Disappointed in the RCM #ButNotMaternity Response

I’m disappointed and angry today. This year has been difficult for everyone, but for people accessing maternity services it has been particularly traumatic and unnecessarily anxiety inducing. When the NHS released new guidance on Wednesday, clarifying that (at last!) people should “have access to support at all times during their maternity journey“. It finally seemed like someone was listening, and some of this stress may begin to ease. But no. I’m really disappointed in the RCM response, who say “safety is being sacrificed in favour of popularity” and that they cannot support it.

We all understood the situation in March, and reluctantly accepted that lockdown restrictions were necessary. But when those restrictions relaxed, when we could visit pubs and theme parks, fly on planes and eat in restaurants, with the government encouraging us to Eat Out To Help Out, and with children returning to school, strangely we did not see much easing of restrictions in maternity services.

Pregnant Then Screwed have been raising this issue (and several others about the inequitable treatment of pregnant women and those with kids during Covid) for months.

Pregnant Then Screwed website

When still nothing had essentially changed for most people accessing maternity services by 5th November, MPs in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss shared some very personal experiences as a call to action for NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Pregnant Then Screwed letter to the CEO of the NHS

On behalf of BigBirthas.co.uk, I was one of the signatories on this letter of 14th November;

Dear Simon Stevens (the Chief Executive of the NHS),

We are writing to you as a group of academics, healthcare professionals, politicians, charities and campaigners and MPs to ask that the NHS recognises pregnancy and birth as one of life’s most significant events and not an illness or medical procedure. We ask that you consider the evidence which shows that women have fewer complications during childbirth if they have a trusted partner with them, and we ask that you take into consideration the increased levels of stress and anxiety amongst pregnant women who are forced to go through other parts of their maternity journey without a trusted companion.

A recent survey of 15,000 pregnant women and new mothers by the charity and campaign group, Pregnant Then Screwed found that 90% of pregnant women say hospital restrictions are having a negative impact on their mental health, with 97% saying that the restrictions have increased their anxiety around childbirth. Worryingly, of the women who gave birth in a hospital which prevented partners attending until they were in established labour, 17.4% said they felt forced to have a vaginal examination and 82% cited that this felt like a requirement so that they could be reunited with their partner. This is a breach of women’s human rights when they are at their most vulnerable. The long term impact of these restrictions for new mothers and their family could be catastrophic.

We firmly believe that no-one should have to hear that their baby’s heart has stopped beating without their partner’s hand to hold. No one should be induced while their partner sleeps in a bike shed in the car park for days on end. No one should be left to look after a newborn baby whilst recovering from major abdominal surgery.

In addition to ensuring the 15 minute rapid COVID-19 tests are swiftly rolled out in maternity settings, we ask that you direct Trusts in England to treat maternity as a special case where women have the right to be supported and partners have a right to be present during each step of their maternity journey. Coronavirus has stolen so many precious moments from so many people. It doesn’t have to be this way in maternity services. Where other precautions are in place there is little evidence that partners increase the infection risk to staff or other service users. Please ensure that parents-to-be can have the birth they deserve even during the pandemic.

Yours sincerely

So, of course, I was delighted when the NHS guidance recommended partners be accommodated!

The Royal College of Midwives’ Response

Sadly, that delight didn’t last. The Royal College of Midwives chief executive Gill Walton has responded: “With more areas moving into tier-three restrictions, many will question the common sense of releasing this new guidance now.

No I don’t Gill. I question the lack of common sense and humanity in your not supporting a change in policy before now!? The RCM could have issued guidance long ago and chose not to. After all you were able to swiftly issue this public letter to all maternity staff that you don’t support the NHS position on the same day!

What’s baffling is if you read the two press statements, they both sound pretty aligned? The RCM states that they believe attendance of partners is a priority, after all. But it took several readings to realise that while the NHS guidance recommends partners should be able to attend all appointments, the RCM conspicuously mention attendance during labour and birth only, and even then, they want Trusts to retain decision making on this at a local level.

