This week there has some been some very random, and very mysterious news headlines in the media. Without warning, the media began reporting that the Royal College of Midwives was no longer going to be promoting ‘normal birth’. None of the offending journalists seemed bothered by the fact that this ‘news’ was;
A. Old News (The Normal Birth Campaign, which sought to support midwives to minimise unnecessary, dangerous over-intervention, changed its name to the Better Births campaign way back in 2014),
B. Fake News (Midwives are committed, by their code of conduct, to following women’s wishes, facilitating informed decisions about mode and manner of birth and educating themselves to become and remain, the experts in birth the way humans evolved to do it. When pregnancy or birth veers away from this default physiology, their duty is to involve doctors in a woman’s care.)
So where did this ‘news’ come from? I’m not sure, but I wonder what my poor, late father would be thinking. He was a journalist and he always taught me that any journo should pride themselves on verifying their sources and checking their facts. It appears modern journalism isn’t so rigorous or quality controlled.
Neither, it seems are modern politicians holding themselves to the highest levels of behaviour. In response to the articles in the press, our Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted this:
@MidwivesRCM ending campaign for ‘normal’ births will help govt plan to halve neonatal deaths & injuries
Now I don’t know about you, but his tweet seems to suggest that the Royal College of Midwives and the thousands of committed, hard working, compassionate midwives working their arses off every day are somehow solely responsible for all the damage to babies that happens during birth. It sounds like he thinks midwives need to shut up so the Government can sort it all out. It sounds like he can’t be bothered to listen to the people who matter most in all this heated debate: the people pushing babies out of their bodies and the staff who catch them.
How about we address the enormous amount of pressure the service is under; the understaffing, the cuts, the lack of bursary making it impossible for many people to train as midwives, the avalanche of midwives leaving in despair and the whole generation of experienced midwives reaching retirement, with no one to replace them? What are we going to do to address the harm, to both midwives and mothers by the toxic working environment described recently, by a midwife on this very blog?
How about we pay some attention to the iotrogenic harm and the enormous financial and emotional cost of too much unnecessary intervention? What about the work we need to do to ensure families have access to their birthrights and are not coerced into decisions or manipulated into following ‘guidelines’ rather than being put firmly at the centre of their care? How about we work out how to share best practice and reward evidence based care? Oh, I know…how about we actually implement the Better Births Maternity Review that this very government requested and which Baroness Julia Cumberlege spent months compiling after travelling around the country talking to staff and parents?
I know this word ‘normal’ causes consternation. I can understand why. After all, in our polarised world that so often lacks subtlety, if someone doesn’t fit the definition of normal, it is assumed they are therefore abnormal and abnormal is something no one wants to be. From abnormal it is only a short mental hop to ‘failure’ and from failure to grief, anger and defensiveness. But birth isn’t about normal or abnormal. And it certainly isn’t about failure.
As the great Mary Cronk says: sometimes, some mothers and babies just need some help. There is no shame in that.
Look, birth is complicated. It’s one of those things that humans think they know about because they did it once, or they know someone who did it. But birth is very, very far away from being knowable. One person’s perception of what maternity services may, or may not, need to do to improve is a value judgement only, not necessarily a truth.
Whether you call it normal, or natural, physiological or purple with pink spots, birth without unnecessary intervention, with a calm, competent, kind, compassionate midwife in the corner, is an experience that millions of women yearn for. I know, because I talk to them every damn day. Nothing you think or say will change that, Jeremy Hunt. You might not understand why they might want to do that. You might think they are mad, or the midwives who support them are mad. You might not believe that birth can be BOTH safe and satisfying, you may even subscribe to the daft notion that some woman hold the experience of birth above the outcome. But blaming midwives and heralding the end of the word normal as the beginning of a new era of increased safety is, quite frankly sickening when YOUR cuts and lack of investment make birth more dangerous every day.
There is more than a hint of sexism in all this: midwives should stop trying to protect normal birth and step aside. Women should stop thinking they have choice in childbirth and just do as we are told, taking our medicine like good little girls.
I’ve met a few midwives that I think would be happier in a different job. But MOSTLY I meet midwives who lie somewhere on the sliding scale of awesome – every shift skidding between ‘doing pretty bloody well given the utterly ridiculous under-staffing, pressure on the service and lack of resources’ to ‘heroic, sensitive, wise facilitation of a woman’s deepest desires against all the odds’.
There is a reason midwives have been burned at the stake, literally and metaphorically, since the dawn of time: They can perform magic.
If you’re coming for them Jeremy Hunt, you’ll have to get through me first.