Maternity Experience

Environment and Facilities

What is a ‘Positive’ birth?

The experience of birth will stay with a woman her whole life time


Ask any women her birth story and she will recount it with easy, there is no experience that can compare to bringing a tiny baby into the arms of a loving family. The effects of a birth experience will stay with a woman her whole life , it can effect her subsequent births, her health, her relationships, sometimes for the rest of her life.

So what is a positive birth? What can we do to help women have a positive birth?

As with all things in life choice is very important and this is no different when it comes to birth. Choice is so important for women and should be the foundation of any birth. Women should be aware of their choices and what is available for them. Is there a midwife led unit she can use? Will she be able to have a home birth? What about free birthing? Can she elect to have a cesarean section? These are all things a woman may wish to consider when choosing how to have her baby. Consider how much thought may go into the purchase of a pram. I know couples that have spent months researching and looking at all the different prams available. Shouldn’t we be helping and making sure that just as much thought and research is going into the choices for birth?

What’s also important is accurate evidence based information that will enable a women to make an informed choice. How far from a hospital is she if she chooses a home birth? What are the risks of a cesarean section and the results for future pregnancies? What actually is free birthing? Why has it been recommended to have the baby in a hospital? By good communication and giving accurate information women can be helped to make a informed choice that is right for them and their baby.

So what makes a birth positive?

Think about a day or an event that you enjoyed lately that you view as positive. What made it positive? Maybe it was who was there, or the place you went or what you did. Does a positive event mean that it always goes to plan with everything prefect? No, sometimes even when things don’t go to plan they are still positive. Will everyone have the same view of what is positive and does everyone view the same experiences as positive? Chances are what you find positive someone else wont. So when it comes to birth it is very individual. Every woman has her own view of what a positive birth is.

Picture for a moment a woman, she was desperately looking forward to the birth of her baby, however something went wrong and her beautiful baby was born sleeping. Now she is pregnant again, she is racked with fear, anxiety fills every day as she worries about the safety of her baby. She desires control, needs reassurance of medical staff and the technology they process. For this woman her choice for her birth is a cesarean, her baby delivered, well and alive in a controlled way, at her choosing. As her baby is lifted from her body and she hears the cry of her newborn baby relief, joy and hope fills her heart. This is her positive birth.

Now picture a woman whose previous birth was traumatic an emergency cesarean with much medical interventions. Her recovery was long and feeding was difficult. But this time she wishes to stay at home as long as she can. She wants to trust her body to birth her baby and believe that she can safely bring her little one into the world. She wants calmness and solitude and as little intervention as possible. So she hires a doula that supports her at home till the journey to hospital.  Once there in a room thats dark and quiet, with time and the support of her partner she births her baby on all fours into her own hands and she feels at peace. This is her positive birth.

Then there’s the woman that is terrified of birth, of hospitals and doctors. Abused as a child she has trouble trusting people. Yet tears are streaming down her face as she holds her newborn baby, with her is a midwife she trusts and she feels safe in the beautiful room of her local midwife lead unit. Around her are her things that bring her comfort and peace. Her favourite song is playing as the warm waters of birth pool lap around her soothing her tired body. This is her positive birth.

A positive birth will be different for every woman, what matters is what birth means to her. It’s important that a woman’s choice is supported and her wishes understood and as far as possible she is able to have the birth she wishes.

Of course sometimes things don’t go as planned and the birth a woman wants and has planned may not happen. However we can still make sure that it is positive. How?

Firstly communication. Always should a woman know what is happening and why. Explaining what is happening gives the woman confidence and builds trust with those who are caring for her. Understanding the things happening too her will easy anxiety and lessen fear. Don’t forget communication means listening too!

Secondly choice. No matter what is happening the woman still should be given choices. Allowing a woman to have choice even in difficult situations means we give control back to her and her birth.

Thirdly, dignity, respect and compassion feed positivity. Always should a woman feel that she has been treated with dignity by everyone around her. Small things like asking before doing checks and saying please and thank you go a long way. A woman should never be judged or labeled. Respect should be shown her and her choices and her concerns and fears. It maybe that her choices are difficult for us to understand but still they are hers and we must respect them. Never should a woman be spoken to unkindly or her needs ignored.