On the surface of it, the RCM say it’s ‘because the NHSE has not completely adopted all 10 of the principles’ the RCM suggested. I mean, I can’t legitimately see how the NHSE could, when two of the RCM principles say they’re the most important principle…?

Grammatical concerns aside, the RCM could have chosen more positive, supportive language. They could have reassured users of maternity services and said they support the guidance in spirit. They could have said they would hope trusts would read this guidance in conjunction with their own 10 principles, and while being mindful of local risks. I can only guess that the confrontational tone hints at some tension between the DoH and the RCM at the moment?

This response will not have helped ease pregnant families’ anxieties. Some reports of success when waving a copy of the new NHS guidance have filtered through, but others report no change in their area, adding to further feelings of injustice.

Positives of restricting partner access?

What’s even more galling is that the RCMs own website boasted about the positives of the current restrictions, in a response to a Times article in October entitled “Covid rules have gone too far“. Rather than acknowledge the multiple genuine stories of trauma and distress experienced up and down the country, Gill Walton dismissed them out of hand as situations “few women who have given birth over the past six months would recognise” and then go on to make unsubstantiated claims that women report “benefits of fewer visitors on postnatal wards: finding it easier to start breastfeeding, and opportunities to bond with other new mothers”.

When I’m not rolling my eyes at this, I’m hearing from other sources that the rules restricting partner attendance at maternity appointments have been good, because they’ve helped victims of domestic violence to come forward and receive help. Forgive me, but it’s hard to believe that this is all done with perinatal safety as the primary concern. After all, no-one seems to be considering the long term safety implications of perinatal mental health for these families? And surely it just begs the question what lessons can be learnt from this period, without metaphorically throwing the baby out with the bathwater and banning partners altogether?

Is there another, hidden agenda?

I, and many others with close links to maternity services have heard from midwives up and down the country at all levels about how many midwives prefer the current ‘woman alone’ setup. Their jobs are much easier with fewer people to accommodate. Of course that’s also fewer people to ask questions, and fewer people to advocate for the pregnant/labouring person when there are concerns (and fewer people to argue with when they don’t want to do what you think they should). While certainly not all midwives agree, it seems plausible that could also be a factor in explaining the RCMs slowness to react.

I don’t wish to be cynical, but better support for victims of DV and RCMs boasts of ‘bonding mothers’ notwithstanding, there certainly don’t seem to be widespread better experiences for people in maternity care right now. I’m hearing too many tales of trauma, coercion from clinicians, even of people having panic attacks while being separated at the door from their trusted supporter, and having to make difficult choices between their place of birth and their own mental wellbeing.

I’m not seeing positives represented in the stats published from multiple trusts either. Poor rates of skin-to-skin & breastfeeding initiation, fewer vaginal births, and more inductions. If support and advocacy in pregnancy were ever needed, it’s clearly now.

Of course, some inductions are necessary! An obsession with ‘natural birth’ was highlighted by the media as being at the heart of poor decision making at Shrewsbury & Telford Trust in the recent review of poor care there. But there was also a lack of a culture of listening to women, and poor continuity of care. It’s a shame that the media have focused more on the ‘reluctance to perform c-sections’ and less on the lack of compassion that was a key finding in the independent review.

My call to action for Gill Walton and the RCM

Unsurprisingly, given this background, a recent study by King’s College London, who surveyed 1,754 women who were either pregnant or had given birth since the beginning of lockdown, have discovered huge increases in the numbers of families considering freebirth.

The study, and the potential reasons for the shift are covered in this excellent Guardian article:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/dec/05/women-give-birth-alone-the-rise-of-freebirthing

So why is the RCM not responding with concern to this worrying rejection of their services in far greater numbers than ever seen before? I really hope they can swiftly recommend a solution to this problem that brings partners and supporters back into maternity services ASAP. Pleas and complaints have been ignored for too long, and there simply is no good evidence that partners increase risk to staff or other service users, and plenty of evidence that this is causing very real trauma and potentially long-lasting repercussions for families.

