Maternity Experience

The #MatExp Journey

What Does #MatExp Mean To You?

I had the privilege of hosting one of the weekly #MatExpHour Twitter chats last night, on the topic of “What Does #MatExp Mean To You?”  We had already received some thoughts on this topic via the #MatExp Facebook group, and I couldn’t wait to hear what answers we had from the gang on Twitter. I was not disappointed.  This campaign that Gill and Flo started has become something more than I think any of us could have imagined.  It is with much delight that I share with you what #MatExp means to those involved.

Those who couldn’t make the chat were keen to get in their thoughts in advance:

Helen Green

Sheena

STARFISH

Emma Jane Sasaru: “To me it embodies what I believe can happen when everyone works together to support families. It means that while many say we cannot improve things we really can. Helen Calvert and I always refer to the starfish story because if we all just make small changes they add up to big change. Always believe you can make a difference because you can.
Personally #MatExp has helped me so much. As many of you know I had PTSD from a terrible birth experience and poor care. #MatExp has given me hope that we can prevent this happening and we can make sure that families are treated with our ‘heart values’. It has helped in my healing, enabled me to meet some amazing people, make changes in my local trust and also further my work to raise awareness around perinatal mental health.
What I love is the passion, the genuine want to improve things for families and the fact that it comes from the heart. Any of you that know Gill and Flo will know this is be true. Thank you everyone and remember you can be the change you want to see.”

Gill Phillips

Gill was worried about the limitations of Twitter when it came to explaining what #MatExp means to her, but started by sharing this article from The Edge.  You don’t have to ask for permission to make change!

Flo

Cathy Brewster: “What I love about #MatExp is the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds. As a parent I have been able to directly talk to midwives, obstetricians, commissioners, researchers, MSLCs etc. about homebirth and have gained unique perspective and insights from them all. And I hope they may have gained something useful from me too. #MatExp certainly made it easy for me to get our homebirth posters out there and it is wonderful to see them being used all over the place. The other thing I love about #MatExp is that it’s a platform for learning. It has opened my eyes to so many new maternity issues that I knew nothing about. So a big thank you from me to #MatExp”

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I had shared some wonderful blogs in advance of the chat, this one from Emma Jane Sasaru “Why The Wonderful #MatExp Has Given Me Hope”, and this from Victoria Morgan “Reflecting on #MatExp and the Impact it is Having”.

A bit more from Facebook:

Georgie

Lucy Ruddle: “I found it really useful when I was pregnant, to discuss the choices I had and why certain things were offered / what various hasty discussions with HCPs actually meant etc. So pretty much, a really useful source of good information.

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Gill Stellar

Read Gill’s Stellar story here!

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Susan Parker: “Even though I haven’t been involved for the longest time, for me it’s about parents being able to share their stories and for HCPs to be able to listen and reflect. It’s about sharing information and collaborating. And at times it’s about having a bit of a debate about a certain topic – which is of course a great thing to listen to a different viewpoint that you may not have considered.
On my radar were things like compassionate care, mental health and a mother’s choice. But my eyes have been opened to way more than that because I hadn’t previously experienced those issues, but I can talk to women who have and learn from them. I feel a blog post coming on (but maybe at some point in the future!) would love to do more with #MatExp.”

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Edie

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Michelle

Michelle’s wonderful blog post about what the Bromley MSLC #WhoseShoes event meant to her can be found here. And Bromley MSLC had got their thoughts in ahead of time:

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Greenwich

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Lemons

What is is about lemons?!  Find out here.

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Have you seen Flo’s amazing Lithotomy Challenge? Read about it here. Amazing to see the people who got involved!

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Natalie Finn: “For me it’s knowledge, understanding, support and passion. As an aspiring midwife, I want to extend & broaden my knowledge and there truly is a wealth here. As a mother of 4, I have knowledge of pregnancy/labour/birth, but simply from my perspective and reading others experiences, feedback and action taken interests me immensely. To be a well rounded midwife, I feel I need to see things from all aspects and perspectives, the mothers/families most importantly. Equally my entire maternity experience has been wonderfully positive largely down to having the same wonderful midwife for 6 pregnancies, 2 losses and 4 births over the span of 8 years!! I’m passionate about normalizing birth as a whole as well as home birth, breastfeeding (despite being a reluctant bottle feeding mum!), continuity of care. I also value the level of passion and support shown in this group. No question is too difficult, the cup of #MatExp runs over with understanding and it’s rare to find a community such as this that just so NICE!

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Look what happens when you JFDI! I didn’t ask permission to do the #MatExp Survey!

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Gill Phillips made this wonderful film which also demonstrates what #MatExp means to her.

At the end of the day it’s all about women and families.

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Because some things never change.

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What does #MatExp mean to you?

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Improvement

TeamWork

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Women’s Voices in #MatExp – Your Midwife

I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University last week 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 first of those.  This is Dawn Stone’s experience of being a midwife in the NHS.  Thank you so much to Dawn for agreeing to write for us.

And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too.  Because this campaign is about all voices.

Helen.x

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Dawn Stone is a 27 year old midwife living and working in central London. Dawn qualified as a midwife in 2014, and is passionate about improving experiences for students, midwives and women.

Dawn Stone

It’s an insignificant Monday afternoon in SE London to many. It’s beautifully warm, people are rejoicing in beer gardens as they finish work, I hear the giggles and shrieks of laughter from a nearby park as I walk home. It’s an idyllic summers day; and yet somehow it feels cold to me.

I’m on my way to see my GP. I made the appointment last week, but it feels fortuitous to have this lifeline today. Because today, of all the 303 days I’ve been a midwife, it feels way too much to bear. And I need some help.

I’ve been here before. A few months ago the feelings on inadequacy, frustration and disappointment reared their ugly heads and I made the same journey to my GP, begging for help. She, to her credit, was wonderful but the medication she prescribed was not. I went back to work but felt like I was going through the motions. My appetite was reduced, I hadn’t slept a whole night in months, and I constantly had a knot of tension in my stomach whenever I thought about work.

What do I do? I’m a midwife. And it nearly knocked me off my feet completely.

I trained as a midwife in a busy central London hospital, which often felt like a baptism of fire and was definitely not what I was expecting. I was lucky to witness amazing births, incredible women, and unfortunately, at times, disappointing midwives. It seemed as though some had lost the ability to care about the women as well as for them; and so I qualified with a goal. Be the best midwife I can be, and never forget the power and importance of being kind. It sounds so simple when you write it down!

Upon qualifying, I moved to another busy central London hospital, and began working as a bona fide midwife, alongside a group of also newly qualified midwives who would become my lifeline. Together we jumped into this chaotic and intense career, and discovered that being a student midwife does NOT prepare you for being a midwife. Not at all. You have no idea as a student the enormity of every decision you make – that lochia is normal, that baby is not jaundiced, that baby is unwell and needs an urgent review. And on and on it goes; a hundred different decisions, all before lunchtime and all before you’ve had a drink or something to eat. And if you’re lucky, you’re figuring this all out in an environment which is supportive and conducive to learning, where you know you have more experienced midwives to lean on and ask ‘Does it get better?’

If you’re unlucky, you’re essentially told to suck it up and keep going. Never mind that you’re awake at 4am going over and over the shift from yesterday, thinking about each woman and baby, and what you handed over – did you forget something? You definitely did. Shut up mind, go to sleep. Except you definitely did forget something because you did a blood sugar on the baby in bed 9 before you left and you forgot to write it down. It was normal, thankfully, but should I ring? No. It’s 4am and it’s your day off. Go back to sleep.

Working on a busy 50 bed AN/PN ward can feel like being on a carousel that’s spinning and spinning; there is no slowing down, only jumping on, and trying to stay upright and facing the right way.

When I arrive for my night shift, I look at my workload and I hope for an okay night. I have a mixture of 2 high risk AN women (for close monitoring of their severe PET), an IOL for post dates and 4 PN mums & babies – all of them are on obs overnight, 1 mum is also on IVABX for sepsis, and my colleague has just handed over that one of the babies hasn’t fed for 6 hours. I take a deep breath, try to quell the tide of worry that’s swirling in my stomach, and do the only thing I can do. I make a plan. I read the notes, I look at the blood results, and I try to prioritise what needs doing and when. I say hello to all 7 women, some of whom I know, and I begin to do what needs to be done.

