should birth choices be a fight?

IMG_2104

Ready to pop

I was about to leave the hospital with my four-day-old twins. We’d been admitted the morning after their birth because Jake had difficulty breathing. Luckily, all was fine but we had spent a stressful few days on the ward when we wanted to be at home enjoying our new babies. As I signed the discharge paperwork, the midwife blurted out, “You didn’t have to go to One to One Midwives, you know. You’d have been able to have your home birth under us if you’d fought harder.”

I was speechless for a moment – surely I’d misheard. But as she waited for me to answer, I realised I hadn’t, that she thought this was an acceptable, even normal thing to remark.

“Maybe so, but I shouldn’t have to fight at all, should I?” was all I could manage to respond.

Sadly, the expectation that a pregnant woman will have to fight to get the birth she wants seems to be ingrained in our state maternity care. Many of the women I know who have given birth have had to argue with either midwives or consultants to enforce their rights (and make no mistake about it, they are RIGHTS, not privileges) – only to have their preferences ignored when they are in labour.

My own fight began as soon as two tiny beating hearts showed up on my dating scan. “That’s your home birth out of the window then!” commented the first midwife we saw, as we sat still reeling from the shock. Next came our appointment with our consultant, because of course we were now automatically considered to be high-risk. We were told I would be induced at 36 weeks (against WHO guidelines, by the way), given an epidural immediately upon arrival “just in case”, and that if I chose to refuse induction, I would be “no longer supported” by the hospital.

We asked for the evidence to back up what she was saying these risks were – we are reasonable people, after all, and we did not want to put our babies at risk unnecessarily. “I don’t have that to hand, you’ll just have to trust me,” was her response. No thanks, I’d rather see the evidence, I thought.

I came away from this appointment feeling defeated. “If I can’t even try for the birth I want, I’d rather just have an elective C-section,” I cried to my husband. I was left with the belief that I could choose to go along with what the consultant said, or I’d be giving birth to twins completely unassisted.

Luckily for me, a friend told me about One to One Midwives or my pregnancy and birth experiences would have been very different. Unluckily, my fight continued and every admission to hospital (of which there were a few; pregnancy took a huge toll on my body) included a battle, explaining why I was not under the Trust’s care. In one case I was told by a midwife that they did not have to treat me because I had discharged myself from their maternity services. This is completely false, which I knew and told her, but her attitude towards me still had me in tears.

I had an amazing birth experience with Aurora and Jake and I will be eternally grateful to Sarah, my named midwife, and the team at One to One Midwives for being there for me in the way that *I* needed. I was empowered and enabled to birth my babies how I wanted to, I was listened to and respected, and in that I found the care that was sadly so lacking from the NHS during my pregnancy and subsequent admission with the babies.

I had an amazing experience – but I am still very angry. I did not choose to go to another maternity care provider for the hell of it. I was failed by the people who should have been supporting me when I needed it most. If I could not get my voice heard during routine appointments, how would I manage in the throes of labour? How could I trust people to help bring my babies into the world safely when they did not listen to me, never mind respect what I was saying?

It was worth it, of course, but it should not have been like this. No woman should have to fight to be heard during pregnancy and labour. No midwife or doctor should tell us what they will or won’t “allow” us to do. I was talked to so patronisingly by hospital healthcare professionals that I began to respond simply by saying, “my babies, my body – my choice.”

I expect the anger will fade eventually, but what I am sadly left with is a deep mistrust of our state maternity care. Believing that a midwife or doctor is able to “allow” us (or not) our choices is wrong and it must have a negative impact on normal pregnancy and birth.

How hard should you have to fight for the birth you want? The answer is, you shouldn’t have to fight at all. How hard might you have to fight? Unfortunately, if my experience is anything to go by – pretty bloody hard.

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About Ellie Thouret

I'm an obsessive knitter based in the UK's North West. Passionate about good food, crafts, home decor and my family.
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14 Responses to should birth choices be a fight?

  1. Ami says:

    Thank you for speaking out about your experience. I am so pleased to hear that you found the support that you deserved in the end but as you say you shouldn’t have to endure the stress and anxiety that you faced before you transferred. Well done for not accepting what you were told and doing your research, it’s worrying that so many women don’t know that they have a choice.

    I recently experienced similar treatment in my third pregnancy with a breech baby. The treatment that I had from the consultant was, in my eyes bullying and emotional blackmail to try to get me to agree to a planned caesarean at 39 weeks. I also changed care providers to a different hospital trust at 38 weeks as I was too scared to go to the hospital that I had booked under. I had a successful natural, uncomplicated breech birth at 41 weeks. I’m having a meeting with her in a couple of weeks to discuss my treatment and feedback on my experience, she needs to know how she made me feel and the stress ruined the last weeks of my pregnancy.