If Gill Walton doesn’t recognise this, and wants to continue asserting that its a situation “few women who have given birth over the past six months would recognise” I recommend she check out https://www.theysaidtome.com/ (if she’s feeling strong). The submissions to that page starkly illustrate the myriad ways in which women and birthing people report they are being poorly served by health care professionals right now, and by extrapolation, why birth partners are absolutely essential in helping return the balance of power in the birthing room.

I’m really disappointed in the RCM that instead they’re ignoring these reports and gaslighting the people who’ve experienced them. It’s worth remembering these stories are not everyone’s experience of hospital birth, but they are occurring all too often and the RCM needs to recognise and address this issue, and fast.



Nitisha’s Birth Story – Home Birth After Caesarean

I love a birthing story! I’m always excited to read about other mamas experiences in the Big Birthas Facebook group, and so I asked for permission to share this one with you. This is Nitisha’s home birth after caesarean. It actually took place in November 2019, but proving that baby brain is a lifetime condition, I completely forgot to add it until now. Sorry about that, and welcome baby Maya!

Nitisha's home birth after caesarean - welcome baby Maya!
Welcome baby Maya!

I got my homebirth after caesarean! 💪🏾

  • Waters broke at 36+7 naturally and so did contractions
  • 1 sweep at 37+3
  • Natural birth (no pain relief, too quick to get into my birth pool) delayed active management
  • Risks: high bmi, age, previous caesarean
  • Prep: yoga, aquanatal, positive birth company digital pack hynobirthing, saw a chiropractor, spinning babies exercises, positive birth after caesarean audio course.
  • Birth partner: Doula + hubby
  • Main sources of information: chilled mama and positive birth after caesarean.
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum (4-26wks) and pelvic girdle pain
  • I denied consultant led care after first appointment as we both agreed I was informed about the risks for a vbac and I felt there was nothing he could tell me that I didn’t already know /mythbust
  • Previous birth: induction led to fetal distress and emergency caesarean
  • Breastfed toddler throughout pregnancy
  • Toddler upstairs asleep through whole thing (rare occasion of sleeping through the night in his own bed)

After not feeling very informed in my last birth (waters broke, spontaneous start to contractions, induced before 24hrs post waters breaking) I was determined to be informed regardless of location and delivery.

This pregnancy and birth was so healing for me.

I really felt in control of my body, conversations which took place, and all options around delivery. I’d planned for hbac, hospital vbac, and caesarean, wanting to take control over any situation. I hadn’t planned for my labour starting the same way but was determined for it not to end emotionally the same way.

The VBAC consultant midwife was supportive and has changed hospital policy for midwives to use sense and monitoring birthing mums to individualise care and reduce need for vaginal exams! I had requested a meeting with her before the 36wk birth choices meeting as I didn’t want to be blindsided by policy and what they “wanted”. I had this at 32wks and planned my birth plan before of what I would accept and wanted. By the end of both meetings I was happy with my birth plan.

Home Birth After Caesarean

My waters broke 36+7. At 37 weeks I went to the Antenatal Day Assessment Unit and they confirmed my waters had broken. They checked mine and bubs stats; we were all fine so I respectfully declined any intervention for 72 hrs and said I would monitor bubs and fluid release.

Irregular contractions started within 24hrs of waters breaking. At 37+1 I went back to hospital for fetal monitoring and to check my stats and everything was fine. 37+2 – no checks, irregular contractions which increased during the night. 37+3 72hrs were up. I went back for monitoring and talk with a consultant and our stats were checked. The consultant said she thought I should be induced or have a caesarean because of my bmi being so high, I was told I only had 20% chance of giving birth vaginally.