And I’m sorry if I couldn’t sit with you longer during your breastfeed. I can see your baby is feeding well but as a first time Mum you need some support and guidance as you learn this new skill. I want to sit with you, and gently reassure and reaffirm you as you confidently latch your baby to your breast. But I can’t. Because I have 6 other women, and 3 other babies who need me. So I do what I can, and then ask a maternity support worker to step in, and do what I cannot.

I’m sorry my checking on you and baby felt like a list of questions, one after the other, relentlessly. I know this isn’t the best way to elicit how you feel about this huge shift to parenthood, and I may not ask the question you need me to, and so your niggling worries remain unchecked.

I’m sorry I have to wake you at 2am, and 6am, to check your blood pressure. The medication you’re on to manage it is very good but we need to ensure its effective, and the middle of the night BP is actually one of the most useful. I hate waking people up, and I know you don’t mean to swear at me as you grumble and sigh, before brandishing me your arm, but it still hurts to hear. Thankfully your blood pressure is normal, and I can tiptoe out & leave you to rest.

As I walk past the desk, I see my bottle of water, next to my colleagues. All untouched.

I’m sorry you’re in a mixed bay of women, and you can hear babies crying as your labour is starting, and it’s not dark or quiet as you need it to be. I’m sorry you’re quietly sobbing on the edge of the bed as you try to get through this contraction without making too much noise and waking the sleeping bay. I’m sorry I can’t be with you, talking you through your contractions and helping you to relax and reduce the fear/tension/pain cycle. I know that you need me, but I have obs to do on 2 of the babies in this bay, and I need to check on one of women with raised BP as she’s on the monitor and I hope it’s ok as I had to dash out of the room once it was on. I’m sorry I’m only half with you as I rub your back, as I’m juggling my outstanding jobs in my head. Thankfully, some codeine and a warm baths eases some of your pain, and you spend a few hours soaking in there, feeling much more relaxed.

I’m so relieved.

I’m so relieved that your labour didn’t progress rapidly, and your baby wasn’t born on the ward.

I’m so relieved all of your babies obs were normal, and they didn’t show signs of an infection.

I’m so relieved that the heavy bleeding you complained of turned out to be normal blood loss, and you’re not having a haemorrhage.

I’m so relieved your blood pressure was normal, and you’re not feeling any symptoms of pre eclampsia.

I’m so relieved when you come to me at 4am, as I sit at the desk gratefully drinking a coffee as I relish the middle of the night peace that’s descended, and tell me you latched your baby on yourself & it felt like a good feed.

I’m so relieved. I’m also hungry, and tired, and the water has remained untouched although I have slurped a coffee my colleague made for me.

This shift has been busy, and stressful, and required me to constantly assess, juggle and prioritise. But it’s not extraordinary. It’s a typical shift in a typical London hospital on any given day. The women are grateful, and I leave with a small sense of doing a good job.

Until I return the following night to be told I didn’t do a VTE risk assessment. And the dyad I helped with breastfeeding are now mixed feeding as she felt her baby wasn’t getting enough. And the mum who labour began during the night is still on the ward, awaiting a doctors review to formulate an ongoing plan. And we’re short staffed. And I can feel a headache coming on as I didn’t sleep well, worrying and replaying the previous shift over and over.

With such unrelenting pressure, is it any wonder I’m crying to my GP, telling her how unhappy I am, how tired, how morose? And is it any wonder she doesn’t bat an eyelid when I ask for antidepressants, and a sick note?

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 #MatExp is a campaign about ACTION!  So what can be done?  We have already written about how it is Time to Act for Midwives, but as this recent post on Sheena Byrom’s blog demonstrates, these issues are not isolated and they are not yet being taken seriously.

NHS Maternity Review

Sheena kindly commented on what Dawn had to say:

“Dawn’s reflection of her experience trying to do her work as a midwife is distressing, and tragically, Dawn is by no means alone. I receive regular emails from midwives and student midwives who feel desperate, unable to go on, and ready to leave our profession.

I sincerely hope the National Maternity Review report will kick start the much needed radical reform of maternity services. If we can’t support, care for and nurture maternity workers to provide safe, effective high quality maternity care, we have an unsustainable situation.”

A mile in my shoes

Community Outreach Midwife Wendy Warrington also commented on Dawn’s experiences:

“This could have been written by me and the majority of my midwifery colleagues as accurate, and to be honest been there themselves me included! I came back to work after nearly 3 weeks off and Monday morning I had a knot in my stomach when I turned on my work phone and strolled into the community office. Fortunately all was well, but that was due to in the run up to Christmas ny starting early working at home, finishing late and putting written plans in place. Four women on my caseload delivered and I have high risk caseload due to safeguarding concerns.

In terms of improving the situation there needs to be a shift from the blame and bullying culture that seems to be prevalent within the midwifery profession and the NHS as a whole. Senior management with their expectations bully staff below them and this continues down the pecking order. Midwifery sadly is still very hierarchical. Also the public perception and expectation has shifted from when I first started. There does not seem to be the respect from the public as in days gone by . The “where there’s a blame there’s a claim” culture. Cuts to funding, staff shortages and the media have not helped.

Sadly I am counting down the days until retirement as are many of my colleagues.

So how to improve the situation?  As colleagues we should nurture and support one another, and small pockets of us do. I personally have found my escape using Twitter and Facebook groups. Realising there were others out there who felt and thought like me and had not had the passion snuffed out of them really helped me, and gave me the courage to continue and believe that I can make a difference as a midwife.  But than in itself can cause problems: cyber bullying, we have seen that. The more your profile is raised the more you expose yourself to scrutiny. I was seconded to Project Manager for Early Years agenda for Greater Manchester and the knives were out . I was devastated when my Head of Midwifery said that this was par for the course: try to better yourself and jealousy kicks in.

There are health and well-being initiatives in some trusts which need promoting. While we are there to do our work the public should remember we have children, elderly parents and our own problems like them, and sometimes we can’t leave it at the door as much as we try to, so compassion and understanding comes from both sides. I do not know of any midwife who comes to work to upset, harm or distress any woman or her family.” 

So what do we need to do?  What are you doing? What is happening in your Trust that is helping?  Please share best practice and ideas – we are stronger when we work together.

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WhoseShoes Confirmed That My Shoes Have Climbed A Mountain

This post is from Michelle Quashie, and originally appeared on her blog site Strong Since Birth.  Our thanks to Michelle for agreeing for it to be reposted here.

Michelle

The day had finally arrived! After contributing to #MatExp and interacting with many conversations surrounding ‘WhoseShoes’ throughout the year, I was finally going to experience the magic in real life.

Laura, the chair of our MSLC has written a fantastic post that captures the excitement of the day perfectly, you can read it here: When WhoseShoes Came To The PRUH

I was not disappointed, the day was everything I had dreamed of,  but for me it was so much more.

I was asked to open the event by sharing my Maternity Experience. I have spoke at several maternity training events in the past but my audience has always been Midwives. I was aware that this was a multi discipline training event and it was to be the first time I would share my story in such detail with Obstetricians and everyone else involved in Maternity. The thought made me feel anxious but I knew how important this opportunity was.

I had planned to stay in control and not let the emotions attached to my experience be displayed in the form of tears. It was so important to me to remain composed and in control.

My heart pounded through the showing of the MatExp film, this film moves me every time. It is so powerful and very thought provoking. Sadly I can resonate with many of the situations displayed in the film. I knew I was about to be discussing some of those memories any minute with all those surrounding me.

My name was called and I made my way to the front with my heart pounding. I decided to be honest and share how I was feeling with the room.

‘Please bare with me, I am feeling very nervous. I’m sure once I start talking I will warm up and I will be fine!’

Automatically I felt more relaxed and felt more able to share my story without the anxiety overruling my thoughts.

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It’s amazing how every time I share my experience it comes out slightly different, or I find myself saying things that I hadn’t thought of before? I had missed a couple of important bits out but neither the less I was very happy with the way I had presented and gauging by the feeling of emotion in the room I had touched the hearts of nearly everyone around me. For the first time I was able to keep my tears to myself even though I had noted that tears were shed by many in response. The room fell silent but the atmosphere spoke volumes.

I wasn’t aware of the tweets that were being circulated on social media but looking at them them later along with the emails I had received It confirmed that my talk was a positive part of the day.

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“Also a massive well done to Michelle for her heartfelt and emotional story, I could see it touched many people as there were certainly a few tears in the room. That took huge courage to stand there in front of so many people and share such a personal experience and to tell it so well. Huge WELL DONE Michelle.”

