I am an avid follower of #TheObsPod and I was excited when #FabObs Florence Wilcock, who tweets as @FWmaternity, said she was producing an episode around disability in pregnancy. You can listen to it here: Episode 56: The Obs Pod – Maternity Experience (matexp.org.uk)
I found it really beautiful and it gave rise to so many thoughts. Wheelchair-user Emily Yates and her partner CJ decide whether they want to be parents and what it would mean for them. Practicality and perception.
I enjoyed it so much, it prompted me to write a few reflections:
What amazing parents these two would be – their strong relationship shines through. I love the humour, the depth of thought about the stuff that matters without overthinking the stuff that doesn’t; the sheer humanity
What a great way to explore a topic in depth, looking at it from different perspectives. Being real. What if Emily ended up as a single parent? What does it mean, as a disabled mother, to have a baby or for a child to be raised by a mum in a wheelchair?
Finding out how modern equipment can help. How brilliant that you can have a plastic baby delivered in a box and find out whether you can physically look after it – a bit like a Tamagotchi!
Societal attitudes. Stereotypes. The need to break stereotypes.
The Dad’s perspective. CJ is really keen to become a Dad, but will he ever be able to get out of the house again? But then don’t ALL would-be parents worry about how much their freedom will be curtailed.
Making clear that it is not all about worries that arise disability, but verbalising the worries all new parents have – how will I feel about the house being covered with poo and milk?
Availability of information. Why is there so little information to support disabled parents? What can we do about that? I’m sure some of our #MatExp community can make some good contributions here?
What an amazing series this BBC Sounds is – how lovely to dip into such a well-made piece of active research and get insight into other people’s lives.
Proud that our very own #FabObs Flo was the consultant obstetrician helping the couple on their way. So important to explore realistically what would be involved medically and find ways to support people to live their lives to the full and fulfil their dreams.
A really uplifting experience listening to this, and I wish Emily and CJ well with whatever life brings to them.
We recently ran a virtual Whose Shoes? event around baby loss, in conjunction with Gloucestershire maternity team and Sands bereavement charity. It was originally planned as the second of a 2-part event to use Whose Shoes to test out the ‘National Bereavement Care Pathway’ (NBCP) and identify any gaps.
‘Event 1’ went ahead on 6 March 2020, in Colchester …
The Colchester event was extremely powerful, with a lot of buzz in the room, hugs, good support and some powerful outcomes. That sadly feels like a different world now, doesn’t it?
Anna Geyer, Director of New Possibilities, made this film of the event:
‘Event 2’ in Gloucestershire was meant to follow a couple of weeks later, but we all know what happened in the meantime. Covid struck and it took us 10 months to work our way through how to run an event of this importance and this sensitivity online.
I will fast forward and bypass how we developed #VirtualWhoseShoes, and all the twists and turns along the way …
Suffice to say that it was thanks to the dedication and perseverance of everybody that we managed to make the event happen. Dawn Morrall, Assistant Director of Midwifery & Nursing and the Clinical Improvement Lead of the South West Clinical Network, checked out the emerging virtual experience, and insisted that it should remain as a Whose Shoes event.
Dawn is one of the people who really ‘gets’ Whose Shoes. Dawn also has a great track record of following up on the quality improvement actions in order to get the most from the events … so we love working with the team in Gloucestershire!
I am hoping Dawn will write a case study about the outcomes from our previous events – and from this one in due course!
Online sessions take a huge amount of preparation. We had a lot of supporters, both in the room and following us on Twitter. #FabObs Flo Wilcock, consultant obstetrician, and Marc Harder had been the people who originally initiated the events:
Despite detailed preparation over many months, we didn’t really know how many people to expect, or the mix of people. Healthcare professionals are obviously so busy at the moment, with the pressures on the NHS due to COVID; people are feeling isolated during lockdown and missing the normal support available from family and friends. They are also ‘Zoomed out’, as the pandemic drags on.
It is hard for any new parents / parents-to-be at the moment, let alone people experiencing bereavement, so it was wonderful that Kerri and many others were keen to join. THANK YOU!
I was amazed. We had about 60 people on the call. It was wonderful and very moving to see so many bereaved parents joining us, alongside healthcare professionals, chaplains, people from SANDS, volunteers, medical photographers, a GP, a funeral director, and many more…
We started off with a gentle activity – colouring! It helps people learn Zoom skills that we then use later in the session to annotate certain screens. But it also feels relaxed, encourages people to turn on their mics and speak, adds a bit of colour and creativity and helps set the right tone for the session.
Clare Worgan from Sands (stepping in for Marc Harder, who has championed this work – get well soon, Marc!) gave a wonderful introduction about the National Bereavement Care Pathway, sharing many links and resources, including NBCP e-learning modules. A bereaved mum herself, Clare is passionate about bereavement care. Her authenticity and keenness to help others shone through.
And then a very moving introduction from Deborah Lee, the Chief Executive. Again Deb spoke from the heart, welcoming everyone to the session but also embodying our #NoHierarchyJustPeople mantra by sharing her lived experience story of baby loss.
It was wonderful that she was able to prioritise sharing this vulnerability and helping others, alongside juggling vital meetings to run the hospital! We all really appreciated it and it set the context for the event perfectly. Deb has generously given us permission to share her talk, as appropriate, at any future sessions too.
It was very moving to hear Deb talk about her experience of losing two babies before she went on to have healthy children, now teenagers. All birth stories are important. Hearing Deb remembering so clearly the things that made her experience better or worse, just as vibrantly as a mum talking about a very recent birth experience, brings home just how important things such as language, compassion, ‘personalise rather than medicalise’, and the other key themes of our #MatExp work really are.
Whose Shoes is constantly evolving. It is all crowdsourced by real people and their experiences.
Would you want to hear a group of student medics standing at the end of your bed, referring to you as ‘an interesting case’, as you come to terms with the loss of your child?
Would you want to receive a stark letter telling you not to get pregnant again until you come into the hospital to discuss your case … especially if you are already pregnant?
It is fantastic that we have been able to suggest practical solutions, such as the example set by Leigh Kendall, working with Kingston Hospital and St George’s, where sadly her baby son Hugo lived and died, to write more empathetic letters to bereaved parents. Please check out #HugosLegacy.
Leigh inspired the work we did around neonatal care, one of the three key themes of #NobodysPatient.
Here is Leigh’s very moving blog, reflecting on our #NobodysPatient workshop at St George’s hospital:
Catherine MacLennan, another bereaved mum, was similarly the catalyst for our innovative work around second trimester loss, which is sadly an area of care that is missed out from many ‘pathways’.
I am always in awe of how many bereaved parents use their grief to create something so positive.
We had the privilege of welcoming about 15 passionate bereaved parents/ couples in Gloucestershire, reaching out to help others. Many of them spoke about special people who had helped them along the way – “life savers” is a word frequently used. It reminded me of Catherine’s ‘special people’ poem.
Something that I found particularly moving in our Gloucestershire event, was a mother talking about how, when her baby was sadly stillborn, she had made small matching dolls, one to place inside the child’s coffin and one to hang on the Christmas tree as a symbol of hope and for any subsequent children to enjoy and get to know and love their sibling.
We had some fantastic conversations around how best to help people remember their babies and how this might change according to the stage of pregnancy at which the loss occurred.
I have been able to follow this up, as part of my own personal pledge, by linking wonderful peer support people doing great work in this area.
Watch this space for further links between Lauraine Cheesman (Shine, Gloucs) and Leanne Howlett (By Your Side, Warwickshire)! I really love making these links!
There were so many thought-provoking conversations, sparking the ‘lemon lightbulbs’ that stay with people and change practice.
Would you want the doctor’s comment on your sicknote to simply say ‘Depression’ when you have just lost your child, without consulting you?
How would you feel having to handle this when you talk to your employer, sometimes without maternity leave if your pregnancy ends before 24 weeks?
These are just a small sample of the situations people are regularly facing.
Conversely, we heard how staff are generally extremely compassionate, and what a difference this can make, including giving people the courage to get pregnant again and try for ‘that happy ending’.