What about Compassion?

Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion is really the act of going out of your way to help physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another’

Compassion should move those who support a woman in birth to go out of their way to help her.  She is someone’s wife, sister, daughter, she has her own story, feelings, needs, fears, concerns. Care should be individual for each woman taking into account her personality, her background, her current situation. This may sound like an impossible task but is it? Ask yourself if it was you what would you want? More importantly as we said at the outset if the way a woman births stays with her her whole life time then we must do everything we can to make her birth positive. so that she looks back on it and remembers that those around her did everything they could to make her feel loved. images (15)

Emma Jane Sasaru

@ESasaruNHS

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#MatExp at 36+2 – dangerously understaffed

One final blog post in this initial round of #MatExp feedback from my Facebook group.  Once again, this story is told in the mum’s own words….

“I had a very straightforward pregnancy and was expecting to to go overdue (I was born 14 days late).

My waters broke at 36 + 2 with absolutely no warning, I’d had some indigestion earlier in the day but that had gone by the evening and I was out for dinner with my partner, his Grandad and his Grandad’s friends. We live in Manchester and the meal was in Wakefield, my waters going was very obvious and completely mortifying but luckily I was wearing black jeans and restaurant floor was pretty dark. We called Pinderfields Hospital (a couple of miles from the restaurant) who said to come in as my waters had gone before 37 weeks.  I got to the hospital at about 9.30pm and I was hooked up to a monitor for 2 hours which confirmed that the baby’s heartbeat was fine. They were clearly very busy but at about midnight I was examined and they also confirmed that I was not in labour, I wasn’t having any pain at this stage. They said that because I was early I would have to be induced within 24 hours if it didn’t happen naturally or I could go back to Manchester where they have a different policy and they’d let me go to 37 weeks (not sure this was true). They said they couldn’t advise us to move to Manchester but they didn’t think it would be a problem.  I felt pretty confident as I wasn’t having any contractions and I’d been reassured by the monitoring. I was also worried about the baby being small and so I was keen to go to 37 weeks if possible. All my notes, stuff for hospital etc was all in Manchester. 

St Mary's Hospital, Manchester
St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester


We decided to leave and waited 2 hours for a discharge letter (during this time we drove to a nearby garage for water and haribo) eventually they said they’d call St Mary’s instead and we left, the journey only took about 40 minutes and we got to St. Mary’s at 3.30am. I’d started to feel pains in the car and by the time we arrived at St Mary’s these were 3-4 mins apart. They weren’t strong and seemed quite bearable but I had no idea whether they were ‘proper’ contractions. I told them this when we arrived and they were quite dismissive, they said someone would talk to me about pain relief after a doctor had seen me and I couldn’t do anything before seeing a doctor as I was now high risk.

I was then told to wait in a small, hot triage room and my partner was sent home (an hour round trip) for my notes. Over the next three hours nurses came in periodically (never the same one twice) and I was put on a monitor for a while. I asked if I could moved to a room with a pool (as in my vague birth plan) but we were told we couldn’t have one, then I asked for a normal bath or shower but I was told I couldn’t have anything until a doctor had seen me. It felt like I was left for a really, really long time. I didn’t have anything practical with me (other than my kindle) and was still in my jeans and boots. Contractions were getting more frequent, I kept sending my partner out to see if someone could come and either no one was there or they told him no one was free, a nurse eventually gave me two paracetamol. 

Finally, three hours after we arrived I told him that he had to make someone come, I still didn’t know whether I was properly in labour and I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope with the pain. I felt like I needed the loo but it was a huge effort to make it down the corridor to the patient toilets. I was starting to think that I was in labour, but if not I definitely wanted all the pain relief available! I’d had about 20 minutes of quite serious pain and I had heard stories of people being in labour for days. Finally, at about 7 am a doctor arrived to examine me and told me I was fully dilated (which was a huge relief) and then it all happened really fast. 