We began to play the the game and interesting discussions were had in response to the thought provoking questions that are key to the WhoseShoes success.

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Some of the discussions that stick in my mind were:

  1. A woman wanted a home birth but her husband wasn’t convinced. We had discussed that there wasn’t enough support or information given during antenatal care to ensure that the couple felt safe,supported and empowered to fulfil the woman’s birth choice.
  2. Consultant Obstetricians are normally addressed by other members of their team using their title i.e., Sir, Mr, Mrs or Miss as a mark of respect. I may be wrong but it feels hierarchical, unlike the power slogan and barrier breaker behind WhoseShoes and #MatExp ‘No Hierarchy, just ordinary people’.
  3. It was also discussed that consultants were on site until 9 pm, after that they are on call for emergency situations only. Now I understand why during my appointment to discuss my VBAC, the registrar said ‘ I mean, we don’t know when you will go into labour or who will be on duty should you rupture’. I now understand that my birth choices were  influenced by staffing levels at the hospital.
  4. Other key themes were Empathy, Language, supporting and facilitating informed decision making and just how important it was for everyone to be cared for individually based on their individual situation and needs.
  5. Midwives are able to have time to build a relationship with women whereas doctors are often called for the emergency situation and do their best to resolve the medical issue as it arises. This can sometimes make it hard for them to be able to connect with the woman that they are caring for and are not always able to fully appreciate the long lasting effects the experience can have on a woman.

The day was coming to an end and Anna gave us fabulous evaluation of our morning using the comments that came from the discussion at each table. It was fabulous to visualise the discussion using the graphic that Anna had been working on through out the morning.

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We each made an individual pledges. Here is my pledge:

“To provide a platform for women to share their Maternity experience.  I would like to ensure that women’s voices are heard as part of training and development.”

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I am currently planning a conference called ‘Women’s Voices’. More details will be available soon.

As the morning came to an end and people were leaving someone tapped me on my shoulder. I turned round and my tummy flipped. The face before me took me straight to a place of feeling vulnerable, feeling panicky.

‘Michelle it was me wasn’t it?’

Stood before me was the registrar that I had my consultation for my vba2c with. Unbeknown to my self and the organisers we had shared the morning. I had shared an experience that changed my life but had also been a time that left me feeling scared, vulnerable, isolated and questioning my mental health. The person that was responsible for those feelings was standing here in front of me, for a moment the feelings came flooding back, I battled to keep them contained.

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She apologised for the way she had cared for me. She admitted that she had been wrong and has since ensured that she was fully aware of her professional guidance. She was now fully supportive of  women’s choice regarding their birth and ensured me that since having to write a statement in response to my complaint, she is fully aware of the impact of the care she provides a woman.

She actually thanked me for highlighting the error of her ways promising me it had changed her attitudes. I could see that she was overwhelmed with emotion and had spoke to me honestly. She asked if she could hug me and we both held each other for comfort.

I told her that I admired her for taking the time to come a talk to me and for apologising. I also explained that I was aware that she was not entirely to blame for the care I had received and I now understood that her response to me wanting a vaginal birth after two caesareans was due to the cultural belief of the trust she worked in.

It was clear that my birth wishes would not be supported and neither would anyone wanting to support me at that time. I know this because many attempts were made to provide me with the support I needed and no one stepped out of their comfort zone to provide me with the support I needed with regards me birth choices. As a result I had no choice but to transfer my care.

She empathised and promised me that as a result of my experience things were changing.

We said our goodbyes and I was trying very hard to contain my emotion that the meeting had evoked.

A consultant midwife that has walked by my side through this maternity experience and others and who has been a pillar of support to me came to see me. ‘Are you OK Michelle?’

The flood gates open and I broke down. I couldn’t talk at that moment. I was just overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t make sense of it at the time but now I think I can.

That meeting with the registrar brought some closure. I admire her ability to acknowledge the error of her ways.

The meeting took me back and reminded me of the scared women I once was sitting in her office, trying to persuade her that I could give birth, pleading with them to allow me. Feeling so horrible when it was highlighted that I had never given birth and they wasn’t sure if I could. I was subjected to a number of negative comments that effected my mental well being and left me questioning my sanity. Comments that left my family feeling unable to support my decisions in fear of my safety. it was a meeting that left me feeling isolated.

Here I sat after coming full circle with the same women but this time I was a different woman. I am a now a woman who has had the most amazing journey and have achieved some incredible things;

I gave birth, not only did I give birth but I bloody rocked that labour ward!

I came back and I told the story, I sang it from the rooftops!

I learnt to believe in me and my abilities.

I joined their MSLC and contributed to so many fantastic improvements within the Maternity service.

I have spoke at training events within maternity with an aim to improve maternity care for women.

I have written and had my views published here and in The Practising Midwife .

I have contributed to #MatExp campaign and connected with some fantastic people as a result.

I have met, received support and been inspired by many fantastic people. too many to mention.

The realisation that my shoes have climbed a mountain has happened!

I received the following email from a Consultant Obstetrician following the Whose Shoes event. It confirmed that this journey has been worth every little step:

“Dear Michelle,

I just wanted to reiterate how touched I was by your story and how impressed I was by the way you delivered it. You will be responsible for improving the practise of every obstetrician in that room today which in the end will improve the care of tens of thousands of women.

If anyone is amazing it is you!”

This is one of many mountains.

I hope to be climbing a mountain near you soon.

 

Michelle Quashie

2016

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When WhoseShoes came to the PRUH

Whose Shoes® came to Kings College Hospital this week and wow did we step up to the challenge!

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Having observed the Guys and St. Thomas’s event in the summer of 2015, I knew we were in for a treat. I hoped and prayed that our event would generate a similar level of commitment that was felt at Guys, and I was not disappointed.

50 delegates, representing midwives, maternity support workers, doctors, commissioners, service users, receptionists, porters, health visitors and many other areas of maternity, streamed into the Education Centre promptly at 9:30. The day was introduced by Maxine Spencer, director of midwifery, who spoke about the day being a level playing field and that everyone was there as a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter (or a father or son for the men in the room), irrespective of their profession.

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Having watched the “In their Shoes” MatExp DVD, during which you could have heard a pin drop, it was then the turn of service user Michelle Quashie to tell us her VBA2C experience. Again, everyone listened with respect and focus and there were tears from a few as she retold her powerful and inspirational story.

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After everyone had composed themselves, it was time for the game to begin. Conversations started off fairly hesitantly, but people warmed up and pretty soon it was obvious how powerful this day would be.

On our table discussions ranged from noise on the postnatal wards, to caring for staff and teamwork, how to support women’s feeding choices and the power of language. Everyone spoke in a respectful manner and was very honest and open. Conversations just flowed and, as a facilitator, it was wonderful to see how professionals often spoke from the heart as service users. Proof that birth matters to everyone.

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The wonderful Anna Geyer from New Possibilities weaved her magic on the plethora of post-it notes being generated from the discussions and as usual created the most beautiful graphic.

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Tweeting was fast and furious during the day, to the point where I thought my Twitter feed was going to explode! Here are just a few of the hundreds of tweets:

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Eventually, after a couple of hours, the discussions were brought to a close and Anna gave us her evaluation of the day, drawing out some of the points that we had raised.

Michelle Quashie

Environment

As chair of Bromley MSLC, I was delighted to see the weight attached to having a strong, powerful MSLC as a voice for service users and professionals alike.

Stronger Voice

Then it was time for the pledges. Each individual was invited to pledge one thing that they would do differently as a result of attending the morning. Spontaneously, everyone clapped and cheered as one pledge from each table was read out. I haven’t had time to go through them all yet, but here are a handful that stood out:

I will try to make every birth special (in theatre especially)”

I will not use the following words: allow, only and let”

To try and make the ward round more personal, friendly and positive and a respectful experience for the woman and her family”

To always ask how the new father is as well as the new mother”

I will facilitate a “good news” newsletter and encourage all staff to submit thank yous and nominate staff for good support”

I will ensure that I always remember to update the woman and relatives on what is going on”

I will make sure that every woman feels had the attention and care she hoped for”

I will always say hello and congratulate all new parents on the ward”

I will continue to facilitate named midwives (and ensure that) a woman sees her named midwife at least 4 times during her pregnancy.”

To provide a platform for women to share their maternity experiences”

What now?