As always, we used a variety of scenarios and poems to generate the conversations to explore people’s experiences and how services and support could be improved. Bereavement midwife, Nikki Dobson proved to be a superstar. She and her colleagues had put in so much time to do a gap analysis, identifying areas where feedback suggested improvements could be made.
We wanted to get the most out of the opportunity afforded by bringing all these wonderful people from different perspectives together. The team had identified key themes and we selected the most relevant Whose Shoes scenarios accordingly, including:
• Some areas in fetal loss / medicine identified as needing improvement • Care after discharge • Delivery suite gap analysis • Antenatal screening – support for families in future pregnancies • Ultrasound • GPs • Supporting dads and partners
Nikki writes wonderful poems and she generously read two of them live during our session. We have always used poems as a way of connecting with people differently in our WhoseShoes sessions.
As always, Anna’s images were superb – and all the more so, being able to capture the conversations live during the session, just as we do ‘in the room’. Sometimes we have the opportunity of a visual learning synthesis too, but each event is different.
It is totally draining facilitating these online sessions but incredibly rewarding. The chat in the Zoom ‘chat room’ was phenomenal – full of wonderful insights, comments and useful links. The atmosphere was warm and supportive. We were able to ‘save’ the chat in all its richness, as another output from the session to feed into the continuing quality improvement journey.
The outcomes are extraordinary and just as powerful as any other events that we run.
And, of course, for all events the most important outcomes happen later – people following through and implementing their pledges, connecting, building the momentum for positive change.
I collated as many of the pledges and specific improvement ideas from the session as I could. SO many. This does not mean that the bereavement care in Gloucestershire is poor. On the contrary, it means they are open to genuine coproduction, listening and finding out how they can make their service even better.
The praise – and indeed love – for Nikki, Dawn, the medical photographers, fetal medicine staff and many others was incredibly strong . I was moved by everyone’s determination to work together and support each other.
There seems to be a lot of interest in Whose Shoes around how we can better support parents and families suffering baby loss, building further on the various maternity projects we have done, which Colchester, Gloucestershire and about 70 other NHS trusts have used so powerfully in quality improvements.
Next stop, Lincolnshire? A few of their team joined the Gloucestershire session, which is always the best way to learn about Whose Shoes and build the networks. We’ve done some great work with Lincs before!
The energy is growing …
Since the Gloucestershire event, I have had several extraordinary opportunities to join conversations, hear different perspectives and ensure that our Whose Shoes material remains topical, authentic and able to spark the understanding that is needed.
Wonderful staff from the South-West neonatal teams came together to learn more about baby loss and its impact, and Nadia courageously shared her lived experience story, helping people understand the special grief and complexity of losing one or more babies in multiple pregnancy. I recommend this training highly to all involved in perinatal care.
I also joined a webinar hosted by Kathy Fray in New Zealand, with guest speaker Joann O’Leary talking with huge insight about pregnancy after loss, another complex ‘taboo’ topic which is not discussed enough.
I am being asked about some of the ‘end of life care’ / palliative care work we have done in other areas – eg with London Ambulance Service. I am having some interesting conversations with People from NHS England / Improvement at the moment about how all of this work could be better supported.
I am currently supporting a wonderful doctor, Nikki Crowley, to implement Family Integrated Care in a London hospital; the #NobodysPatient resources will be central to our collaboration. Networking is proving super important here, as some wonderful people come together to help.
And … latest news … we are currently looking at innovative ways to help people follow up Whose Shoes pledges, if things get ‘stuck’ in any way, using #LiberatingStructures. With thanks to Lyse Edwards. Contact me @WhoseShoes if you want to know more.
So, lots happening. But it is only be happening because PEOPLE are stepping forward to make a difference, which is hugely rewatding.
I will leave you with a fantastic quote from Nadia Peake, the bereaved mum of twin baby Raif, who stole the show at the South West Neonatal event.
“The situation is bad. The experience doesn’t have to be”
I don’t write blogs very often these days but sometimes, with just too many thoughts going round in my head, it is good to get it all down on paper. Or on a screen.
So please forgive/enjoy this stream of consciousness …
I have been an avid follower of Florence Wilcox’s fabulous podcast series, ‘The Obs Pod’. It is a year now since #FabObs Flo, my #MatExp partner in crime, first told me about the idea, having been inspired by meeting Natalie Silverman @fertilitypoddy at a conference, and I have been privileged to have pre-hears of the weekly editions.
Each one resonates with me in a different way. It might be my own birth experiences (yes, they stay with you for all those years) and now a proud Granny, or hearing Flo talk about her perspective on topics we have addressed through our #MatExp Whose Shoes work. The podcasts always give me deeper understanding of Flo’s thinking and what drives her in her mission to listen, learn and blend all the nuances of lived experience into her medical training and experiences as a doctor.
Anyway, the current episode ‘Ethics’ about the interface between medicine and what has traditionally been referred to as ‘fetal anomalies’ – a baby! – brought a flood of associations, memories and emotions. In particular, I thought of the wonderful network of people I have come to know and love over the last couple of decades. I felt proud that we have been able to contribute to a more human approach, with better information and choice for families from the point at which they are told that their baby has a higher chance of having Down syndrome; and then quality of life and acceptance and joy for growing families. This #TheObsPod episode brings together so many things for me.
Mel Smith and Grapevine are friends I have known for many years. Indeed, I attended their 25 year celebration (thankfully before the pandemic curtailed such activities).
Mel wrote ‘Imagine’, a fabulous poem about her relationship with her son Rishard as a very powerful contribution to our Whose Shoes event with the Coventry & Warwickshire maternity team in 2018. Hearing Mel read it here at the end of Flo’s podcast is just wonderful. I have followed Rishard’s progress and his dream to become an actor … including now starring in the BBC Doctors series!
I know/know of other young actors with Down syndrome. What progress they have all made over the last couple of years! Big shoutout to George Webster, starring in S.A.M and challenging societal stereotypes, including sexuality and learning disability.
I was invited to the Premiere in London of ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’, for which Zack Gottsagen made Academy Awards history by becoming the first person with Down Syndrome to present the Best Live Action Short Film on The Oscars (2020). Such films really help people understand and embrace diversity, in all its many facets.
I was sad not to be able to go to the Premiere. And then in January 2020, I spotted the film in the film library on my way to New Zealand and it passed a very happy hour – a bit of a trip of a lifetime, just before the world went so pear-shaped. All these memories and associations come back by listening to a podcast on Ethics!
Of the friends with Down Syndrome I have met through Grapevine, I must give a special shoutout to Heidi Crowter @HeidiCrowter95. Heidi is smashing stigma and stereotypes with her steely determination, resilience, courage, perseverance, joy, infectious giggle and firm belief that we can all achieve our dreams.
Heidi was a star of our #CovMindTheGap the movie’ film, which tells the story of our famous (infamous?) #CovMindTheGap workshop. So-called ‘hard-to-reach’ people queued at the door, took a full part in our Whose Shoes discussions before coming on our ‘Magic Mile’ walk. Complete with storytelling, dancing and singing in the streets of Coventry, this was one to remember.
Oh and by the way, Heidi got married last year – as people with Down syndrome do.
… Thinking of Coventry, my mind wanders back to ‘Our stories’ – my favourite-ever project in all my (#eek 30!) years working in social care in Coventry.
My passion for personalisation was kindled by this project. We helped people with very complex needs to reclaim their lives through the choice and control afforded by personal budgets. We were successful in helping people to move back from extremely expensive (public services perspective) and miserable (citizen perspective – far from my family) ‘out of city’ placements. Unleashing this personal genie was a key trigger to me jumping ship from my day job to set up Whose Shoes.
I have a few spare copies of ‘Our Stories’ and have just sent a copy to Ghislaine Smith. Ghislaine is one of the current Darzi Fellows, doing a project in London to reduce the number of out of area placements for children and young people in care in the North West London. I met her at a #VirtualWhoseShoes session we ran in November 2020 with her #Darzi12 cohort. I find it fascinating how these different projects and connections wander into each other over so many years. I hope the booklet will be useful in some way, but learning from people’s stories never goes out of date.