I was rushed round to the birthing suite where there were two midwives, they hooked me up to gas and air but then said I couldn’t have it as I had to push. I was flat on my back and in quite an uncomfortable position, I felt like it was too late to move and no one asked if I wanted to, even though I was staring at a ‘natural birth positions’ poster all the way through. The pushing was quite painful but much easier to cope with as I knew it would be nearly over. I heard a loud pop and (I think) I cracked a rib. That was the most painful bit. The pushing stage was very short and in 15 minutes the baby was out. I had a second degree tear but didn’t feel it at all at the time. As I was pushing the midwife told me that I was going to tear which I didn’t find particularly helpful. 

They put the baby straight on me and it was amazing, I felt much less tearful than I had expected as I think I was in shock. After about 5 minutes we looked and saw that she was a girl (we didn’t know beforehand). To our relief, she was obviously not tiny even though she was early and when she was weighed we were told that she was 7lb 5oz. I think I had an injection and the placenta was out very soon afterwards, I wasn’t paying much attention. The next few hours were brilliant but then I did start to get sore, they were still waiting for a doctor to sew me up and in the end it wasn’t done until 4 hours after the birth. I had gas and air while the local anaesthetic was going in.

The stiches felt fine until the local anaesthetic wore off and then the pain was unbelievable, far worse than any part of the labour, I fainted and then lost a lot of blood. I was given paracetamol (again) without being examined and told, quite patronisingly, that I could expect it to hurt for a while. I tried to explain that it was too much pain to cope with but probably wasn’t very coherent. At this point my partner had baby (with no real clue what to do) and was trying to get someone to help as I kept fainting. I didn’t want to take her as I was so shaky I was worried I’d fall off the bed. Eventually, after a couple of hours a midwife looked at my stitches and said that there was a haematoma the size of her fist (nice) which was pushing out all the stitches. They said this would have to be drained and my stitches redone but by that time I didn’t care, I was just so happy that they were going to do something about the pain. I was told that I could have an epidural (finally!) for the procedure. I was supposed to be waiting for a slot in theatre but another midwife came in to borrow some equipment and noticed that I had lost a lot more blood. She went to get someone who was looking after me and then they said I would have to have a general anaesthetic because of the blood loss. I was rushed round to theatre where I was knocked out. They sorted out the stitches and gave me a blood transfusion.

I came round a few hours later and spent the first night on the high dependancy unit. This was (comparatively) brilliant as I had my own room and a nurse there most of the time. I had drips in both hands and my ribs and stitches were very, very painful so it was fantastic to have someone help lift my daughter out of the cot. Unfortunately after that we were taken to the ward and that was just awful.

My little girl hadn’t been able to breastfeed as she had a tongue tie, this was recognised straight away but we didn’t see the same midwife twice and they kept saying that she might manage it anyway. Because she was early she was being cup fed formula as they were monitoring something (possibly blood sugar) and my milk hadn’t come in. I ended up staying in for 5 nights trying to establish feeding but baby just wasn’t interested and when she did latch on she couldn’t suck. We were told she had to be either breastfeeding successfully or bottle feeding, we couldn’t go home cup feeding. I was so exhausted after 4 nights on the ward that we just decided to bottle feed her to get out of hospital. 

The time in hospital seems like such a blur as I was just so tired, my partner, mum etc all helped as much as they could during the day but I was still left alone from 8pm until 10am every night with almost no support. Sometimes there was a midwife around to help during the night but often not and with painful ribs/stitches I did feel like I needed help. Baby didn’t settle unless she was on me (which I knew was totally normal) and I fell asleep like that several times. Being back home was amazing, I was finally able to sleep for more than 20 minutes and I was able to enjoy my baby. 

The midwives that looked after me were all lovely but they were dangerously understaffed, I rarely saw the same one twice and I think this caused problems afterwards, I had to explain about Anna’s tongue tie every time someone tried to help with feeding and almost everyone mentioned that residual pain relief from labour was probably causing her feeding problems without bothering to look and see that I hadn’t had any. 