The Bromley MSLC has gathered together all these pledges, which will form our work plan for the next 12 months or so. We intend to monitor and check that they are being implemented. Amazingly, by the time I’d returned home and fired up my computer, one staff member had already emailed her colleagues to initiate the first “good news” newsletter. THAT is MatExp in action!!!

The other email in my inbox when I returned was from a service user who had attended the day. She asked me to share this with other members of the MSLC. She said:

I just wanted to express my thanks and congratulations on your amazing achievement on getting today’s ‘Whose shoes’ event to actually happen and to everyone else who was involved in organising this outstanding event.

What an absolutely amazing experience it was and so refreshing to see such a mix of service users and professionals all come together, to share knowledge and stories and all with the same goal, of making a difference to our maternity services.

I thoroughly enjoyed the morning and could have easily carried on for the rest of the day!!!

As discussed today on my table, people are very quick to complain, but never quick to praise so I thought I would come home and express my feelings and give my praise. 

So thank you and I will see lots of you at the MSLC meeting next week. Really looking forward to seeing what the year ahead holds now we have our pledges to work with!!

I was fairly certain we were in for a special day, but I was overjoyed to feel the tangible buzz and energy created in the room. It was a privilege to witness how something so simple; getting professionals and parents together to talk about improving maternity services in a compassionate, respectful manner, can have such an impact. From the number of comments I’ve had flood into my inbox in the last 24 hours, I think its safe to say that everyone came away feeling fired up and committed to making local maternity services the best they can possibly be. I know it renewed my enthusiasm to do just that.

Oh, and one final thing. I think we raised the stakes of the #MatExp #bakeoff challenge!

bake off 2

Laura James

Chair, Bromley MSLC

2016

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2016 Starts Here!

Personally I have had a bit of a Christmas and New Year break, but of course #MatExp never sleeps!  There have been plenty of blogs, new ideas, events planned and meet ups occurring all over the festive period.  We have had new people join the Facebook group, new ideas suggested for #MatExpHour and lots of us are speaking at events around the country in the coming weeks and months.

It seems five minutes since the fantastic #MatExpAdvent initiative came to an end, but here we are on the eleventh day of 2016 and I need to dive back in as otherwise I’ll be left behind!  This wonderful round up from Gill Phillips inspired me this morning to get back on the crazy horse…..

 

Our last #MatExpHour before Christmas, led by the wonderful 23weeksocks, was on the topic of Taking #MatExp Into 2016.  There were some excellent suggestions for actions and initiatives, so let’s take a look and then get cracking!  What would you like to do?

MSLCs

The NCT has developed a new practical guide to running an Maternity Services Liaison Committee (MSLC), “From Good Practice to Trouble Shooting”.  MSLCs are a big part of #MatExp, and there are some exciting WhoseShoes #MatExp MSLC events coming up very soon!

Bromley MSLC

Kings MSLC

Are you already a member of an MSLC?  What has your group got planned for this year?  Is there an MSLC in your area that you can join? Definitely a lot going on around the country – let us know how #MatExp can support your MSLC, joining hands around the country!

BerksMSLC

Rachel

Groups

It was also suggested that #MatExp could work more closely with the fantastic 1001 Critical Days campaign.

1001CriticalDays

1001CriticalDays2

Are you involved with this project?  How can #MatExp best support the campaign, and vice versa?  Do you have some fresh ideas about the conception to age 2 period?  We have many Health Visitors involved in #MatExp and their input here will be invaluable.

The next suggestion was harnessing the power of the next generation of midwives via the country’s Midwifery Societies.  Are you a member of a MidSoc?  How can you collaborate with #MatExp?  Could you host a WhoseShoes event?  Do you have events coming up where #MatExp could be represented?  What is on your agenda for 2016?

MidSoc2

MidSoc

My aim for 2016 is to try to take #MatExp to those not on social media.  How do we engage with healthcare professionals (and parents) who are not on Twitter and Facebook?  Looks like we will have to resort to good old fashioned pen and paper!  Or at least keyboard and printer.  Who in your trust would you like to tell about #MatExp?  Get in touch and help me to spread the message further!

pen and paper

Blog6

The big thing we are all waiting for is the report from the National Maternity Review.  At the Birth Tank 2 event Baroness Cumberlege had hoped that it would be published on 31 December 2015, but unfortunately it is not yet available.  Once it is here we can get stuck in with implementing recommendations at a local level.

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And what else have people suggested?  #MatExp is about all voices, everyone getting stuck in doing what they can, when they can, where they can.  A few more ideas to get you inspired:

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Anyone wanting to order #MatExp stickers and other resources can do so here.

What’s your plan?  What is happening in your area?  What needs to be done?  What can be built upon?   Who needs to be involved?  What small things can you do?  What BIG things can you do?  Whatever you are up to remember to tell us on Twitter at hashtag #MatExp, join in on Facebook, comment on this blog post, send us a message by carrier pigeon, write it on the sky…..  The #MatExp train is steaming down the track.  All aboard for 2016!

 

Helen Calvert

@heartmummy

2016

 

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Ready, Set, Go! #MatExpOnTour

Where are you off to this month? Where will you be discussing maternity services? With whom will you be meeting? How will you be travelling?

Following the success of #OxyOct we want to focus on the #MatExp journey in November with #MatExpOnTour. Every connection counts – whether you are speaking at a conference or having a cuppa with a friend. If it involves ideas for improving maternity services then we want to hear about it.

Please tweet us your pics and post updates to our Facebook group of your meetings, conferences, tweet ups and events. Will you and your colleagues be discussing the #MatExp Heart Values? Will you be spreading the word about #MatExp on your travels? Will you and your friends be talking about change over tea and a slice of cake?  As always, everyone counts, all voices matter, all connections matter big or small – we are stronger together.

Let’s get on the road. All aboard!

Tour Bus

P.S. Click here to order #MatExp materials to help you to spread the word!

See where we have been on tour in the map below. Want to add something? Just get in touch.

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#OxyOct BOOM! What have we all made happen?

Leigh Kendall opened this month for #MatExp with a call to action for Oxytocin October. The campaign is always action focused and we are keen to hear from anyone who is doing something to improve maternity experience in the UK, be it something big or something small. Yet we had already put together a number of blog posts with calls to action, back in #FlamingJune. So I decided that my action for this month would be to revisit those blog posts and find out what progress has been made.

Flo Collage

The original blog posts were on these subjects (each subject links to the relevant post):

Having re-shared the posts on Facebook and Twitter I was delighted to see the responses coming in detailing what has changed, what has been started and what is continuing to be done. Take a look!

Perinatal Anxiety

Sarah McMullen of the NCT explained that she invited Emily Slater (MMHA Campaigns Manager) to speak and run a workshop at the NCT national conference – to raise awareness and inspire action. Sarah says that Emily’s plenary talk to 600+ staff, practitioners & volunteers “was incredibly powerful, and we’re meeting to discuss next steps for NCT”. Sarah added “We’ve also submitted two funding applications relating to mental health awareness (thanks to Rosey Wren for support), and have match-funded a PhD studentship with the wonderful Susan Ayres on Birth Trauma, and are supporting another PhD research project on group identity and PTSD”

Midwives on Twitter commented:

Anxiety capture Deirdre

Anxiety capture Jeannine

To read Jeannine and John’s blog post please click here.  “You matter. I care.”

Emotional Wellbeing

Birth Trauma Chat

#MatExp team member Emma Jane Sasaru has been incredibly active over the last few months.  She has launched Unfold Your Wings a place of information and support aiming to raise awareness of Perinatal PTSD, birth trauma, reduce stigma and give sufferers hope.  She has also launched a CoCreation Network community around perinatal mental health.  Emma has then collaborated with #MatExp team member Susanne Remic to bring about a weekly #BirthTraumaChat on Twitter run jointly from Unfold Your Wings and Maternity Matters.

Sue Henry

Also launched this month by West London Mental Health NHS Trust was this fantastic short film about perinatal mental health: https://vimeo.com/143359951 This film has already sparked many useful conversations.

PMH

Continuity of Care

I was speaking to a commissioner from Cheshire this month about the decision to commission OnetoOne Midwives. The company has this month posted an overview of their caseloading model: http://www.onetoonemidwives.org/_news/caseloading-midwifery-an-ever-evolving-model-of-care

In her talk at a recent National Maternity Review event, Baroness Julie Cumberlege made it very clear that the call for continuity of care is being heard by the review team up and down the country. Neighbourhood Midwives led a discussion at the review’s Birth Tank 2 event, and there were a couple of other discussions where options for continuity were also explored.