… The local, regional, national and indeed international (especially now with such easy connectivity online) weaving effortlessly together …
Nicola gave me a leaflet but I said it would have more impact if we took a photo and posted it on social media. I have since smiled seeing so many similar photos with movers and shakers in the maternity world: people Nicola has met through the #MatExp community. Nicola knows how to network and make things happen!
Nicola has helped me take forward work I started with Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust. Working with this innovative maternity team, led by Helen Knower, we had developed Whose Shoes scenarios exploring language used by healthcare professionals and experiences of parents and parents-to be around screening of Down Syndrome. Nicola became a huge champion of this work and attended a workshop with them.
Now Nicola and I plot and plan how we can best use our combined networks and resources to spread this thinking: Over 70 NHS trusts now have Whose Shoes #MatExp resources. Nicola has a vast network of parents across the country. We aim to get parents working with midwives, learning from lived experience, in more and more parts of the country.
A highlight was when Colette Lloyd, an amazing Mum who spearheaded a campaign to re-think negative language around Down syndrome attended our Whose Shoes workshop with Barts Health NHS Trust. She caused so many ‘lemon lightbulb’ moments that she was invited to stay and run some training that afternoon.
Teams like the maternity team in Cornwall, who really get Whose Shoes, have similarly done wonderful work in this area. I love following what they get up to in Cornwall. Sarah-Jane Pedler, a truly inspirational Professional Midwifery Ambassador and … well, everyone really (it is true coproduction) … hold an annual Whose Shoes workshop focusing on a different topic each time.
Angie Emrys-Jones @LookingUpBooks, who has a child with Down Syndrome, is Book Lead at Cornwall Down Syndrome Support Group. She has sent me some beautiful books. I’m sure they must massively help those they are designed for – reassuring images and stories about ‘Going to School’, and helping grandparents (‘Tea at Grandma’s’) and so much more.
It is lovely when people send me these fabulous packages. Another last year was from Nicola : the wonderful crowdsourced #NobodyToldMe book, full of positive images and stories of children with Down Syndrome. Flo refers to this in her podcast.
I knew Nicola‘s dream was to be able to influence the RCOG. How brilliant would it be to help shape doctors’ thinking right from the beginning of their obstetric journey!
Florence managed to get us a Whose Shoes training session with doctors at the RCOG. These people have huge influence in life and death decisions but may never have actually met a child or adult with Down Syndrome. Nicola embraced the opportunity to talk to them about the issues raised through the different Whose Shoes scenarios.
What a revelation to see issues through the eyes of a proud parent of a lively teenager, who happens tp have Down Syndrome!
Nicola invited me to speak at her wonderful national conference for parents of children with Down Syndrome. Most of the speakers were parents; the agenda was packed. Every 15 minutes, a new (equally inspirational!) speaker! These people were wall-to-wall passion, leading initiatives and campaigns‘ (Don’t screen us out!’ and so many more). The energy of this #JFDI parents’ conference and the quality of the presenters will stay with me, which sadly is not the case for many far more expensive professional conferences I have attended … and indeed forgotten.
DS - Nicola's conference 1
DS - Nicola's conference 2
DS - Nicola's conference 3 - Verity1
DS - Nicola's conference 3 - Verity2
DS - Nicola's conference 3 - Verity3
DS - Nicola's conference 5
DS - Nicola's conference 6 - Lynn Murray 1
DS - Nicola's conference 7 - Lynn Murray 2
DS - Nicola's conference 8 - Lynn Murray 3
DS - Nicola's conference 9 - socks
DS - Nicola's conference 9 Lucienne Cooper - socks
I have enjoyed networking with these parents. Meeting them in person around the country (and now joining our #VirtualWhoseShoes sessions). Lynn Murray @LynnAMurray joined the workshop up in Dundee. Colette Lloyd @ColetteLloyd joined our workshop in Barts in London, and immediately got invited to take part in some training that afternoon.
Sarah Sutton @peaponderer sang our #MatExp the Musical ‘Better births are here to stay’ song with us in Surrey using Makaton, while Caspar @N_Down_A_Caspar came along with his mum and stole the show.
And then the new passion emerging through all of this. Seeing student midwife, Verity Lancaster @LancasterVerity, student of the year 2019, giving up her Sunday to travel to the Midlands to speak at Nichola’s conference, talking about the work we first started at Lewisham and Greenwich and how it inspired her to lead in this area. Hearing her humility (‘just a student midwife’) but with more understanding and compassion than many far more experienced people; speaking from the heart.
Being able to draw on this fantastic network of people and help showcase what they are doing is an ongoing journey. During the pandemic, Nicola‘s daughter Emily set up online sessions for her brother Tom and his friends, to reduce social isolation during the pandemic. These have now spread nationally.
I am now linking busy Nicola into discussions I am holding with ‘Wave for Change’, a wonderful organisation in London who are enabling people with and without learning disabilities to socialise together as equals. Which links back to my early connections with Grapevine Coventry, because it that is what they have always done.
And it was Claire Flower, a music therapist at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, who led the music extravaganza in #MatExp the Musical, on the main stage at NHS Expo, who introduced me to them.
Another inspirational mother is my friend Yvonne Newbold @YvonneNewbold – so much so, she was awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours list! Check out her webinars and her book, both of which help thousands of parents of children with special needs: The Special Parents Handbook.
And the networking continues … Dancing brings joy!
Always good to hear from Community Catalysts! I joined their session in September …
… and they contributed a wonderful video about ‘The Buzz’ for our advent series.
In fact we all love Community Catalysts!! They make a lot of people very happy – like Grapevine and Wave for Change, helping people with and without learning disabilities to have fun together. True inclusion.
It is great to see that Mel, Nicola and Yvonne have all endorsed Flo’s podcast episode on Ethics, saying that she has tackled a very sensitive topic in a compassionate, informative and non-judgemental way.
Bridging the gap between services and people; shifting the power dynamics, promoting inclusion in the widest sense.
Yes, a lot of thoughts have been triggered by Episode 38.
Flo’s podcast has got off to a brilliant start in 2020, with thousands of downloads. I hope in 2021, it will become the go-to resource, with people not only subscribing to each week’s episode, but also dipping into all the richness that has already been created around a very human approach to obstetrics and maternity experience.
I am privileged to be part of this vibrant community focusing on what matters to people … which is really all that matters. Join us!
Ever since Flo first phoned me, back in 2014, asking ‘if Whose Shoes would work in maternity services’, I have been impressed by her person-centred approach, her ability to challenge the status quo and push boundaries and to work WITH women and families. She lives and breathes her powerful ‘Wrong is wrong …’ mantra.
‘The Obs Pod’ will appeal to everyone who has an interest in maternity services. Everyone will be able to take something away from each episode, due to Flo’s wide-ranging experience, gentle reflective style and ground-breaking practice.
Gill Phillips, Creator of Whose Shoes? and co-founder, with Flo, of the #MatExp social movement
As a young Mum who was totally blown away by the inspirational obstetricians who delivered my baby nearly two years ago, I am excited to start following ‘The Obs Pod’. The first episode was fantastic; so interesting and captivating. I am sure the podcast will be hugely popular with pregnant women and maternity staff alike, along with so many other people who will find it fascinating to gain an insight into the thoughts and experiences of someone who shares the beauty and intimacy of pregnancy and birth as part of their working life.
Jenny Thirlwall, young Mum and member of #MatExp community, West Midlands
One of the things I have enjoyed the most over the last five years of #MatExp is the opportunity to get creative. From being ‘just’ an obstetrician, I have branched out and added: writer, poet, facilitator, film maker, speaker, campaigner to name just a few new skills.
Gill encouraged me to write a blog. I promised my husband it would be just the one, resulting in a nickname now from Gill ‘One blog Flo’. as I have lost count now of how many I have actually written after dipping my toe in the water.
I’ve enjoyed making Steller stories after a quick demo on a train journey, particularly our #MatExpAdvent series and my Nobody’s Patient monthly project reports. I have made videos, my contribution to our series for #MindNBody launch being one of my favourites, reading my poem ‘Reassured’. All this is alongside my day job and I find these creative outlets re-energise me, develop me and feedback into my day to day working in maternity care.