Being on the ward with no support was dangerous, I would never have fallen asleep with my baby on me in such a precarious position at home because I could have had her in the bed with me and I would have had support, or someone to take her so I could nap for 20 minutes. 14 hours is too long to have to look after a newborn with no help and in unfamiliar surroundings. Allowing partners to stay overnight would have changed the whole experience for me, even having a shorter period with no partners/visitors (e.g 12-6am) would have been so much better, 6 hours is manageable. 

I’m very aware that I was incredibly lucky to have an ‘easy’ birth (and my daughter is heathy and wonderful) but I’m still so angry about how I was treated, I think a lot if the fear and difficulty I had was purely due to the treatment in hospital and not the birth process at all – so unnecessary.” 

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#MatExp – Caught in the Middle

I am very grateful to yet another member of my Facebook group for providing me with her maternity experience to share with you.  In her own words…..

OnetoOne Midwives
OnetoOne Midwives

“My antenatal experiences with my NHS midwife and one consultant led to me transferring to the One-to-One Midwifery Service from about 30 weeks into my second pregnancy. The main issues I had with the NHS were:

    The cold and distant manner of the midwife
    The total lack of concern or questioning when I declined the breastfeeding DVD (as a natural term breastfeeder with my older son, with intention to tandem feed, I felt I didn’t need it – the midwife simply moved on to the next item and made no attempt to find out why I didn’t take the DVD. I found this shocking.)
    At a consultant appointment the consultant informed me that she had booked me in for an induction on my due date, due to my maternal age. No discussion. told her that that would not be happening.
    I had my heart set on a MLU, natural water birth, and I raised the issue of booking an induction without discussion or my consent issue with my MW. Her response was that I will do as the consultant decides. At this point I referred myself to One-to-One.
    Final point – one slightly raised blood pressure reading triggered off me being designated a high risk pregnancy, so I would have found myself on the consultant led side of things to give birth. Another big driver to move service. My BP was fine throughout the remainder of my pregnancy (with the help of Labetelol).

The whole experience was very ‘tick boxey’, with little or no consideration of the overall picture i.e. my health and fitness, my wishes, previous birth etc. I was very disappointed by the apparent lack of breastfeeding promotion.

So I had my second baby by natural home water birth, with the support of One-to-One Midwives. I ended up in hospital for ten days postnatally with HELLP Syndrome. One issue arising there was the strained relationship, and lack of joined up care provision, between the NHS staff and One-to-One. Before transferring myself to One-to-One, I had heard from a fellow NCT Refresher class Mum, that she had had a bad experience in this regard also.

Arrowe Park Hospital
Arrowe Park Hospital

I was transferred via ambulance to Arrowe Park Hospital following the birth of my daughter in April 2014, with what turned out to be HELLP Syndrome. My daughter came with me. We were in for a total of ten nights.

Although I was a patient, my daughter was not. This became a problem when she needed to have her 72 hour check. In the initial stages, my partner was doing the communicating with my One-to-One midwife; and she told us that my baby would have to be taken to an alternative venue for the check by noon on the Saturday. I was in no fit state to add to the discussion, being quite poorly and ‘not with it’.

Ostensibly One-to-One staff were not allowed on the hospital premises to carry out the check; NHS staff could not do it as my daughter was not a patient. I did become involved in the discussions when Saturday morning arrived, my partner was trying to arrange child care for our older child (not easy as we have no family close by), and it dawned on me that my newborn baby was about to be taken away from me. Breastfeeding aside, that would be traumatic for all involved – baby, me and Dad!

Bearing in mind that the main issue for me was dangerously high blood pressure at that point, I was drawn into having direct telephone conversations with One-to-One, and quite heated talks with NHS staff – who made out that there was absolutely no way One-to-One could come into the hospital to do the checks – no insurance I think was the issue from memory? As my baby was not a patient then they definitely could not perform the check – to do so would generate a second NHS number for her, which I was told would have the potential to cause us problems when trying to register her birth. The systems would not be able to cope with it. We felt that systems were taking priority over the well-being of our newborn baby.

In the end a One-to-One midwife did come into the hospital to do the check. There was an uncomfortable atmosphere between the two sets of staff.

