Ironically enough we talk a lot about taboos in society and culture these days and today I want to begin to discuss the postnatal care of women and families. I want to tread carefully here because I care a lot about this subject and I know it is an emotive one. I also know that our NHS is underfunded, struggling and it’s staff are doing their best so this by no means about pointing the finger, it’s about asking how we can improve and make things better for new mums and dads and their babies. This isn’t about blaming anyone, it’s about giving a voice to the questions and concerns I hear time and time again.
Since becoming a mother I have heard many birthing stories and shared my own several times. It has always been clear that the quality of postnatal care varies dramatically depending on where, when and how you give birth. I think it is important to point out that antenatal care has been dramatically reduced as well and too many first time Mums go into childbirth unprepared. The thing that has always stayed with me is how glad I am I never ended up on ‘the ward’, because it sounds like it can be utterly horrific. From everything I have read and been told, I believe there are numerous reasons for this that need to be raised and, with time, changed. I can only cover a few here but I hope it gets the ball rolling.
First things first, this is a tricky subject, that’s why we don’t talk about it right! But if we don’t start to, then nothing gets better and nothing can change. I want to again make it abundantly clear that I really don’t believe it is a problem with negligent staff, midwives or Doctors but rather it is the way postnatal care has developed over decades. It is the environment, training, policy and social attitudes and awareness that needs to change to give the staff, midwives, doctors and new families all the best chance. The key problem I suspect is that it will need such dramatic change we probably cant afford it unless people know what is happening and get behind changing it. As a side note I also think there are historical issues and attitudes towards women and childbirth that need rethinking but more on that another day.
In this country we seem to have developed what I would call a Postnatal Lottery. For example; at our local hospital one mother went into labour, arrived at the birthing centre and gave birth in a birthing pool with no pain relief. Hours after this both sets of grandparents were able to visit, she was able to shower in the ensuite and her husband was allowed to stay with her in their private room with double bed, ipod dock, mood lighting etc. That same week the birthing centre was full to capacity so another mother was taken away from the birthing centre and into the hospital. She also gave birth in a birthing pool with no pain relief (minus the mood lighting, ipod dock etc) but shortly after their baby was born, visiting hours were over and her husband had to leave the ward, leaving her alone with their baby and him counting the minutes until he can see them again.
These two relatively straightforward birthing stories seem very similar and don’t sound all that bad on face value but the emotional, mental and physical start to those babies lives and for the mothers were actually very different in reality. We put so much pressure on mothers, and fathers, to provide their babies with the best everything and everyone will give you their opinion from the car seat to the cot, breastmilk or formula, cosleeping or not, but what we don’t seem to be doing is offering them the best start from the moment they are born. For every good birthing and postnatal care story I have heard I would venture I have heard 4 that scare the heck out of me. If there is even one mother crying, afraid, in shock and feeling terribly alone in the dark, trying to choose between making it to the toilet or leaving her baby while at the same time trying to block out the noise from the stranger in the next bed and attempting to ignore the agony she is in then we could be doing something better, no?! That doesn’t even take into account mother’s who have had a C-section and actually need help to lift their baby but are all too often alone without help.
We, as a society, don’t seem to be acknowledging or allowing for the trauma of giving birth whether it was simple or not because, HELLO, why do we think it is ok to separate the parents shortly after the baby has arrived!? If a person goes through any other major medical procedure we would think it ludicrous to put them in charge of a newborn infant. Yet mothers aren’t given a moment to recover before they are launched into breastfeeding and nappy changing all the while dealing with an alien environment, strangers and blood, all the blood while the equally traumatised but physically more able fathers are only allowed in during visiting hours!!!! Ok, just for a moment can we appreciate that this situation is putting all the onus on the mother, who, let’s not forget has just delivered a baby from within her body, and now the baby is her responsibility with no manual, often with very little help due to staffing, until the father is allowed back in. Just what century are we living in?! If you care so much that my baby has breastmilk, skin to skin contact and that I lose all my baby weight in 3 months can you please take a moment to care about the immediate environment my baby is thrown into at birth and accept that the baby needs both its parents if they are available to be there. I’m sure there are hospital policies at work here but dare we venture to question this?
There are so many issues that I could raise here but for now I just want to understand why we think it is a good idea to send the father, coparent or birthing partner away at a time when the mother and baby are at their most vulnerable, both physically and mentally. If nothing else the cost of drugs, therapy and additional aftercare that could be avoided if this didn’t happen has got to be huge.
For now can we all just consider this,
If a practise is generally accepted and has been done a particular way for a long time, does that make it the best or even the right way?
I started writing this blog post about a month ago but kept putting it off because I didn’t know how best to get my point across and I was worried about causing offense. I then saw, through a friend on Facebook, that Mumsnet has started a campaign called ‘Better Postnatal Care: Aftercare, not Afterthought’ and it spurred me on to get it written. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences and urge you to check out the Mumsnet campaign.
Update: I would also like to highlight a fantastic service available in NHS hospitals and provided by the midwives. It is called Birth Afterthoughts, it is a service which provides women and their partners the opportunity to go through the medical notes taken during their labour and to have any questions answered that they may not have previously asked.