In December, I was lucky enough to meet Natalie Silverman @FertilityPoddy at RCOG women’s network meeting in Manchester. https://www.thefertilitypodcast.com/ She talked enthusiastically about podcasting. She made it sound both interesting and achievable. Something that wasn’t too challenging but that might reach a different audience. She was inspiring and willing to offer advice. I went home enthused.
I spent the next couple of months thinking and exploring, I decided I have things I would like to share. Adam Kay’s book ‘This is going to hurt’ has been a runaway success, but I want to voice a different perspective of the maternity world. One that would be accessible to women and staff alike. One that might ignite change and action as well as entertain. So, I have rolled up my sleeves, listened to a podcast series on making a podcast, taught myself the lingo, attempted the editing and technical bits and loved every minute.
So here goes, I am launching my next adventure: The Obs Pod. I hope you enjoy listening as much as I am enjoying making it!
Here are the episodes so far and new ones will automatically be added here. If you wish to access the programme notes Florence refers to each week, find the episode you are interested in on The Obs Pod (buzzsprout.com):
We are living in extraordinary times. Hardly any of us have ever faced the likes of this before. We all react to the stress and anxiety in different ways as we make huge adjustments to our daily life.
I want to reassure women, we’ve got your back. Each person in maternity services is working hard to try and keep mothers and babies safe. We need to care for women with all the normal medical conditions, complications, anxieties and social situations. Then we must multiply that by two to think of how we would manage all the same problems if the woman had Covid19. Then we must add in what if she is in isolation, what if her partner or her child has it? Then we must add to the equation: staff being ill, in isolation or unable to work due to pregnancy or a medical condition.
We have new procedures for almost everything; protective equipment is not a trivial affair, we must learn how to don and doff correctly to protect ourselves and the women we care for. We need distinct levels of protection for different circumstances. We have turned our rota on its head; some of us have been deployed to other wards and areas. We now have the rota, the backup rota and the back up back up rota, all to be certain we will have the people you need to care for you. We have national and local guidance changing almost daily. We are fortunate that the RCOG & RCM are updating guidance frequently – this is helpful for us & the women we serve. https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/
So when we have to make difficult choices that we never imagined would be needed, please be tolerant. We have to plan for every situation meticulously, not only within our own service but within the health economy as a whole and we have to take decisions at an accelerated rate, the likes of which I have never experienced. We bear in mind not only the impact on individual women and the maternity population but also the surrounding community.
When a woman comes into hospital, she will be greeted with care and compassion and kindness. We know this is a challenging time to birth a baby and become a parent. We may be wearing masks and gloves, but we are there behind them with hearts and minds to do the very best we can. We are fighting to protect the things we know are important. We are encouraging you to come for your scans and appointments that are essential and adapting to contact you by phone when less important to see you in person.
We are one of the few parts of the organisation maintaining a degree of normal outpatient care. Pregnancy and birth can’t be put on hold. Many of us have set up specific Covid pregnancy helplines to answer your questions and are working hard with local Maternity Voices Partnerships to give women the information they need.
We know for some, life at home is increasingly difficult. School, childcare, work has all been thrown in the air let alone worries about other family members, food supplies and money. As NHS Maternity workers, we are giving all that we can give. When we talked at work about the NHS #ClapForCarers, most of us missed it. We were too tired, working or busy feeding our families. Yesterday in my clinic, a few women ‘gave back’. Just a simple ‘how are you?’, or ’thank you for being here’ is enough. We don’t need you to clap us, we just need you with us, together to get through this.
On Monday, to begin #ExpOfCare week, we had an insightful blog from Dr Sarah Winfield reflecting on her experience of taking part in the ‘Lithotomy Challenge’. And today, to end #ExpOfCare week, another #FabObs, Dr Florence Wilcock – the originator of the #LithotomyChallenge and co-founder of #MatExp – tells us all about Caesarean sections and what really happens…
As we come to the end of #ExpOfCare week, I would like to share a blog about Caesarean sections, to demystify the birth that mothers and partners may unexpectedly experience. I originally wrote this blog at the request of Milli Hill & the positive birth movement in October 2016 , subsequently this has been included as a contribution to Milli’s book ‘The Positive Birth Book’ published 16th March 2016.
Why do we need to talk about Caesarean sections?
Unfortunately, sometimes people can be prone to making value judgements about different types of birth. One of the most common examples is vaginal birth = good and Caesarean section = bad. The truth is that in the UK current statistics show 25% of women will give birth by Caesarean section, 10% planned so called ‘elective’ and 15% unplanned ‘emergency’. We can argue these rates back and forth; we can aspire to improve care and change these facts, but for the moment given that 1in 4 women will meet their baby in the operating theatre it is vital that we talk openly about this experience and how it can be a positive, emotional & fulfilling birth for each new family.
Even in an unexpected ‘emergency’ there are still choices to be made. Nice guidance on Caesarean section CG132 section 220.127.116.11 recommends 4 categories of urgency; only category 1, the most urgent suggests delivery within 30mins. Far more common is the ‘emergency’ caesarean category 2, delivery within 75mins of decision making. This gives a woman time to express contingency birth preferences and ensure that even if she did not plan a caesarean birth it remains a calm and positive start for her and her baby. Skin to skin in theatre, optimal cord clamping, birth partner announcing the sex of the baby, choice of music are all possible. I would love to say these are all standard in every hospital but unfortunately that wouldn’t yet be true, however the more women know and ask, the more these will become universally accepted. As I often say ‘Wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it and right is right even if nobody is doing it’. I wish you all an interesting and positive month discussing Caesarean birth and would like thank Milli for inviting me to contribute & become part of it. If you want to know more about how I am working to try and improve maternity services do check out matexp.org.uk
Caesarean Section a theatre experience & Who is who in the operating theatre?
The majority of caesarean sections in the UK will be done under a spinal anaesthetic, that is numb from the nipples downwards. It’s a peculiar feeling as one can feel touch but not pain. It means that women will be awake and aware of people milling around them which can be daunting but it also means they are awake and ready to meet their new baby. Lying on the operating table we tilt women slightly to their left to keep the bump of the baby off the major blood vessels, this prevents dizziness from low blood pressure. If you lie on the operating table in the maternity theatres at my Trust you will look up and find butterflies & cherry blossom on the ceiling, something nice to focus on while you wait for your baby to arrive. I know this is unusual & we are lucky but there is nothing to stop you tucking your favourite picture or photo in your birthing bag so that you have something familiar and relaxing to look at.
It might seem odd that at the start everyone in the theatre will introduce themselves to one another. It isn’t that we have never met but its start of the World Health Organisation (WHO) safety checklist. There is a special checklist just for maternity theatres and it is routine to start by checking simple information such as the woman’s name and date of birth and move onto clinical issues and equipment and it is all aimed at making the experience as safe as possible. So, who are all these people around you and what are their roles, why are there so many people there?
Anaesthetist: At least one sometime two; these are doctors who will administer the anaesthetic ad monitor you closely during the surgery. They will be standing just by your head and often chat to you and reassure you as the operation progresses.
Operating Department Practitioner (ODP): at least one; their role is to assist the anaesthetist, getting & checking the required drugs, drips or equipment, the anaesthetist cannot work without one being present.
Obstetricians: at least two; one will be performing the Caesarean section (the surgeon) the other will be assisting (the assistant) e.g. cutting stiches, holding instruments.
Midwife: At least one; to support the woman and help her with her newborn baby when it arrives
Scrub nurse or midwife: At least one; To check, count all needles, stiches and instruments and to hand them to the surgeon when needed.
Midwifery assistant or runner: This person double checks the swab and instrument count with the scrub midwife or nurse and ‘runs’ to get any additional equipment required as they are not ‘scrubbed up’ so can go in & out of theatre to fetch things.
Paediatrician: asked to attend any ‘emergency’ situation or if there are known concerns about the baby.
So, you see in theatre there is a minimum of seven people caring for any woman all with specific tasks to perform, any complication may result in us calling in extra members of the team.