On a side note, my daughter was diagnosed with a mild tongue tie and a referral supposedly made. In fact no appointment ever came through. Fortunately the tongue tie was never an issue.

My One-to-One midwife came to see me in hospital on a number of occasions; each time I picked up on tension between the parties.

Apart from the stress around my daughter’s check, I have to say that the majority of the care I received on the labour ward was fantastic. Apart from one incident where I suffered a huge loss of dignity and lack of respect or concern for my personal space and being. In fact I felt totally humiliated. It happened on my final night at Arrowe Park (so day ten of my stay); I was rushed down from the maternity ward to the labour ward as my blood pressure was so high. I was given intravenous drugs to bring it down; it would have been a trip to the cardiac unit if this had not worked. I needed the toilet – and not just a wee. I was told I had to remain on the bed and my request to use a commode was refused. So I had to use a pot under the sheets. Except the sheet was inadequate and I knew that I wasn’t covered up. So I tried to throw my dressing gown over my knees. People were coming and going in and out of the room. I had a sudden moment of realisation of the total indignity of the situation – people could well have been able to see me trying to have a poo, knees up in the air, largely uncovered. I cried. I just wanted to go home, with my baby.”

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#MatExp – The Good, The Bad and The Unacceptable

When I first came across Florence and Gill and the MatExp Campaign, I knew my group would have a lot of maternity experiences to provide to them.  We are always discussing and sharing birth stories, and when I asked them for their feedback it came in abundance.  Their stories, from all round the UK, have been passed on to Florence and Gill, and also to Jeanne, midwifery lecturer at Salford University.  I have permission to share an initial snapshot with you here, to give you a flavour of the ordinary maternity experiences that are happening around the country and which, for the most part, do not get formally discussed once they are over.

The Good

This was the hardest section to find quotes for.  Not, thankfully, because I didn’t have any good birth experiences to work with, but because I was looking for quotations praising the midwives.  But when you read a positive birth story the midwives are rarely mentioned.  They are there, and their actions are noted, but they do not receive praise for their interventions, because a positive birth story is about the mother: her experience, her actions and her achievement.  Rest assured there are plenty of positive stories being shared amongst us, but in terms of positive feedback there is only a little:

“Although I ended up with a c-section after induction, pre eclampsia and gestational diabetes plus a lengthy hospital stay, I only have good things to say about my experience.  At all points I felt they were doing the best for me and my baby.  I loved the fact that, during my stay in hospital, when midwives asked you how you were feeding they always responded ‘bottle feeding, brilliant’ or ‘breastfeeding, brilliant’ – there was no obvious preference amongst the staff but they were very supportive of either.”

“When I got the epidural I had a lovely midwife waiting with me for the drip to work.  I really appreciated her calm, kind attitude – she was so so lovely and I think the fact that it was one to one care made it amazing.  I felt so well cared for.  When I started to push everyone was SO LOVELY and I felt very in control.  It was when they said I needed forceps I started to lose it a bit but they were still lovely even though I was throwing the F-word around a bit by now.  I was transferred to theatre and started to get a bit scared, but again my midwife was very reassuring.  I had a spinal block which sadly went too high and I started to suffocate. I had to have a GA and I was very frightened but seriously, all praise to the staff, they were so calm and kind.  The consultant offered me a debrief appointment and I went to it about twelve weeks later – it helped me process everything.  Whilst it wasn’t a great experience I feel the hospital did everything they could to help me and safeguard my emotional health following a scary time.”

“I had excellent care in my second pregnancy with the same midwife all the way through; wonderful home water birth and excellent postnatal care, including breastfeeding support.  A great example of how important it is having the same person looking after you and building a relationship.”

What we really want in pregnancy!
What we really want in pregnancy!

The Bad

“While being assessed I gave permission to be examined vaginally on arrival to assess my progress.  On finishing the exam the midwife said ‘you’re a good 4-5cm dilated already so I gave you a good stretch whilst I was there to speed it up.’  I had not been asked if I would like a cervical stretch.  I did not give my permission for a cervical stretch.”