I had a vaginal exam to assess options: cervix was 1cm thick, soft and 2cm dilated. Considered BRAIN and opted for a sweep. No contractions following sweep. Toddler wanted more feeds that night and we danced together. 37+4 still no contractions: walk with hubs, went for breakfast, chilled, massages, naps, laughs and lovin’, once toddler returned from nursery, more feeding. Rang doula to discuss plan.

I had settled that I would have an appointment at 37+5 to arrange what would happen if baby hadn’t come by 38wks. I would be induced with as little dose as possible of syntocinon. Once contractions began, turn the syntocinon off to allow body to do what it could and turn on if any stalls. The plan was also to discuss intervals of drip dosing and levels & what point I would have a caesarean section.

The contractions came back!

At 11pm, in bed, contractions came back. I was so chuffed as I felt the sweep was really invasive, made me feel uncomfortable and thought I shouldn’t have done it. I didn’t monitor, just let it happen. They became regular, so started to monitor. 1am I woke hubs and he rang doula and mother-in-law.

Just before doula arrived I went to my birthing room to relax and take in what was happening. At this point didn’t know whether we would stay at home or go hospital. Initially I was dancing to my 90s RnB club hits, but I was getting sleepy so laid down with a leg elevated to keep my sacrum free. The contractions were starting to increase and I needed my doula to push on my hips. I needed to change position, I went on my knees with my ankles out further than knees (one strong mama tip) and leaned on the sofa with my hips being pressed down during contractions.

Midwives arrived

Things progressed quickly, midwives called at 04:xx arrived 06:xx. During this time I carried on as I was, but the pain getting more intense. It felt like my whole pelvis was expanding. This is normal, I just didn’t know. I did keep checking my puppy pad for blood or meconium. At one point my hubby said I turned and growled at him.

When midwives arrived I wanted to go to hospital because I didn’t know that the pelvis pain was normal, instead I had 1 vaginal exam with consent, I was 10cm and midwife could feel baby’s head. I wanted to get in the pool but couldn’t wait, one breath and baby was out! I didn’t get a chance to catch her but I did cut the cord.

During birth I didn’t think I was Hynobirthing breathing well & didn’t really work for me, I was a bit too cave-woman rather than peaceful 😂 but my doula said I was doing it at the start and to relax but the elevator breath and the final breathing the baby out was great.

Congratulations Nitisha and welcome baby Maya!

Hopefully your husband has completely forgiven you for growling at him!

You can read more birth stories here:

Sarah’s Homebirth Story

Birth in a time of Covid-19

Twin Home Birth at 42+2

Or look under ‘Birth Stories’ in the Labour and Birth menu.

Birth in a time of Covid-19

I think most people are a bit anxious right now. There’s a lot going on and a lot to get your head around. But if you’re pregnant, it must be especially worrying. Particularly if it’s your first and you already don’t know what to expect. Pregnancy and birth keeps you on your toes at the best of times, but birth in a time of Covid-19 comes with further considerations.

You can read the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists advice on coronavirus infection and pregnancy here.

We’ve had a couple of recent births in the BigBirthas Facebook Group. With permission, here’s a birth story from someone who just did it four days ago! Hopefully this will give a bit of information and reassurance on what to expect if you’re nearing your due date:

Kay’s birth story

I gave birth to my little legend on Friday 27th March.

newborn wearing a hat and clutching a finger -
birth in a time of Covid-19

I was induced at 37+5 due to obstetric cholestasis. (OC is a liver condition which affects 1 in 140 pregnancies in the UK. It is characterised by excessive itchiness, often on the palms of your hands and/or soles of your feet. A bit of itchiness in pregnancy is normal, particularly on a stretching tummy, but always worth getting checked out. – Big Birtha)

He came at 38+1. They kept me in hospital due being high risk with OC and high BMI and the midwives were absolutely amazing. They really put my mind at rest. The consultant and the anaesthetist were pushing for a c-section because of my size, but I rejected and carried on. I knew that I could do it.