Support for Midwives

Poem from banksy midwife @JennytheM:

Midwives JennytheM

Midwife Deirdre Munro celebrated the launch of the new Global Village Midwives website this week. The movement is over a year old and Deirdre explains:

GVM capture

global village midwives

Infant Feeding

Lots of news about infant feeding from passionate individuals and voluntary organisations.  On our #MatExp Facebook group Zoe Woodman explained: “In May we got approval from NCT to run a branch funded feeding support group. Started in June with an NCT bfc attending who is also an IBCLC. We are on 3 boundaries in terms of commissioning services so no local peer to peer style support groups were running within 8miles. The only service is an HV clinic once a week and it’s one on one so you have to wait outside the room to be seen. It’s been on our branch aims at our AMM since I’ve been chair (4yrs!) so finally chuffed to see it in action and I will get to use it myself in January for no3! It’s running twice a month currently but hope we can get funding in the future to run weekly. It’s slowly building in terms of attendance. Feedback so far is great!”

Dorking NCT

Claire Czjakowska’s Breastfeeding Advert is coming together and is looking very exciting – watch this space!  Breastfeeding in Trafford launched its Twitter account this month so please follow for local breastfeeding news.  BfN Portsmouth tweeted:

Bf capture

Midwifery students at the University of Worcester have launched a petition around the questionable practices of infant formula companies – follow the hashtag #WeakenTheFormula for more information.

As if this wasn’t enough, this month has seen the launch of the World Breastfeeding Trend Initiative for the UK.  A committed group of individuals from the major breastfeeding voluntary organisations have come together to measure the country’s performance against the WHO Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.  Please visit the website for more information on how this project is structured and the indicators against which the UK will be measured.  The project needs lots of input from families and professionals so please follow @wbtiuk on Twitter and find out how you can help.

WBTI capture

Tongue Tie

Doula Zoe Walsh updated us: “We held a North West tongue-tie workshop in Blackpool. It’s now going on the MSLC agenda for Blackpool so that we can discuss local provision and see if it’s meeting the needs of local families.”  

Breastfeeding and Medications

Friend of DIBM helpline

From a personal point of view, I finally got around to becoming a friend of the Drugs in Breastmilk Helpline this summer.  The helpline is absolutely vital for ensuring that women get the correct information about what medications they can use when breastfeeding.  The service is funded by the Breastfeeding Network and the charity once again asked supporters to do a #TeaBreakChallenge this month to help raise donations.

Teabreak challenge

A wonderful #MatExp collaboration has sprung up this month between Angelique Fox, Sarah Baker and Wendy Jones.  These two #MatExp mums who have never met in person have both volunteered to help Wendy to collect data and raise awareness with regards to drugs in breastmilk, particularly where dentists and podiatrists are concerned.  It was discussed on the #MatExp Facebook group that these two healthcare professions are often cited as not having up to date information about breastfeeding and medications so this collaborative project is aiming to tackle that.

Luisa Lyons, the Infant Feeding Coordinator who wrote our original post on this subject, gave us this fantastic update: “Been a busy couple of months. Infant feeding e-learning training for doctors up and running at my unit and both paeds and obstetricians encouraged to complete it. Great support from our obstetric consultant clinics director too. General paed nurses now doing mandatory infant feeding training every year. Been invited to teach general paed doctors face to face. Three GP’s have done the UNICEF 2 days bf management course with us and now writing bf training for GPs in Norfolk. Included info on bf and medications with scenarios to both student nurses and our midwives at keyworker training now, and incorporating into Mt for all maternity staff. Also off topic slightly am putting in a WHO code game to all the above which has generated lots of awareness with student midwives and maternity staff. Need to join DIBM as a friend which I had forgotten to do, so thanks for the heads up.”

Dads & Partners

Mark Williams, co-founder of Dads Matter UK, wrote this blog post for us for #OxyOct, detailing his work and campaigning: http://matexp.org.uk/matexp-and-me/dads-matter/

Men Love and Birth

Midwife Mark Harris launched his book this month, Men, Love and Birth, “the book about being present at birth that your lover wants you to read”.

A Manchester midwife reported positive outcomes around new rules enabling dads & partners to stay over on her unit:

Dads & Partners Mags

When asked how we can best support Dads & Partners, newly elected NCT president Seana Talbot tweeted:

Dads & Partners Seana

Community Outreach Midwife Wendy Warrington tweeted:

Dads & Partners Wendy

I asked Wendy about the work she does with regards to Dads & Partners and she explained “I talk about attachment and being with their baby, skin-to-skin touch. Antenatal and postnatal depression, and fathers’ role in supporting their partner in pregnancy, birth and beyond and how they can do this. I talk about baby cues and the impact of father’s involvement on child’s future emotional and cognitive development.  I have had excellent feedback from parents and when I see them after the birth they say they felt well prepared for feeling and emotions experienced post birth. They love the fact that I talked about it”

Collaboration between Midwives and Health Visitors

Health visitors on the #MatExp Facebook group told us:

My CPT & I have established 6 weekly meetings with the community midwife and the GP (whose special interest is pregnancy/neonates) to discuss cases”

“We already have that in my team we meet at least once a month with the midwife – it was weekly but we are very busy at the moment (both us and the midwife). She will just knock on our door though and share things – she really came on board with antenatal contacts telling parents to be and signposting those with small children with any worries to us.”

With excellent timing Sharon White, OBE, Professional Officer of the School & Public Health Nurses Association, then tweeted the updated pathway for health visiting and midwifery partnership.

partnership

And as a result of discussing all of this on Twitter, Sheena Byrom has invited me to lead a tweet chat with @WeMidwives and @WeHealthVisitor in November on the subject of midwife and health visitor collaboration.  Watch this space!

Birth Tank

And so much more has been happening in #OxyOct as well! #MatExp was well represented at the NHS Maternity Review’s Birth Tank 2 event in Birmingham – click here for Emma’s round up. I spoke at the launch of the Improving ME maternity review for Wirral, Merseyside, Warrington and West Lancashire – click here for my round up of the morning. Leigh Kendall and Florence Wilcock spread the word at the RCOG Conference on October 16th, and Leigh spoke at the Royal Society of Medicine event on October 20th.

RCOG

Leigh capture

Baby Loss Awareness Week took place this month and many important discussions were had around the subject of grief and loss, something which affects a number of #MatExp campaign members.  Leigh wrote movingly about Standing on the Periphery for #HugosLegacy.

BabyLoss

The RCM has this month launched its State of Maternity Services Report. Emma Jane Sasaru has written a series of three blogs about What Matters in Birth.  Susanne Remic has been raising awareness of IUGR. Michelle Quashie created fantastic word clouds for display in her local maternity unit.  We now have #MatExpHour every Friday created and launched by Louise Parry – click here for her round up of Week 2.  So much going on!

IUGR

I have no doubt there is much much more that I have missed from this round up. There is so much energy and passion in maternity services, and so much desire for change. Whatever it is you are trying to achieve, please join up with #MatExp via Twitter, Facebook or the website and get encouragement and input from like-minded people. Together we are stronger! Feel the Oxytocin flow!

 

Helen Calvert, 2015

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What Will YOU Make Happen for Oxytocin October?

Welcome to Oxytocin October!

What’s that all about, then, I hear you ask?

Well, oxytocin is a powerful hormone often known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ which is greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breast feeding – all of which are relevant to #MatExp.

You may already know all about oxytocin (especially if you are an obstetrician or midwife, one would hope!) but if you don’t, here’s a brief overview of what the hormone does…

  • It causes cervical dilation and contractions during labour (and it is crucial however and wherever the baby is born)
  • When crossing the placenta, maternal oxytocin reaches the baby’s brain and induces a switch in the action of a neurotransmitter which silences the baby’s brain for the period of delivery and reduces its vulnerability to damage
  • It aids milk production from the mammary glands to the nipple;
  • It plays a central role in sexual arousal, aids orgasm, and there’s speculation the muscle contractions may help the sperm and egg to meet.
  • It has a role in increasing trust and reducing fear – which are inherent in the aims of #MatExp: to enable women (and staff) to the best-possible experience of birth with safe, individualised care as detailed in our Heart Values
  • It can aid bonding within groups and foster positive attitudes.

Isn’t oxytocin incredible?

The point of this brief biology lesson?

Oxytocin, in short, makes things happen. And so can you, because you are incredible too.