So back to the woman, she will be on the operating table with her birth partner by her side and the anaesthetist and ODP close at hand. She can often choose the music she would like her baby to be born to. The anaesthetist needs to monitor her heart with sticky labels but these can be put on her back and her gown left loose leaving her chest free and ready for skin to skin with her baby. A sterile drape will be placed over her bump and this is usually used to make a ‘screen’ so that the woman doesn’t see and surgery she doesn’t wish to see however usually we drop this when the baby is ready to be born.
Many hospitals are starting to explore options of optimal cord clamping (waiting to clamp the cord) and passing the baby straight to the mother if the baby is in good condition. These can be done but need to be thought through so as not to contaminate the sterile surgical area, and the surgeon needs to be confident no harm such as excessive bleeding from the womb is happening whilst these things occur. Surgical lights need to be on so the surgeon can see clearly and operate safely but I know one anaesthetist who works in a hospital where the rest of the theatre lights can be dimmed. The mum and new baby can be enjoying skin to skin whilst the rest of the operation proceeds. Weighing and checking babies can be also done at this time but also can be done later on.
Traditionally if we operate with women under a general anaesthetic (asleep) her birth partner has not been in in theatre as their role is to support the woman. Recently on several occasions I have challenged this so that a baby is welcomed to the world with at least one of its family present and awake rather than by a group of strangers caring for the unconscious mother. There are safety considerations to be talked through for this to be successful but it is possible. However, kind and caring staff are, they are no replacement for a birth partner whom the mother has chosen to support her in the intimacy of birth.
I hope I have given you a brief glimpse in to life in a maternity theatre. As an obstetrician, I am privileged to help bring many women and babies together for those special first moments. The emotions are always different for me: sometimes it is a couple I know very well and have bonded with over months or years, sometimes a woman I have only just met who has had to put her absolute trust in me immediately. The theatre atmosphere can range from almost party like jollity to quiet intimacy. Every birth is different; each birth is extremely special just as much as the births that happen in a less clinical environment and each birth will stay with that woman forever.
Some really exciting developments with #MatExp Whose Shoes? at the moment.
Bromley MSLC produced a ‘one year on’ report following up on their Whose Shoes? workshop at King’s College hospital using “I said, I did” as a framework to list all the fantastic outcomes that had come from pledges made on the day.
Language continues to be a big issue for women and families, but some great initiatives are now happening. Building on the Whose Shoes? workshops, Leeds and Colchester in particular are working on specific language challenges. I came up with a ‘Negativity Bingo’ and had great fun with my team at the NHS Fab Change Day #DoAthOn event launching #DumptheDaftWords.
I have been getting some exciting invitations to speak about building social movements and of course gave #MatExp a big shout out in my talk at the launch of #AHPsIntoAction, they have invited me back for a longer keynote session at their annual conference in June.
Last Friday, 3 Feb 2017, we were invited to present a #MatExp Whose Shoes? session to get some good discussions going as part of a packed event launching #PanStaffsMTP in Stafford. We concentrated specifically on continuity and perinatal mental health. This is the county-wide transformation programme to improve maternity experience in Staffordshire to implement the national ‘Better Births’ vision. This informal film gives you a flavour.
We are proud of the crowdsourced ‘Nobody’s Patient’ project and thank everyone for your fantastic contributions. We now have over 120 new Whose Shoes? scenarios and poems and the new resources will be made available shortly to all the hospitals who were existing customers. Florence Wilcock, Sam Frewin and I are finalising the supporting toolkit and collating the case studies, ahead of our ‘wrap up’ event in March. We are trying to pull together lots of ideas for positive change, with or without a workshop. I hope you are enjoying the regular Steller stories, including Florence’s monthly reports.
Wonderful to see everyone doing such amazing work, speaking all over the place, building networks, spreading the word and generally making great things happen.
I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University in January on the topic of “Women’s Voices” in maternity care. As part of my presentation I included the voices of the midwives who work in maternity care, and a reminder that there are many other women for whom maternity care is their professional, as well as perhaps their personal, experience. “Women’s Voices” in maternity care should cover the midwives, obstetricians, health visitors, doulas who care for us, as well as the women giving birth.
So I decided to start a series of blog posts on “Women’s Voices in #MatExp” from the point of view of those working in maternity, and this is the sixth of those. This is Carolyn Johnston’s experience as an anaesthetist – thank you so much to Carolyn for agreeing to write for us. You can read the other blogs in the series here:
And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too. Because this campaign is about all voices.
Carolyn is a consultant anaesthetist in St George’s hospital in London.
Anaesthetics is usually the biggest department of doctors in most hospitals. We cover services including intensive care, operating theatres for all specialties and patient groups, resuscitation teams, pain management, and many other areas as well as maternity care. For those of us with a special interest and training in obstetrics are usually on the maternity unit for the day, but on other days we may be working on general (abdominal) surgery, transplant or any other kind of surgery, intensive care or whatever our other specialty interests may be.
In our unit, my day starts with a handover from the night team. The registrar (senior doctor in training) who has been on the maternity unit overnight tells us who has had anaesthetic input with pain relief (usually epidurals), any women who have been to the operating theatre and require ongoing care and highlighting anyone who may require extra vigilance during the coming day. This might be because of a pre-existing medical issue or developments in labour that may make care more complex. Because all anaesthetists have training that includes caring for people who are critically unwell and are part of resuscitation teams, we have the skills to help the maternity team care for lots of conditions that maternity teams may see very rarely (like heart disease) or those that are more common but might be serious if not treated early (like infection/ sepsis or heavy bleeding).
We also start the day by checking our equipment in the operating theatre and emergency medications. We must be ready to move at a moments notice if the situation arises, for urgent surgery or some other intervention, as we all know, maternity situations can change rapidly! These are scenarios we practice and refine until we can do them as safely as possible. Safety is a key part of anaesthetic practice, in our training we learn a lot about teamwork, safety theories such as ‘human factors’ and communication, and we check and practice a lot, so when we need to act quickly we can do so safely.
We will be involved in any planned (elective) caesarian sections during that day, in my hospital there are usually 2 or 3 cases planned per day. It must be so intimidating for a woman to come to the operating theatre; such a foreign environment and the idea of surgery whilst you are still awake must be so daunting. And then of course the nerves and excitement about finally meeting your baby! I see it as a big part of my job to help make that experience as positive as it can be, and help make women and their partners feel welcome, secure and hopefully even relax. Maybe even some skin-to-skin contact in the theatre.
Maternity work is very different from all other anaesthetic practice because unlike most of our other work, our patients are (usually) awake. This adds to the challenge: undertaking potentially difficult anaesthetic procedures, communicating with the theatre team, maintaining safety by monitoring and reacting to any changes in your patient’s condition but all whilst being mindful that the patient and her partner have holistic needs. Reacting to these needs and helping them to feel safe and secure is very important. There is always a balance to be struck with maintaining our best and usual practice for safety, and providing individualized holistic care. I think this is best achieved by talking and understanding each other’s perspectives. Perhaps we don’t do this enough.
We will, of course, respond to any requests for pain relief for epidurals, which is what most people think of when they think of anaesthetic involvement on delivery suite. It can sometimes be the case that women is distressed, distracted or even scared; so there is a real need for thoughtful communication and co-operation to help her and undertake the epidural safely. This balance of technical and people working skills is a common theme for us in obstetric anaesthetics.
I am lucky that our maternity team values co-operation and team working, and anaesthetists are an important part of that. It isn’t always the case that we are fully included in the team, and this can be a real source of frustration, because so many patients tell us our involvement is very helpful. We have a reputation (unfairly?) of being the epitome of intervention, so I guess we aren’t welcomed by some who hold strong views that birth should be natural. I have no desire to force my interventions on anyone- I would much rather put my feet up! Ultimately, I think the woman can make up her own mind, and as we pride ourselves on knowing the evidence, she should always get impartial advice about risks and benefits from an anaesthetist.
