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.