For Oxytocin October we would like to ask you what you will do to make something happen to improve maternity experience?

As ever, it doesn’t matter what your action is – big or small, all actions are valued. It doesn’t matter if it’s something you can start doing every day, whether you can start and complete during October, or if it’s a slow-burning action that will take time to come to fruition.

The important thing is to act. JFDI!

If you’d like to tell us about your action, that would be great. You can do that on the Facebook page, on Twitter (#MatExp #OxyOct) or via our contact form. It’s so we can share all the great work that is going on, we can share learning across the country, and measure the impact of our campaign. Remember we’re steering #MatExp, no one is ‘in charge’ so while by all means ask anyone involved for advice you don’t need to ask for permission!

My action will focus on baby loss, because it is also Baby Loss Awareness Month during October, with the awareness day on October 15. My actions will involve activity relating to #HugosLegacy – working to improve support for bereaved parents. I’ll be writing more about that on my own blog.

(I got the bulleted information from Wikipedia – as I say it’s a very brief overview!)

What will

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“I was told I was going to have a big baby….” And then what happened?

A while ago on a Facebook birth forum I saw the phrase “you won’t grow a baby too big for you to birth”. It was a familiar phrase as it was something I would hear regularly on the homebirth e-group I was a member of back in 2010 when I was pregnant with my first. Back then I accepted it as the truth, but having been involved in #MatExp for nearly a year I have learned that few things to do with birth are that simple. So I asked the question on the #MatExp Facebook group:

Big Baby Capture

What followed was a fascinating discussion. Information was shared from lots of different quarters, and evidence was linked to. Experienced birth practitioners shared their views and a few themes started to appear. All along I knew I was intending to write up the discussion as a blog post so I was trying to keep up with the information and understand what was being said. As I opened up links to studies, trials, journal articles and so on my heart sank as I am not the best at analysing that kind of thing and it seemed at first glance that the evidence shared was somewhat contradictory. So I was concerned that I would end up inadvertently talking rubbish in this post.

And then I realised that this is exactly the problem. I am a woman of childbearing age who has had an education to degree level, English is my first language and I discuss birth and maternity pretty much every day. When we talk about informed choice we mean sharing all of the evidence plus the benefit of experience with pregnant women and their families, so that they can go through it and make their own decisions. Yet if I were writing this today as a woman who had been told she was likely to have a “big” baby I would be confused. And a little scared.

So it’s a good job I didn’t know any of this when I confidently went on to give birth to my 8lbs 13oz son on all fours on our bathroom floor.

From http://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-for-induction-or-c-section-for-big-baby/
From http://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-for-induction-or-c-section-for-big-baby/

Let’s pretend for a moment that I am in my third trimester and have been told by my midwife that she suspects baby is going to be a big ‘un. Probably a bouncing 9lbs tot. Before I go down the route of “doing” anything about that, or amending my birth plans, I have asked the #MatExp group for some information. What have I discovered?

Well, firstly we need to know a little bit more about this fictitious me. Do I have gestational diabetes? Am I classed as overweight? No? Okay then, we can stick with our issue being only the predicted size of my baby and keep questions of GD and BMI for another day if we may. Similarly, we will assume that I am physically able. So why are people sucking their teeth and looking concerned that baby might be of a generous size?

This is where we come to shoulder dystocia. “Shoulder dystocia is when the baby’s head has been born but one of the shoulders becomes stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone, delaying the birth of the baby’s body. If this happens, extra help is usually needed to release the baby’s shoulder. In the majority of cases, the baby will be born promptly and safely.” (From https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/shoulder-dystocia/

In the majority of cases, the baby will be born promptly and safely?  So what’s all the fuss about then?  Well let’s look at this passage from the abstract of this article:

“Shoulder dystocia remains an unpredictable obstetric emergency, striking fear in the hearts of obstetricians both novice and experienced. While outcomes that lead to permanent injury are rare, almost all obstetricians with enough years of practice have participated in a birth with a severe shoulder dystocia and are at least aware of cases that have resulted in significant neurologic injury or even neonatal death. This is despite many years of research trying to understand the risk factors associated with it, all in an attempt primarily to characterize when the risk is high enough to avoid vaginal delivery altogether and prevent a shoulder dystocia, whose attendant morbidities are estimated to be at a rate as high as 16–48%. The study of shoulder dystocia remains challenging due to its generally retrospective nature, as well as dependence on proper identification and documentation. As a result, the prediction of shoulder dystocia remains elusive, and the cost of trying to prevent one by performing a cesarean delivery remains high. While ultimately it is the injury that is the key concern, rather than the shoulder dystocia itself, it is in the presence of an identified shoulder dystocia that occurrence of injury is most common.

The majority of shoulder dystocia cases occur without major risk factors. Moreover, even the best antenatal predictors have a low positive predictive value. Shoulder dystocia therefore cannot be reliably predicted, and the only preventative measure is cesarean delivery.”

Ah, okay.  So whilst MOST cases are not a problem, when there is a problem it can be very serious.  And most experienced obstetricians will have seen this happen, inevitably influencing their perception of the risks involved.  The teeth sucking is a bit more understandable now.

Apparently if I have a small pelvis it is more likely that baby will get his shoulders stuck. How do you know if you have a small pelvis? Small compared to what or whom? I have no idea but it appears to be a consideration.  One birth professional observed that “to me that ‘big’ is subjective in a lot of cases. A 7lb baby could be big to one woman whereas a 10lb baby could be average to another. There needs to be far more than just the picture provided by a (often inaccurate) scan. Woman’s own birthweight for example, her stature etc.” It was mentioned that pelvimetry used to be widely used but has been abandoned in favour of scans, due to a Cochrane review that found these measurements did more harm than good.

There is a higher likelihood of shoulder dystocia in bigger babies, that much is undisputed. Yet the language used when discussing this risk makes a big difference to how a pregnant woman might view the risk.  Contrasted with the passage above is this from Evidence-Based Birth:

Death capture

I suspect as with so many birth choices, women are likely to get the reassuring language from midwives who have confidently dealt with many instances of stuck shoulders, and more wary language from obstetricians who have seen first hand what can go tragically wrong.  

So in summary shoulder dystocia is more likely in bigger babies but on the whole it can’t be predicted and can usually be dealt with. It turns out that there are arbitrary cut offs for recommending Caesarean to prevent SD – 5kg in a non-diabetic woman. That means nothing to me but a quick Google tells me that is an 11lbs baby. My hypothetical nine pounder doesn’t warrant an automatic recommendation for a c-section then. So far so good.

But what position is my baby in? This is an important factor. I would argue that all pregnant women should be aware of foetal positioning and how to optimise it, but in this case it is particularly important as a malpositioned big baby could cause trouble. Let’s assume though that I have been on spinningbabies.com, haven’t been reclining on the sofa, have been doing headstands for nine months or whatever it is that is recommended. Baby is now head down and engaged and we’re ready for the off.

At this point it’s good to know that there is no evidence to suggest that it hurts more to give birth to a big baby. I cannot comment as my firstborn is the only child I have birthed vaginally so have nothing to compare it to. But the midwives on the group have been reassuring that being predicted a “big” baby does not mean increased pain in labour. Good stuff.

What I haven’t done (but what might have been recommended to me) – I have not had a growth scan. It appears that growth scans should be used to identify small babies (a discussion for another day no doubt) but not big ones. One group member commented “Ultrasound scans become increasingly unreliable the further along in pregnancy they are performed. Weight is an ESTIMATION can be up to 25% out either way. They base it on the abdominal circumference, head circumference & femur length – try doing it with yourself & see how accurate it is!”  

A birth professional went on to say “Growth scans are pretty hopeless in the third trimester – the only thing that is useful is a regular plotting of growth to try to identify a sudden growth spurt that could indicate a problem. A one off growth scan late on in pregnancy basically just leads to unhelpful fears on all sides.”

Which begs the question, how do we identify the potential 11lbs babies who “require” a c-section birth?

So I haven’t allowed anyone to worry me further with a most likely inaccurate scan reading. We think baby is going to be big but not so big that I am going to be encouraged to have an elective c-section, so I’m happy to go ahead with my vaginal birth.

This is where we come to the issue that dominated the discussion. The position that women labour in can make a HUGE difference to the outcome when they are birthing a large baby. Labouring on their back is most likely to be unhelpful. Labouring on all fours is most likely to enable them to birth without intervention. Certainly my experience – I could not bear to be in any position other than kneeling up for my entire labour, simply could not bear it. Lying down was absolutely out of the question.