I’ve been trying to avoid the word ‘risk’- I know it’s becoming unpopular in maternity discussions. There is no avoiding it: anaesthetists deal in risk. We train and work in very high-risk areas including emergency surgery, trauma teams, heart surgery, intensive care and in those roles we’ve all seen someone die in front of us as we care for them. Anyone we look after is a patient, and rarely a client- it’s hard to switch this off when we come to maternity and so we often use terminology and even a more risk-based attitude that can clash with the modern ethos of maternity care.
I guess the solution to improving this is to talk more- to all our colleagues in maternity care and to our patients- we all have the same aims and aspirations to provide the best care for healthy happy mums, dads and babies. We also have a reputation for loving coffee, so my suggestion is to grab an anaesthetist on your precious coffee break and ask each other: “why are we all here and what skills do we bring to make that happen?”
I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University last month on the topic of “Women’s Voices” in maternity care. As part of my presentation I included the voices of the midwives who work in maternity care, and a reminder that there are many other women for whom maternity care is their professional, as well as perhaps their personal, experience. “Women’s Voices” in maternity care should cover the midwives, obstetricians, health visitors, doulas who care for us, as well as the women giving birth.
So I decided to start a series of blog posts on “Women’s Voices in #MatExp” from the point of view of those working in maternity, and this is the fifth of those. This is Ruth-Anna Macqueen’s experience as an obstetrician in training, and it includes an introduction and follow up comments from #MatExp founder Florence Wilcock. Thank you so much to Ruth-Anna for agreeing to write for us. You can read the other blogs in the series here:
And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too. Because this campaign is about all voices.
Florence Wilcock writes:
“One of the strengths of #MatExp is to try and hear all voices with respect and understand different perspectives so that we can work together to improve maternity experience.
Obstetricians have been an especially hard group to involve , I have written before about the traditional ‘bad press’ we seem to receive. I included it as a topic in the #matexpadvent Steller series you can read it here https://steller.co/s/5AduBaxWL6v
I am therefore especially delighted to introduce a brave #FabObs blog, one of a couple that are hopefully coming our way. Some of this may be distressing, some of it may be unpalatable but I ask you to take a deep breath challenge your assumptions & read! Don’t ‘bash’ the author she is giving you a peek into her world, a world fairly typical of many obstetricians in todays’ NHS . Take this unique opportunity to have sight of what it is like to be in ‘our shoes’ that way we can have the difficult conversations that move us forward.”
My name is Ruth-Anna, I’m 32 and a Mum of two busy, lively and opinionated little people aged 2.5 and 5. I’m also privileged to work as a doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology. My official title is ST5 doctor, which means I’ve been specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology for 5 ‘years’ (after 6 years at medical school and 2 years of moving around specialities). However it’s actually nearer 6.5 years since I started specialising, because of having time out for having babies, and working part time (I work 35 hours a week and spend two days at home with the kids). At the end of my ST7 ‘year’ of training, all being well, I’ll be able to apply for jobs as a Consultant but right now that feels a long way off!
This is a day in my life… (all events and women are fictionalised, of course)
My alarm is set for 6.45 but the kids usually wake me up first. I get up & dressed, grab some breakfast (if I’m organised enough!) wave goodbye to the kids & husband and jump on my bike. It’s a Saturday so the cycle into work is pleasantly peaceful and I enjoy a bit of headspace. My job is incredibly varied and over the course of a week I could be seeing women in antenatal clinic, gynaecology clinic, on our day assessment unit (walk in for pregnant women with concerns about themselves or their baby), operating in gynaecology theatres, scanning women, looking after women who are inpatients for any gynaecological or pregnancy-related problems, seeing women in A&E with acute gynaecological problems, or covering the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit.
Today, however, I’m working as the Labour Ward ‘registrar’. I’ll be working with an ‘SHO’ (in newer terminology, this could be an FY2, an ST1 or ST2 doctor), who may or may not be specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, as well as my Consultant.
I’m in work by 7.45 and change into my scrubs, to head into our handover meeting for a prompt start at 8am. All the midwives, obstetricians and anaethetists for that day on Labour Ward are there. Our night team counterparts inevitably look pretty knackered and relieved to see us.
Some days we take over and there are only one or two women on the Labour Ward but today it’s a busy one. As we talk through the women, one by one, I’m thinking what the risks might be for that woman and baby, predicting and preventing any problems and pre-empting potential issues. Hopefully none of those will happen but our job is largely about predicting problems that never happen, so that we can be prepared for when they do. Even so, a day on Labour Ward is unpredictable and filled with surprises. My current hospital saw around 6000 babies delivered here last year and it serves a fairly ‘high-risk’ population, with above average numbers of women with a high BMI, older mothers, women who may have come into the UK recently, women with multiple pregnancies or concurrent medical problems. We also have women who are transferred in to us from other places where the NICU or SCBU don’t have the facilities to look after the smallest or sickest babies.
Women expected to have totally uneventful labours are normally on our Birth Centre and I won’t generally be involved in their care unless there’s an issue that the midwives ask me to help with. Myself, the Consultant, SHO, the Anaesthetist and the Labour Ward Co-ordinator (Midwife in charge) do a ‘ward round’ of all the other women – to introduce ourselves, find out more about her and how things are progressing, and make a plan, if anything else needs to be done. This morning there are 12 women on Labour Ward. The first woman we see had a Caesarean section overnight and lost a lot of blood. She’s having ‘high dependency unit’ care and is currently having her third unit of blood transfused as she had a very low haemoglobin level due to the blood loss. We assess whether she has had enough blood replaced, whether there are any signs of further bleeding, and whether she needs any further treatment. She’s understandably shell-shocked and we go through the events of the night with her and her husband. Her baby was taken to the NICU and her priority is getting well enough to get into a wheelchair so she can go and see him there.
Next we see a woman who’s tragically had a stillbirth. She attended the day unit at 38 weeks into a normal pregnancy with reduced fetal movements, and it was confirmed the baby had died. Her labour was induced yesterday and she’s spent the night trying to come to terms with what has happened. Understandably she has lots of questions for us, which we do our best to answer. I offer her some medication to suppress her breastmilk production and give her some information to consider about a possible post mortem examination for the baby. We offer her the choice of going home today or staying another day and she will think about it and let her midwife know.
We complete the ward round, seeing a woman with a straightforward labour who is on the Labour Ward only because she has an epidural, a woman who previously had a Caesarean but is in spontaneous labour and all is well, a woman who is being induced for a post-dates pregnancy and a woman who has been admitted in possible preterm labour at 28 weeks.
The next few hours is a whirlwind of emergency buzzers and bleeps. Another woman has been admitted from the day unit – she’s had an uneventful pregnancy so far but at her midwife appointment today at 32 weeks her blood pressure was found to be dangerously high, with protein in her urine. Her midwife suspects she has pre-eclampsia and has sent her in to us. She needs urgent assessment my myself and my anaesthetic colleague, a cannula (drip), bloods taken, and medication to lower her blood pressure. She starts complaining of a headache and when we test her reflexes they are abnormal so we also recommend that she starts another medication (magnesium sulphate) to reduce the risk of having seizures. We need to see how she responds to the treatment but it’s likely we will need to deliver her baby imminently to treat the pre-eclampsia, so we also recommend the first of two doses of steroid to help mature the baby’s lungs. Her midwife calls the Neonatal team to check that our NICU have a cot available for this premature baby. She also asks them to come and speak to the woman to explain what to expect if her baby needs to be born prematurely. I perform a scan under the supervision of my Consultant which shows the baby is small and its fluid is reduced – this is a common effect of pre-eclampsia. We ask her not to eat and drink in case the baby needs delivering imminently (if she needed a general anaesthetic it’s important to have an empty stomach).
I leave my SHO administering the first dose of the magnesium sulphate as the Co-ordinator calls me to see a woman who is in the second stage of labour (fully dilated and pushing) whose baby is showing signs of significant distress. I assess the woman, and the fetal monitoring, and explain that I would recommend an instrumental delivery, to which she agrees. As the baby is already quite low in the birth canal I decide this can be safely achieved in her delivery room, so after giving an injection of local anaesthetic to block the my SHO and I perform a ventouse delivery and her baby is delivered with no complications.
