hungary to be dealt in an equitable way with Hungarian hospital doctors with regard to their treatment when involved in adverse birth incidents.

On December 6th it’s her own rights which will first and foremost come under further intense pressure as she continues to deal with:

  • concerns that conditions are not in place to offer her a real chance of a fair trial.
  • the fact that she should not be before the criminal courts, and like in other EU countries should have her actions assessed by a Midwifery Investigation Committee.
  • that despite or because of being Hungary’s foremost defender of women’s rights she has received uniquely aggressive treatment from the State Prosecution Service as exampled by the further fact that she has the full public support of the 3 mothers in the birth cases coming before the court and the 200 parents cited by the prosecutor in the 4th case. 

President Áder in his statement of October 10th acknowledged Ágnes’s role in helping birthing mothers and home birth itself. This was an important positive comment for Ágnes coming from the highest office holder in the land but it needs to be built upon by receiving the backing of the Hungarian government as well.  The President also highlighted the important place of justice and lawfulness in Hungary and to echo this vital point Dr. Geréb supporters both at home and abroad will be calling on the Hungarian government, through the Minister for Justice to review her case and also to closely monitoring her upcoming trial.
I appreciate that there are many other stories around also seeking you and your papers attention but we know from our feedback that Ági’s story has captured the attention of women everywhere and also of the many interested in human rights. If you are in a position to move further on this story please let me know and I can provide u with more information on the 5 cases involved and I know Ágnes would be available to reply to written questions that u might wish to put to her.

Yours sincerely,

Donal Kerry
International Spokesperson
Campaign for Justice for Ágnes Gereb

mobile 0036309242190
email: donalkerry@hotmail.com