“Both myself and a friend progressed very quickly once the induction took and struggled to cope with intense pains that came every minute or less.  Both of us had dismissive midwives who offered no explanation as to why the pain was so intense and why we could have no painkillers other than paracetamol.  We were both told to go to sleep (as if!) and told that if we couldn’t cope now how would we cope when labour was established – which was terrifying!                                                    Both of us coped just fine on gas and air.”

“Breastfeeding support was rubbish.  My husband showed me how to manually express milk after reading the breastfeeding book.  The support workers just shoved my boob in baby’s mouth but I didn’t understand how I was supposed to do it when they weren’t there.”

“…..another midwife was lovely and kind and murmured comforting words as she fixed the belts and monitoring equipment, then left me behind the screen.  Bossy midwife then came along and yanked back the screen, announcing that she ‘liked to see her ladies when there are being monitored.’ So I was sat with my jeans so low that my pubic hair was showing, my whole bump exposed, while a couple of women I didn’t know and their partners tried to look anywhere but at me.  I had very little shame by that point but this upset me.  It felt like punishment.”

Always use your
Always use your “B.R.A.I.N.”

 

“With my 4th baby I was still keen to have a homebirth but requested a growth scan near my due date to monitor baby’s size and check it would be safe [due to previous shoulder dystocia]. This was refused. They ‘didn’t do growth scans’. I could have a homebirth but not a scan. I repeated the request to other midwives but nobody suggested referring me or even seemed to care. I eventually found a midwife who took me seriously and referred me to the consultant. When I eventually got my hospital appointment I saw a registrar who honestly didn’t seem to know what he was doing. He said I couldn’t have a growth scan but refused homebirth in case I had shoulder dystocia again.  After another appointment I insisted I saw the actual consultant. The consultant said I couldn’t have a scan but agreed to do a sweep 1 week before my due date. In the end, I asked about a due date induction to reduce the risk of the baby getting too big as I was so frustrated at this point and nervous of baby getting stuck again. They seemed surprised but agreed, so that’s what we did.”

 

 

 

The Unacceptable

Despite the draw of a catchy title, I refused to refer to any of these experiences as “ugly”.  A new life entering the world is never ugly.  But I feel that “unacceptable” is appropriate for these two experiences, and I hope that you do too:

“My midwife asked, whilst examining me to see how far dilated I was, if I’d like a sweep.  I was in agony so I said no.  She did it anyway.  I screamed and hubby said he had never seen me look so pained before or since.  She only said ‘done now’.”

“All going smoothly until I haemorrhaged.  I was rushed to delivery and the consultants managed to stem the bleeding, with a review scheduled to decide if theatre was necessary.  There was a question mark over retained placenta/products. The placenta was torn and was not confirmed as complete. I had another procedure to stem another heavy bleed with the review still scheduled for later in the day.  A junior consultant came and decided that they weren’t going to take me to theatre that day despite still having heavy bleeding.  I had not been given any food or drink (other than water) since the previous evening.  This was 2pm on Saturday.

After this, I didn’t see a midwife (nor anyone else) for hours.  My room had blood covered surgical instruments left on the side plus the swabs etc from the procedures, my catheter came out and I was left in a soaked bed for what seemed like a long time plus the bleeding was still very bad.  My buzzer was not answered for long periods of time. I was eventually transferred to a ward at around 8pm.  Once on the ward, I continued to bleed and clot heavily.  The midwife said this was normal.  My obs were low but I didn’t want a blood transfusion unless absolutely necessary.  There was no further mention of retained placenta/products and I was allowed home after 3 days.

This resulted in four and a half weeks later being rushed to surgery to have the retained products removed.  This was after 3 separate haemorrhages which again the community midwives said just needed monitoring.  I was lucky that I didn’t get an infection.  The advice in A&E was that I should have called an ambulance.”

I have a lot more #MatExp feedback to share, too much for one blog post.  I will put up more soon.  For now I will leave you with this illustration of the discussions at a recent Families & Midwives Together Conference I attended at Salford University:

Families & Midwives Together
Families & Midwives Together

What could have been better about the care you received?

 

Helen Calvert. 2015

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