I finally see a woman who has been waiting several hours to progress to the next stage of her induction of labour. We haven’t been able to proceed with things as we would have hoped due to the other situations that have arisen and the effect on available staffing levels. I explain this to her but she’s understandably upset and frustrated, as well as exhausted, and I leave the room feeling pretty downheartened.
It’s 3pm and I suddenly realise I haven’t eaten anything so grab a sandwich and a drink before heading back to see the unwell woman with pre-eclampsia. Her blood pressure still isn’t under control despite high doses of medication and my Consultant decides that we can’t wait any longer and that she will need to have her baby delivered today. At 30 weeks in her first pregnancy, with a growth restricted baby, the team decide that Caesarean will be the quickest and safest way of delivering her baby. She’s shocked – it certainly wasn’t what she was expecting when she headed to her midwife appointment that morning, but her partner has now arrived and she is willing for us to proceed. I talk her through the operation and explain the risks and benefits, before she signs a consent form. The Co-ordinator speaks to the theatre team to prepare everything, as I call my anaesthetic colleagues. Her midwife gives her ‘pre medications’, tight stockings to wear and gets scrubs for her partner to wear.
While with my sick woman I was asked to attend the Birth Centre to check whether a woman who has just delivered has a ‘second degree’ tear (that can be sutured by the midwife in her room) or a ‘third degree’ tear that would need to be sutured in theatre by me. As the anaesthetists perform their anaesthetic for the woman in theatre, I finally make it across to the Birth Centre and thankfully for the woman it’s a second degree tear. I apologise she’s been waiting so long for me – she’s lovely about it but I still feel bad.
I’m bleeped from theatre to say the spinal anaesthetic is working and they are ready for us to start the operation. I do her Caesarean, with my Consultant supervising in view of how sick she is and the fact the baby is premature. Thankfully it is an uneventful procedure and the baby is born in reasonable condition, although he still needs to go to the NICU. His mum comes back to the Labour Ward as she is still unwell and the next 24-48 hours can actually see a deterioration in her condition.
We sit down for a quick cup of tea and I feel guilty I haven’t tackled any of the computer-based tasks I have piling up, and the audit I’m trying to finish before my appraisal next month. Still, they’ll have to wait for another day. I check my phone and see 15 messages from home – thankfully it’s nothing urgent; they are just photos from my husband of the family party he and the kids are at today.
The night team start to arrive and I feel relieved. Today I’ll manage to get away pretty much on time, once we’ve finished handover. I need to send some electronic tickets to my Consultant so she can sign to say what she’s witnessed me doing today, for my appraisal. I know that if I don’t do it now I’ll forget. I’m out of the building by 20.45 and head home to wolf down the dinner leftovers. I spend the cycle home thinking about the women and babies I’ve looked after today, hoping all will be well, and wondering what I could have done differently. After 8.5 years as a doctor I’m pretty good at trying to leave all those thoughts behind – at least temporarily – when I put my key in the lock, although I do drop my night colleagues a quick text before bed to ask how the woman with pre-eclampsia is doing. She’s stable and I finally let myself switch off. Tomorrow is one of my days at home with the kids and I’m looking forward to taking my 5 year old to school and my 2 year old to toddler group.
Florence Wilcock writes:
“When I first read the blog I felt it pretty accurately captured a fairly ‘standard’ day on labour ward for an obstetrician. I recognized it absolutely & have spent many days similar to this over the years. The multitasking, prioirtising, constant juggling of clinical situations is quite typical. Some of it may feel dispassionate and lacking emotion, that doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t feel anything or that she doesn’t treat the women she sees with compassion and care it just means there is an element of self-preservation to enable one to take split second clinical decisions we need maintain an exterior calm. It is also essential so that we are not sobbing halfway through the shift or at the end of the day it enables us to be resilient and get up and do it all again the next day or to care for our own family. Imagine what it would be like if you were trying to do this job pulled from pillar to post how would you feel? This is where working as part of a fantastic multidisciplinary team becomes important, those of us that are lucky have wonderful midwives, nurses, midwifery assistants alongside us. If we are less lucky or those relationships are adversarial that can be very difficult as the support isn’t there. No obstetrician sets out to hurt or upset women or become a barrier they may be under huge pressure, having a bad day, feeling scared of that responsibility, worrying about an exam or appraisal. We are human too.
There is no fluff here , this is obstetrics in reality. There are one or two particular clinical situations that may distress you: such separation of mother and babies is never ideal & making the focus getting a mum to see her baby in NNU sounds so simple but can be harder than it sounds if people don’t work together & make it happen, A bereaved mum seemingly given cursory information and a very short hospital stay after such a life changing event is hard to read but sadly is the current reality , we know this needs improving hugely with better support during and after and a birth environment separate from the main maternity wards. A shocking sudden decision to deliver a baby preterm at 30 weeks. It is hard to write and hard to read and some elements can’t be changed they are clinical reality but amongst that the words we use, the understanding we have of how it might feel both for families and those caring for them there are plenty of things that can be done to improve care.
Look at the campaign to have a bereavement suite in every maternity unit started by Ben Gummer MP.
Think about what language you are using in that short time you have to see someone.
Think about the importance of the team to the obstetrician often junior on whose shoulders there is massive responsibility; if you are a midwife or other healthcare professional support them and work with them.
Think about self-care. What is available to you as a healthcare professional at your Trust, have you had a break, did you eat or drink today? Looking after yourself is the first step to being able to look after others.”
I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University last month on the topic of “Women’s Voices” in maternity care. As part of my presentation I included the voices of the midwives who work in maternity care, and a reminder that there are many other women for whom maternity care is their professional, as well as perhaps their personal, experience. “Women’s Voices” in maternity care should cover the midwives, obstetricians, health visitors, doulas who care for us, as well as the women giving birth.
So I decided to start a series of blog posts on “Women’s Voices in #MatExp” from the point of view of those working in maternity, and this is the fourth of those. Unlike the others, this one is anonymous. You can read the other blogs in the series here:
And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too. Because this campaign is about all voices.
I have been a sonographer for 13 years, and I’ve asked to be anonymous because I want to be honest, and I don’t think my managers would appreciate every aspect of this.
I’ve worked in a few different NHS trusts over the years, and now work in a small, rural hospital.
I do both pregnancy and non-pregnancy scans, and enjoy the variety in my work. There are more complaints around pregnancy scans, but my overwhelming impression of pregnancy scans is that it can be very hard to meet parents expectations in the NHS.
For routine, screening scans parents generally expect the reassurance that all is well, without necessarily fully considering that the scan findings may be devastating. I have a moment with the notes (hopefully, if the mum remembered them) to quickly obtain a bit of history which may give me an indication that the parents may actually be extremely anxious- but some things aren’t written down, and I struggle to determine the body language differences between anxiety, or that I’m interrupting an argument between the parents, or there is worry about something unrelated to the scan, all while the mum may have a desperately full bladder.
Once the parents are in the room, its usually only a minute or so before the lights are dimmed, if they were ever turned up in the beginning. Myself, and older colleagues have noted how our eyes adjust more slowly to sudden darkness- I used to have no trouble going from bright light to darkness in a scan room, but now I’m older I can’t see very well when the lights go off- not very helpful for the scan, but keeping the room dim all the time adds more barriers to communication.
I have been scanning a number of years, but I only learned a couple of years ago the importance of eye contact in those first seconds of the scan. I think if I’d learned that sooner, I could have easily made more clients feel more welcome. Right at the beginning is when I’m usually checking I’ve got the right patient on the computer screen or paper details, probably staring at a screen, and I expect I really came across rushed or off-hand, before I knew better. I have asked for customer skills training, but the training I have had has been more about dealing with challenging behaviour, and when I asked for training around breaking bad news I ended up on a course which was more about end of life conversations, which was interesting, but geared to spending a lot more time setting the scene for breaking end of life news without interruptions, rather than sonographers specific task of breaking bad news very quickly, with little warning.