One group member had a wealth of information to contribute and commented “There’s plenty of evidence to support programs like birth ball use, not just gentle bouncing but using as a structured exercise plus also designing maternity units/rooms to encourage movement and position changes and upright movement.”

A midwife explained “I worked with a lovely obstetrician a few years ago (I have worked with many wonderful obstetricians). She was leading the skills and drills component for obstetric emergencies of the yearly mandatory training. We were practicing what to do in the case of a shoulder dystocia with a mannequin. She looked at me and said, of course we all know that if we do this (turning the model over in to what would be an all fours position) we wouldn’t have to be doing this at all.”

And one of our obstetricians added “in terms of labour progression, size is not nearly so important as baby’s positioning and flexion.”

The impact of pain relief was also mentioned:Of course this is impacted by maternal position too, often compounded by an epidural that softens the pelvic floor muscles reducing the baby’s ability to rotate on the pelvic floor.”

Let’s recap. My midwife has said that it is her experienced opinion that I am going to have a big baby. I have declined a growth scan but we are both confident that baby won’t be topping 11lbs. So we’re going for a vaginal birth, and have done everything we can to ensure baby is in a good position. I am then being encouraged to be active in labour, labour on all fours and so on. There is no reason to believe that I will experience more pain due to baby’s size. There is an elevated risk of shoulder dystocia but my birth team are trained to deal with that. Hmm, okay, on reflection I would make the same choice I made back in 2011 when I hadn’t had this conversation. Home waterbirth with experienced midwives please! Especially, for me as an individual, “big” babies are normal – I was 9lbs 11oz at birth myself.

Does the above sound like the experience most women have when a big baby is predicted? Let’s ask some real life women shall we? Here I am indebted to the fabulous women on my other Facebook group who have shared their stories with me.

I was told I would have a big baby. The midwife measured me way off the chart at 36 or 38 weeks can’t remember which. Went for growth scan. Again measured me pretty big. Appointment with consultant, he measured me big. Straight aways did a growth scan. I was then booked in for an induction the following week. Was in from the 25th and had him on 29th (due on 5th July) he was only 8lb 2oz.” What was the reason for the induction? “Not sure. They said as it was my first I probably would go over so as he was measuring big now it could be more of an issue in 3 or 4 weeks.”

My 1st baby was 9lb 14oz and got stuck with shoulder dystocia and born with the ventouse.” And what positions were you labouring in with baby no. 1? Were you on all fours at all?  “No! I believe position/ventouse were what caused her to be stuck! I was dehydrated so they made me stay in the bed on my back to be monitored!”

“I was told my little boy was a big baby and I had to have a growth scan. I was then induced a week early due to his size. He weighed 8lb 15oz and I had a 4th degree tear and had to be rushed to theatre.” What did they say were the risks with him being big? Did they explain why they wanted to induce you?  “The explanation for me being induced was if I was left and went over I would have had a tough time, but looking back now I wish I had opted out of being induced as I blame that for the complications.”

I was measuring big for dates at my midwife appointments from about 24 weeks. I was eventually sent for a scan to rule out polyhydraminos at about 32 weeks. The scan results were ok and showed that my baby’s measurements were on the 95th centile. I was then changed to higher risk consultant led care. They told me it was due to the baby’s size and the increased need for intervention during delivery, e.g. forceps, etc. My baby was predicted to be 9lb 9oz maximum and she was actually 10lb 6oz. I was in slow labour for 6 days. I had to have an oxytocin drip to get me from 7cm but I couldn’t get passed 8cm as her big shoulders meant her head wouldn’t press down on my cervix! As a result of being on the drip, I wasn’t able to get in different positions in labour and was mainly confined to the bed. I then had an emergency c-section due to failure to progress.” How did all the talk of having a “big” baby affect how confident you felt in being able to give birth?  “To be honest, it did affect how confident I felt giving birth. I was then very nervous at the prospect of tearing or that I’d have difficulties during the birth and would need forceps, etc. I was very worried that something would go wrong. To be honest, I felt very relieved when the consultant said I needed a c-section.” 

I commented that I wondered whether that was the reason the mum above struggled to dilate. Rather than failure to progress perhaps her caregivers should be have been labelled with “failure to encourage”.

There was one rather different story, although the mum in question was surprised by how her consultant’s advice varied from what others were experiencing: Was told based on my daughter being 10lb that my little boy would be big. The midwife referred me to a consultant as my fundal height was bigger than even my little girl was! Tested me for GD which I didn’t have. Consultant said he was going to do absolutely nothing about it which varied massively from my peers at nearby hospitals who were being induced early. He said inducing a large baby is dangerous as they’re more likely to get stuck and if I got my little girl out this one would be fine! Bit worried but I trusted him.”

And what of those women who had not been told to expect a big baby?

“I had a 9lb 4oz baby but wasn’t expecting him to be ‘big’ I had a tiny bump and was told he was only going to be about 7lb.  I had him naturally with no complications at all. A few stitches externally but that was all.”

“My 2nd baby was 9lbs 6oz and no one knew he would be that big as my first was 7lb 11oz. Labour was very quick and vaginally delivered with 1 stitch.”

If 9lb2oz is classed as a big baby then mine was! He was 13 days over so probably wouldn’t have been so big if I’d gone on time. Nobody told me he was going to be big at any of the extra monitoring appts I had the week before he arrived all on his own, no help, drugs or hospital. I did tear slightly but midwife was happy for me not to go to hospital if I didn’t want to.”

I wasn’t told I was going to have a big baby, I was tested for diabetes at one point because my bump had grown quite quickly but I didn’t have it. My little boy weighed 9lb 15oz, I was in labour for 6 and a half hours and didn’t have any complications. I had a few stitches afterwards but nothing major.”

What can we say in conclusion?  When a baby is identified as potentially being “big” are all families given the information that we have discussed here?  Do all birth professionals agree with the general thrust of this post or have some important points been missed or misrepresented? And if I have got it all wrong what does that say for the idea of “informed choice”?  Because this is my best understanding of the issues following a detailed discussion with experienced birth professionals.  There are plenty of other birth stories from the mums on my group which make it clear that women are routinely being encouraged down the route of induction without fully understanding why, only that baby is going to be “big” and that is some kind of a problem.  And so many of these stories end in instrumental deliveries, emergency c-sections and, at worst, traumatic births.  Would it not be preferable for women to have the issues fully explained to them and to be encouraged to have an active birth where, in all likelihood, they will be capable of giving birth to their child?

I am just glad that my “big” baby is here, safe and well, and now in his second week at primary school.  Decisions always seem simple in hindsight.

Big Baby

Some of the links that were shared as part of the discussion not already linked to above:

Shoulder Dystocia – RCOG green top guidelines

Rebozo Technique for Foetal Malposition in Labour

The Effect of Birth Ball Exercises during Pregnancy on Mode of Delivery

Reducing Length of Labour and Caesarean Surgery Rate Using a Peanut Ball for Women Labouring with an Epidural

After Shoulder Dystocia: Managing the Subsequent Pregnancy and Delivery

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When “Normal” Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Expo Capture 2

 

On Wednesday I attended the NHS Expo in Manchester as part of the #MatExp team.  During our session a few of us stood up to explain what the campaign means to us.  My personal bit went as follows:

Expo Capture 1

It is this combination and collaboration of so many different people, from across the maternity world, that makes #MatExp so exciting to me.  So many conversations are being had within established communities – midwifery conferences, positive birth groups, obstetric organisations, mother & baby groups, but with this campaign these communities are coming together.  And as I say, we are not shying away from the difficult conversations.

With this in mind, I decided to broach some subjects on the #MatExp Facebook group that could be considered “difficult”.  I was unsure with which to start, and then this tweet from Emma Sasaru launched a conversation this morning and I just went with it.

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What has followed today has been a thought-provoking discussion that has challenged many of my assumptions and made me change my mind more than once.  As with the best discussions, I am still not sure what my conclusions are but it has given me new perspectives.  The original question posed was:

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The blog posts I refer to are Sheryl’s birth story on my own blog, and Southwark Belle’s piece entitled “Normal Not Normal“.  I then went on to observe that when I hear the phrase “normal” birth I am imagining that people simply mean “vaginal” birth.  Is it as simple as that?

