An open letter to The Observer…

motherhood

newborn

Safe delivery is not the ONLY thing that matters when giving birth.

Dear Observer,

I would have preferred to have been able to address this letter to somebody more personally but alas the article to which I’m responding was published anonymously. It’s not surprising given the offensive and archaic nature of the statements made, reminiscent of a time before women had autonomy, but I would have preferred the author to have had the balls to put their name to their words. Perhaps the author did have balls? Maybe that explains the anonymity. A man telling a woman that her thoughts and feelings about her birth, her body and her baby are irrelevant and unimportant might break the Internet.

Now to start, I don’t know what I’m more surprised about; the fact a supposedly left-wing and liberal-minded paper has so explicitly dismissed the importance of women’s feelings, thoughts and experiences when it comes to childbirth, ironically a uniquely female experience or the fact you published an article with the incorrect use of ‘to’ (it should have been ‘too’). Either way, your quality control is obviously on annual leave this summer.

Being serious though, my first issue is the discussion around the normal birth campaign and the decision by the RCM to change the word ‘normal’ to ‘physiological’ when describing natural vaginal birth without intervention.

The RCM acknowledges that the word ‘normal’ might make those that do not have natural births feel not normal and like they failed somehow. Being not normal is rarely perceived as a good thing and suggests something is wrong. This is the reasoning behind the decision to change the word to ‘physiological’ – a word which creates a less negative dichotomy.

I wholly support this decision because as a hypnobirthing teacher and psychology graduate I understand the impact language can have on wellbeing and therefore how important it is to be mindful of the language we use around birth.

I applaud the RCM for recognising the negative connotations around the word ‘normal’ and for taking appropriate action and substituting the word with ‘physiological’. They have done so because they value women and care about the way they feel. They recognise the importance of mental health and how women feel about their birth experience in the postnatal period. They care about more than just safety. They care about feelings, mental and psychological wellbeing and language. This change in wording is representative of their whole ethos; to provide women-centred care.

Now here’s the important bit: nothing about this change in word means there is going to be a change in approach, attitude or belief regarding natural birth. The RCM will continue as they have always done to promote natural childbirth. They might call it ‘physiological’ rather than ‘normal’ but essentially the work they do will remain the same.

I don’t think it’s too tricky a concept to grasp yet you seem to have somehow misinterpreted this simple change of word as some sort of acknowledgement by the RCM that they have been dangerously campaigning and pressuring women to have natural births even when it’s not been in the women’s best interest to do so. This is grossly incorrect and at complete odds with what Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, has stated on the matter. I notice you didn’t use any direct quotes.

The RCM promotes natural childbirth for low risk women because it offers the best outcomes for Mum and Baby. This is not based on dogma, personal experience or ideology. This is based on evidence and stats. This is based on scientific fact.

The birthplace study evaluated the outcomes for 64,000 women and their babies across the UK. in various birth places and found, for example, that for second time low risk women giving birth at home or in a midwife-led birth centre offered best outcomes for both Mum and Baby with fewer interventions.

There is nothing therefore dangerous or irresponsible about midwifes promoting natural birth to women for whom natural birth is statistically safest. The only thing dangerous that’s happening here is sloppy journalism misinforming the public.

Finally what happened at Morecambe Bay is more than unfortunate, it’s tragic. My heart goes out to the parents who lost their beautiful babies in circumstances that could have been avoided. I sincerely hope those responsible are brought to justice. There is no doubt that pursuing natural birth above all else is dangerous and irresponsible but it’s important to recognise that what happened at Morecambe Bay is not indicative of the culture in maternity services across the UK.

Yes midwives promote natural childbirth but midwives also work alongside obstetricians and support women through more medicalised births every single day. They recommend and even encourage interventions when that is best, following the evidence-based guidelines that exist. They ensure women are informed and treated with dignity and care.

They also recognise women as intelligent autonomous individuals and most importantly acknowledge their right to make decisions regarding their bodies and babies and support their wishes whilst ensuring they are fully informed.

As a woman, a mother and a human who believes in equality I will be forever grateful that we have midwives who work tirelessly to support women in birth. If midwives held the same opinion as The Observer we would be in serious trouble. Women’s voices in birth would be completely sidelined and their birth experience deemed irrelevant in a birth model where the only thing that matters is the safe delivery of a baby, at all costs. Where the safe delivery of a baby is the measurement of a successful birth. That’s what would be really dangerous, not to mention scary! I can’t help but draw comparisons to the dystopic future as seen in A Handmaid’s Tale where the handmaids’ wellbeing is considered a small price to pay for the delivery of a live child.

Birth experience matters. It’s very possible to have a safe birth and a positive and empowering experience. Birth doesn’t have to be intervention-free to be positive and for some women it will be necessary for their birth to be more medicalised, but what’s important is that women are fully informed and able to make decisions that are right for them and their babies and are supported in their choices.

That should be what we all campaign for. On that note, please see the RCM’s Better Births initiative.

Thank you for reading.

Best Regards,

Siobhan Miller

If you want to find out more about how hypnobirthing can help you navigate your birth calmly and confidently and ensure you have the best birth for you and your baby, however that birth may be, please visit The Positive Birth Company. I teach classes monthly in London, Devon and Birmingham and run the Positive Birth Retreat® – a 3 night luxury mini break for expectant couples; a babymoon combined with the fully comprehensive hypnobirthing antenatal course.

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