Something that comes up time and again, is how rude sonographers are, prodding bellies and saying how fat our clients are. I’m sure a lot of us could gain from some training in customer service, but there is a reason behind the hurtful words. A scan can be uncomfortable- pressing on a full bladder isn’t great at the best of times, but sonographers end up pressing harder on larger tummies trying to see the detail that is required for that scan. We try not to, not only because we don’t intend to hurt our clients, but most sonographers are in physical pain scanning and pressing harder makes it worse. We are our own worst enemies at times though, because we concentrate so hard on what we are looking at on the ultrasound screen. So, brains may not be fully engaged on saying tactful comments, we may not realise how hard we are pressing (I rarely notice the pain I am in until I finish up the scan, and realise I shouldn’t have pressed so hard).
At the end of the scan, the other vital part of our job is communicating the findings, which usually involves giving a copy of the report to the parents in their notes.
We have to explain what limitations there are on the scan- have I seen everything perfectly like the text books? Usually not, and then we have to explain why. I’m not aware of too many people feeling insulted when its baby’s position that is a limitation, but the various ways we say we lost detail because the sound waves were travelling further (which happens if there is a layer of fat in the way) can be perceived as insulting. I know in my trust the midwives try to mention this to larger ladies before they come for any scans, and I feel that being forwarned helps when the sonographers then are repeating something already said. It doesn’t seem too shocking if I’m trying to explain the extra layers around where I’ve been scanning have limited what I can see, if its already been mentioned, hopefully by someone they trust. Sometimes that hasn’t happened, or the parents haven’t taken it on board, and some of us sonographers manage to say things quite badly. Probably in fear of saying it badly, some of us don’t mention it all, and leave it to the midwife to explain the terms on the report, which can be just as upsetting.
Sonographers sometimes across as grumpy, and one possible reason is that we are usually rushed. My day in obstetrics is divided into 15 minute slots- with double slot for first trimester screening and the 20 week anatomy / anomaly scan (different places give it slightly different names), and a bit extra for twins. In that time we really need to allow about 5-7 minutes for trying to document the findings accurately, and producing a copy for the parents to keep in the notes (IT technical issues can easily double this, and are a regular problem where I work now).
Some scans take longer than the allotted time, and sometimes in that short time interval I have to give devastating news, try to be supportive but also find another health care professional to handle the initial grief and arrange what happens next. With no time to reflect I must carry on and scan a lady who might have been kept waiting longer, with a desperately full bladder. I try hard, but part of me is probably still processing the blow I dealt the previous lady, and hoping that while distracted/upset I am doing my job well enough for both clients, and I really hope the lady who has been kept waiting is kind, because I can’t tell her any of this.
The 15 minute break slot I get each list is rarely a break, but just a little leeway so I can try to take a minute or two extra with with each lady I meet without running too late by the end. My lunch break is officially 30 minutes, where I’d love to step outside and enjoy the beautiful grounds my hospital is in, but many days in obstetrics I barely have time to eat in the scan room, before washing my hands and continuing to run late.
I’d love to spend longer, explaining each part of the report, going into the parents particular concerns and signposting them to the appropriate person if I am not the one who can help.
Officially I need to work on my time management. I take too long, I must scan too slow or talk too much. My rescan rate is too high (at the 20 week scan, if we can’t see everything in one visit we are allowed to offer one rescan, which where I worked previously wasn’t ever counted or limited, but now I use that option too freely apparently and I must have less than 10% rescan rate), but that means I must scan for longer to see everything- it is unthinkable that I would say I had seen something when I hadn’t, but I do wonder what will happen when sonographers who aren’t as honest as I am, or feel more pressured than I do, get to this point.
I have been specifically told to talk less to parents before the first trimester screening test, because after a conversation, some mums decided against it. In my old trust we were told, as Band 7 staff in the process and the person about to do the test, that we had to be sure the ladies really wanted it- and check they have heard the potential outcomes including that the diagnostic test, with a risk of miscarriage, may be offered. Where I work now I may ask if they’ve discussed the test with their midwives, have they seen the booklet, but I must not ask enough for me to be confident about the information they have, because their community midwife takes responsibility for this.
Screening tests are an option, not compulsory part of pregnancy. Many women I meet wouldn’t dream of having a pregnancy without a scan, but its not an informed choice if the mum gets in the scan room before she realises the scan is optional-this is something that happened last week.
My personal choices around scans have changed over the years, going from wanting everything going first time around, to having none with my third. I found the anatomy scan with my second child a hugely anxious time, knowing the potential conditions that could be diagnosed, and the huge number of abnormal but unexplained things that might be seen, and of course the range of conditions that a scan would never detect.
A dear friend had a devastating diagnosis at a 20 week scan before my third pregnancy, which meant baby needed delivering at a specialist centre for the best chance of survival, and I was hugely affected by how the family were affected by the diagnosis and the stress throughout the final 20 weeks of pregnancy. Their experience and my attempts to support them made me evaluate exactly what I would gain or lose from scans in my third pregnancy, and, for me, at that time, the decision was not to have scans. The same events affected other people differently, and they tell me they wouldn’t dream of not having a scan after being involved with such a tough experience, which I can completely understand, appreciate and support. I’m not planning more children, but if I did I would have to consider it all very carefully- I don’t know if I would opt for scans or not.
In the first trimester screening scan, sometimes called the NT scan, sonographers are audited in a few different ways. Where I work we have one 30 minute appointment, and if we can’t obtain measurements that meet the national screening committees criteria, then we must offer the quad test. So, we get audited on how many ladies end up being offered the quad. We are audited that our images meet standard criteria. We are audited that our measurements fit a national expected scale- and steps are taken if we don’t meet all these criteria. It isn’t too hard to meet these criteria in a baby that is lying in the perfect position, but the position of baby is one thing outside of our control.
I imagine this scan will be around for a while yet, though I am glad to know non-invasive prenatal screening has been around in private practices a while and hopefully will become more widespread in the NHS in years to come – this blood test is a much more sensitive and specific screening tool, but it is currently quite expensive.
Something else sonographers do that causes conflict is limit the number of people in the scan room, and warn that noisy or disruptive children may need to leave. If there is an accompanying adult then they miss the scan by having to leave with the child, or the scan may be abandoned if the mum is the only adult with unsettled children. I have tried to continue to scan while a child was working very hard to stick their fingers in the fan, run around, screamed constantly, but these are situations where I have to stop before I make a mistake.
It is also very difficult to concentrate when an excited parent/grandparent has someone extra to talk to. The rare time I break the rules and allow someone extra in, I have usually regretted it. I must need further training in being politely assertive to obtain the quite atmosphere I absolutely need to concentrate on seeing all the structures I need – in the given time.
If I scan in silence, I am complained about for being too serious- so I try to keep a light hearted, pleasant line of conversation going while I stare at the screen intently concentrating, looking for potentially life threatening problems with baby. Its a situation perfect for misunderstandings.
Keeping the chatting going is much harder on those days I have a bit of a headache, or my 3 year old has had a bad night, or my 7 year old had a nightmare. I suppose I might call in sick for not being on top form, but the team I work with is so small so I know parents may turn up for long-awaited appointments and be forced to rebook, or my colleagues might try to squash extra scans in an already full list- with all the usual pressures still standing for making it a pleasant scan, not rebooking, etc. And of course, like any business, sickness records are kept and if you take sick time too often, then steps are taken.
I’m struggling at the moment. Concentrating non-stop, knowing mistakes mean huge potential consequences for families, doing it all against the clock and targets is draining me. By the end of my working week I usually feel too exhausted to cuddle my kids before I crawl into bed, unable to cook or eat tea, straight from work, hoping I can take time out of family life to recover from my week. My head hurts, I keep going faint, but the GP says there’s nothing to worry about. My sickness record is something else to worry about. I can’t cut my hours- I think I could probably cope if I were doing it less. If I could have some time for catching up at the end of my lists, I think I could do a better job.I work with a good team, but the managers don’t seem to get the pressure they are putting on us. But then, I don’t know what pressure they are under. I suspect my manager is struggling, but trying to keep it private. She is taking unpaid leave to try to keep going, but scheduling it has been almost impossible. The needs of the service come first.