Well no, no it isn’t.  It quickly became apparent that there are a couple of definitions of “normal birth” available.  One group member explained that “Interestingly, one of the first definitions of normal birth came in 1997 from AIMS, the radical women’s organisation, who defined it as ‘a physiological birth where the baby is delivered vaginally following a labour which has not been altered by technological interventions’. So this was a movement that was led from a women’s organisation to counter the over-medicalisation of birth.”

And from this 2010 publication:

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And from this in 2007:

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It seemed that the word “normal” had specific meanings for groups researching and monitoring maternity outcomes, and that this was a discussion that had been had many a time.  Indeed, Sheena tweeted this morning

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So why is it such an important and emotive discussion?  Well because we have learned time and again in #MatExp LANGUAGE MATTERS.  Words have huge power and different people understand things in different ways, depending on their experience, perspective and knowledge of the subject in hand.  Declaring that some types of birth are “normal” begs the question what are the other types of birth then?  And if the opposite of “normal” is “abnormal” are we comfortable telling women that is how we define their experiences?

It was clear that for many women the term “normal” is perceived as carrying a value judgement.  It is not simply a medical or scientific definition, it is a statement about them and their experience that allows for feelings of failure and inadequacy (as with so much to do with the massively emotive subjects of maternity care).  Comments included:

where I work in a different area of healthcare, it’s understood that everybody’s normal is different, my normal vary vastly from your normal, but there is a range of normal we would expect that to be in. Having babies is different imo because you are doing something you don’t do very often so it’s difficult to define your ‘normal’ and where that might fall on the large scale of normal within birth. It can lead to people feeling inadequate.”

“the feeling of doing it wrong, not experiencing a normal birth can put people off  a second time. A friend of mine is terrified because last time it all “went wrong” and she’s adamant that she won’t get pregnant again unless she can have an elective section because her body can’t do it properly.”

Who has set the definition for normal. How do we know what normal is? How did women birth 20, 50, 100, 1000, 5000 years ago? What about culture? What is normal here may not be normal in other lands, races etc. Normal is an awful word because it gives the idea everything else is abnormal so therefore not right or not as good or missing the mark. But that is harmful label to add to a birth experience for many many reasons.”

By terms such as ‘normal’ we make women believe that if they don’t attain that they have not done something they should. That in turn may make them feel they have ‘failed’.”

Emma kindly provided a dictionary definition of the term and observed that “its definition doesn’t relate to birth in any way”.

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And of course there is also the fact that our definitions here do not match up.  The definitions of “normal” birth explained above are not currently “standard, usual, typical or expected” in the UK as per the dictionary definition of the word.

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One doula observed “Normal is the wrong word to use because right now a positive physiological vaginal birth is NOT the norm”.  So is there any value in naming it as such when by a simple dictionary definition that could not be further from the truth?  I think there might be, but more of that later.

BirthChoiceUK addresses the issue on their website (read the full page here) and explain that “The term normal birth is not meant to be judgmental in any way. We are instead trying to produce some measure of how much technological intervention is currently used in birth. These statistics of course do not tell us anything about a woman’s experience of birth which is likely to be of far more importance to her than whether she was induced or had an epidural or had her waters broken. It is hoped that every woman can have a fulfilling and positive experience of birth regardless of the interventions she has received. This is, of course, much harder to measure!”

And where does birth trauma come into all of this?  What of the women who have had negative experiences of birth?  What can the word “normal” possibly mean to them?  And for those women who have had a “normal” birth as defined by the NCT and AIMS, are they still entitled to feel traumatised if their experience was not a positive one?  It was discussed at length that so many apparent problems with the language come from individuals conflating the words “normal” and “positive” but throughout society we find people and cultures who believe that the two are one and the same thing.  “Normal” is a generally positive term, meaning good things, which is of course a whole discussion in itself.  Nevertheless it is easy to see how a woman with a negative birth experience will not thank you for telling her the birth was “normal”, and how a woman who has had a positive experience will be unhappy with the idea that hers was not a “normal” birth.

So apart from the need to gather statistics across maternity units, what other uses does this idea of “normal birth” have?  Midwife Jenny Hall was kind enough to explain “The need to differentiate what is ‘normal’ and not does come down to the legal responsibilities of a midwife. A midwife is in law able to care for women without other health professionals until the process moves into areas outside the boundary of ‘normal ‘. She then legally has to refer to someone else for assistance.”  There is then an important legal issue here, and other birth professionals on the group emphasised that for them the term held no value judgement at all:

I think of normal birth as a spontaneous vaginal birth with no intervention at all, but I’m a midwife and we use these terms as classifications rather than attributing any value to them…… When I talk about normal I’m not using it in a judgemental way, just descriptive, but I am mindful that many find this term difficult.”

Yet throughout today I have had the creeping suspicion that two of my viewpoints don’t match up.  I was questioning the use of the word “normal” for a maternity experience that is how human females have been designed to birth their children, yet I am constantly banging on about the need to “normalise” breastfeeding.  An uncomfortable feeling of double standards was edging up on me.  Giving the whole subject a bit more thought, I commented:

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For the #MatExp “heart values” please read Emma’s blog post.

This angle is well articulated by Professor Soo Downe in her interview with midwife Sheena Byrom:

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Miranda Dodwell of BirthChoiceUK was keen to emphasis the historical perspective: “having been working on the ‘normal birth’ agenda since about 2003, I realise how far we have come to be having this debate.”  She recommended further reading in the shape of Practising childbirth activism: a politics of evidence “about the importance of introducing the concept of normal birth in terms of childbirth activism in driving change.”  However, she and others were happy to discuss the idea that it may now be time to move on from the concept of “normal birth”, despite “the power it has had in creating a change of perspective towards women’s experience of maternity care“.

If we are to move on from this terminology, what are the alternatives?  Both in terms of new words and in terms of new approaches?  There were a number of suggestions from birth professionals:

Unassisted birth would probably be closer to the mark but the meaning is associated with ‘free birthing’ these days. l guess for me ‘normal’ could be what the woman was expecting and not our version of normal.

When I hear the ‘normal’ discussion and how heated it gets I don’t have a satisfactory alternative to the word ‘normal’. Physiological?…bit of a mouthful and a challenge to spell. Vaginal? Many struggle to include the word vagina in general conversation so possibly unacceptable?

Rather than focussing on ‘normal’ l tend to look at how satisfied the woman is with the outcome. It’s her birth so she should define it.”

I tend to use words like ‘physiological’ and ‘needed help’ or ‘complicated by’. Rather than normal, which has different connotations.

I use SVD (spontaneous vaginal delivery), assisted (instrumental) delivery or Caesarean

And from parents:

From the point of view of mums talking to each other about their births… I’d say ‘normal’ is too vague, fairly meaningless, and not generally used. ‘Natural’ is used a lot.

Physiological’ may be technically correct, but sounds so much more excluding than a two syllable simple Anglo-Saxon word. ‘Natural’ also has a lot of judgemental baggage.”

Personally, I think maybe the accessibility of the term normal is what’s become problematic about it? ‘Physiological’ seems more medical, so perhaps using this term would prevent women feeling judged?

But as you can see consensus was hard to come by.  Amy Prodgers (@BirthSalford) summarised, I suspect, the feelings of many in the discussion:

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As a possible, and remarkably simple, solution, one of the group’s midwives suggested “Why not use the term birth? And let the categories be an additional ‘box to tick’ not together with ‘birth’ am I making any sense??? So ‘birth of baby boy’ (male infant etc etc) then tick, vaginal/forceps/water-pool/home/hospital and so on and so on) – the word birth describes the event – that’s exactly what took place #languagematters. It’s just habit in maternity services, it could easily change – the hospitals/birth centres/ organisations etc could still get the much needed figures”.

Southwark Belle furthered this thought “I think we’re now at a stage where defining one set of choices/circumstances as ‘normal’ / best and using that to set targets just risks swapping one dogma for another. I much prefer treating it all as birth and each intervention individually rather than lumping a whole lot of things in together.”

So is birth just birth?  Each instance its own unique set of circumstances and experiences?  Can hospital notes and databases possibly be built with this in mind?  Can statistics be gathered on this basis?  Does the biological, historical way of giving birth need to be normalised to the benefit of families or are all modern options equally valid and ‘normal’?

This comment stands out for me, from Seana McCoy Talbot (an NCT volunteer who is standing for election as NCT President):

“Our starting point always has to be compassion and empathy, but also to know the evidence.
It’s instincts plus knowledge.
Heart and head.
Art and science.”

 

@HeartMummy 2015

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