    • Thank you for sharing, Ami. I am glad you had a successful experience but as you say, the way you were made to feel was wrong. Do pop back and let me know how your debrief hopes – good luck.

  2. Great post! I agree entirely, it’s very wrong that we have to fight for our rights and even for the courtesy of being treated like intelligent beings capable of making and understanding complex choices. I’m glad you had a good birth, but sorry you had to fight for it.

  3. Gina Doherty says:

    Maybe people should write in their birth plan: If you do not follow my wishes I will sue you. We are too nice. We cry instead of shouting and get trodden on. When mothers start taking the doctors and midwives to court for the way they behave, only then will they sit up and take notice and start treating mothers with the respect they deserve. I support mums to breastfeed and I am so fed up with the stories I hear, not just about the pregnancy and birth but the disastrous advice and bullying that serve to sabotage breastfeeding. The midwives have no idea of the negative impact they can have on mothers, but they just move on to the next mum because no one has the time or energy to complain.

    • I don’t agree that threatening litigation is the right path. We should be respected, not listened to under duress. The NHS has, in my opinion, too much of a culture of risk avoidance already. I cannot see that improving if women start taking legal action against maternity care providers for not following wishes.

  4. Vicki says:

    While it is awful that you weren’t listened too and the sway does seem to be towards medical intervention . There are fabulous midwives out there, I wanted a natural hypnobirth with my son unfortunately I suffered a spell of food poisoning for the 2 days before I went into labour, I was physically and mentally exhausted from this and in reality not in the right state to have the birth I wanted. My midwife was kind and patient and non patronising and when through all my options. In the end I had an epidural, which was the complete opposite to what I wanted, but the midwife did turn on candles and blended me essential oils to help me relax and sleep, to try to make my sons birth a little bit like the birth I had wanted. I chose to be guided by the experience and knowledge of my midwife, while under no pressure to do so. While I think there are some horrid professionals out there, but, there are some exceptional ones. We really need to focus on the out come… So what if I didn’t get the birth experience I wanted, I took home my 7lb 3 1/2 bundle who was safe and well. Threatening to sue your midwife/consultant team really isn’t the answer would we rather have our babies die? Of course not!

    • But the outcome is not the only thing that matters, Vicki. With my first birth, I suffered PTSD which led to PND and an inability to bond with my baby – more than three years on, it’s still having an effect. With my second pregnancy, my experience and mistreatment still makes me very angry and upset.

      Coming home with a healthy baby matters, but it isn’t ALL that matters.

  5. Jo q says:

    Brilliant post. I hear way too much “I thought I wasn’t allowed to” when it comes to birth. Women need to learn that how they birth is up to them and more importantly maternity services really need to stop fostering the idea that it isn’t.

  6. Ellie, you write eloquently and I’m afraid your experience is felt by far too many. Congratulations to you though for your persistence, courage of convictions and resourcefulness in getting the birth you wanted for you and your babies. Hurrah for One to One Midwives and others like them! The issue of having to fight for one’s birth choices, of spending one’s pregnancy worrying about whether you can trust that your choices will be respected (and fearing that they won’t) and dealing with fear-inducing tactics of medical professionals has NO place in normal pregnancy and birth and is incredibly detrimental. I know this from personal experience and from witnessing many other pregnant mums in my local community. How medical professionals within the NHS communicate with pregnant women needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, as does the workload of NHS midwives whose appointments are squeezed to a 15-minute form-filling exercise with no scheduled breaks in my locality which does nothing for nurturing staff and promoting a supportive environment for them or the ladies they should serve.

  7. THANK YOU!! Thank you for expressing what so many feel. I’m currently at the start of my hbac battle and already facing pressure 😦
    I’ve got myself a doula this time as last time I was utterly broken by the bullying, cruelness and trauma from my forced induction. I find it so sad that so many women blame themselves for their birth experience because of the negative language and cascade of interventions inflicted by some medical staff.
    I think the tides are turning now and people are becoming more aware of the difference between what’s a risk and what’s just not hospital policy.

  8. Paula Cleary says:

    Sorry you had to fight. I know only too well how exhausting that is. I’m a grassroots birth campaigner fighring for women’s right to a homebirth, since our local hospital took away the service. Our website is http:// http://www.birthplacematters.org.uk and its full of inspiration and hope for women who are having to fight! Also check out Birthrights org and AIMS who have a great booklet called ‘Am I allowed?’ All the best xx

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