As Christmas beckons (don't panic, we have a few weeks left!), what better time to talk about birth? While many women are unlikely to face the straw, manger, stable scenario, across the world women's experiences are hugely different, some women giving birth in truly adverse circumstances, others' surrounded by love and support.
There are some shocking stories and statistics. On Woman's Hour the other day there was an item about women in Ebola-stricken countries giving birth alone on the side of the road, terrified of going to medical facilities for fear of infection and unable to find someone prepared to attend them due to the risk of contact with bodily fluids. In the UK, half of pregnant asylum seekers give birth ALONE, isolated, unable to access help and support and terrified of leaving their children.
So in this context, most of the women reading this blog probably have it pretty good. In the UK, we have the NHS, free at the point of delivery. We have access to antental care and advice, we can make choices about where we have our babies and who we want to be there. But as we all know, experiences do vary hugely. In a somewhat cathartic piece I wrote last year, I discussed why women may feel their experiences are not entirely positive: If giving birth is safer than at any time in history, why is it scarier than ever?
But actually we do need to be positive and we do need to empower ourselves to have a positive birth experience, which in turn can help set us up for a positive parenting experience. During the daily pieces I will be publishing as part of BIRTH WEEK, we will look at how we can move forward in the UK, supporting women's choices and rights, rather than regressing in the face of budget cuts and strikes. All women deserve the right to make informed decisions, for these decisions to be respected, be it home birth or elective caesarean, epidural or reflexology, and to be treated with dignity and compassion when we need it most.
What's coming up on BIRTH WEEK?
I am delighted to present the views and expertise of mothers and dedicated professionals advocating for pregnant and labouring women. We will hear from:
- Sheena Byrom OBE, (@sagefemmeSB), an inspirational midwife who has been practising for 37 years, was one of the first Consultant Midwives in the UK, has a bestselling memoir and, not least, four children!
- Dr Ruth-Anna Macqueen (@doctorrah) Obstretrics & Gynaecology Registrar and mum of two, who gives us an insight into why it is important to keep an open mind.
- Rebecca Shiller (@Hackneydoula), Doula, Co-Chair of Birthrights and mum of two, who campaigns for women's choices and rights to be respected in pregnancy and childbirth
- Clare Thomas, a mum who has given birth in hospital and at home, gives us her view on the NICE guidance recommending home births for women having their second child.
- Mars Lord (@mammydoula) mum of five (including twins) and doula, talks about what if there's more than one baby!?
- Season Holland, a mum in New Jersey, tells us what it's like across the 'ole fish pond. No NHS but you can get an epidural when you want one!
And finally, we have a collection of contributions from mums in the UK sharing what really made a difference to their birth experience. Who they are grateful to, who made them feel reassured or empowered or safe. What really matters.
Please do comment and share your views. Birth is such an important topic that the more we can learn from each other and support each other, the better able we may be to improve services for everyone.
Thanks for reading!