In the end I managed all but the last hour without any pain relief at all and the last hour I allowed myself some gas and air. He was born at 2.10am on the 27th weighing 7lbs 14oz and is perfect.

My advice to everyone is to not let them put time pressure on you. If you choose a c-section, that of course is your choice and I am fully supportive, but I am so glad I didn’t let them hound me into one. The ward they put me on (postnatal) I was the only one that had a natural birth. It was so hard watching everyone else struggle even picking up their newborns, whereas I was up and walking about straight away.

Birth in a time of Covid-19 – Kay’s experience

They are taking the upmost care due to current situations, and I am generally a bit of a worrier. If you’re like me don’t let it get you down, I cannot express how safe they made me feel!

The midwifes were only allowed in that section of the hospital. Birthing partners were limited to one and had to take their own food etc. Once they were on the ward they couldn’t leave and come back again. It’s reduced the risk and made everyone feel more comfortable. We all washed so much too, mums, dads, and staff.

All in all it was a very positive experience, even in the circumstances.

Good luck everyone, from one very happy mumma. 💜

*****

Thanks for taking the time out to share that Kay, and congratulations!

Birth in a time of Covid-19 – highlights from the RCOG guidance

The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists is carefully monitoring all evidence as it’s released. So for up to date information, it is definitely best to read the advice on their page. The below is current as of 31st March 2020:

Generally, pregnant women do not appear to be more likely to be seriously unwell than other healthy adults if they develop the new coronavirus.

Based on the evidence we have so far, pregnant women are still no more likely to contract coronavirus than the general population.

What has driven the decisions made by officials to place pregnant women in the vulnerable category is caution.

It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms.

If you think you may have symptoms of COVID-19 you should use the NHS 111 online service for information, or NHS 24 if in Scotland.

Our advice remains that if you feel your symptoms are worsening or if you are not getting better you should contact your maternity care team or use the NHS 111 online service / NHS 24 for further information and advice.

The most important thing to do is to follow government guidance [to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus].

It is really important that you continue to attend your scheduled routine care when you are well.

If you have any concerns, you will still be able to contact your maternity team but please note they may take longer to get back to you

There is a long FAQ section in the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists advice so it’s likely most questions you have may be covered there.

Stay safe, and look after yourselves.

x

Big Birtha

Why hospitals need to grant pool access to bigger women

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know that I strongly believe hospitals need to grant pool access to women with higher BMIs.

My being denied access with my first-born is one of the reasons this blog even exists! I’d discussed it at every appointment, was promised a pool birth in the hospital (so long as the pool in the delivery suite wasn’t occupied when I needed it), taken on a tour of the pool room, but then repeatedly denied access to the pool while I was in labour until someone finally told me at 8cm dilated that I would not be allowed to use it after all. It’s also the reason I chose to have my second baby at home!

Hospitals need to grant pool access to bigger women - Big Birtha's Home Water Birth

My second labour and birth, where I did have access to a pool, confirmed everything I had suspected. The warm water was incredible at helping me manage the pain of contractions! Coupled with that, the buoyancy provided by the water meant that I could move around with ease. I was so much more comfortable and relaxed – even during contractions!

The frustrating thing is there’s no evidence to support restricting access!!

To be honest, there’s not a lot of good-quality evidence about the use of birth pools full stop. But because so few women get access to water birth there’s no data to show it’s safe for larger mums. But because there’s no data to show it’s safe, we’re denied access! Anyone see a problem here?

I’m not alone in thinking this!

It turns out that Health Care Professionals are beginning to notice this. So I’m delighted to report that the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services asked me to write an article for their journal, complete with oodles of references for you to wave in the faces of healthcare naysayers you may meet. Enjoy!

AIMS Journal Article featuring Big Birtha

https://www.aims.org.uk/journal/item/waterbirth-high-bmi