I don’t know if you saw the recent feature in Saturday Times where Natasha Pearlman, editor of Grazia Magazine wrote a searingly honest account of her labour and birth 3 years ago. As a practicing midwife it both saddened me and made me despair in equal measure. It is apparent that what should have been a wonderful and memorable time for Natasha and her partner has affected her emotionally and left deep scars. Now, obviously I cannot comment for her and on Natasha’s particular delivery but I am fortunate enough to work in a busy maternity hospital whereby I do not believe this would have happened. However, having said that, antenatal classes and labour, birth and postnatal education is the Cinderella of maternity services – with many new parents choosing between classes provided by the hospital, which due to time constraints and staff availability are at best, a brief overview of what may happen, or choosing to join a local smaller group.
Antenatal education is not for everyone. Some people are happy to choose to just go along with events as they happen. Yet, when you are having a baby for the first time, there is no blue print and however much you may want a low risk, low intervention birth, sometimes circumstances can dictate that you end up in an obstetric unit with doctors making decisions – hopefully with you, as to the labour and birth of your baby.
However, with comprehensive and complete education, education that allows you to get involved and ask questions, shows you the equipment used if you veer off the midwifery led pathway, tells you about all the types of pain relief available – (I mean, you’re not getting a medal at the end of this, take the pain relief if you need to), and the who, why and when it may be essential to go to theatre, you will feel more empowered and in control. And not that you have failed. Having any kind of an instrumental delivery or caesarean section is not a failure, it can happen for any number of reasons and by having this information beforehand will allow you to make informed decisions and feel more in control. Using hypnobirthing or having a doula with you is no guarantee of an intervention free labour and birth – but what you learn from those classes will serve you well in every situation. But, by gaining knowledge of all types of birth and possible intervention that may occur gives you the power to make informed choices.
For example, if the classes mentioned in the Saturday Times article discussed how the latent phase of labour works – when contractions stop and start and there’s little or no rhythm or consistency to them, and explained that this very early stage of labour that is bringing your cervix forward and shortening it in length, should you find yourself in the maternity unit and they suggest you return home, you will feel strong enough to do so, confident that things were happening and the fear and lack of confidence would will not be an issue.
I know from experience that hospital antenatal classes spend little or no time focusing on the early days at home – when you go home with a new baby and feeling emotional, tired and perhaps a little out of your depth. We feel it is important that once you have your baby, you know that Day 3 is going to be a weepy day, that your milk may come in and you’ll apparently cry at the smallest thing. Gathering as much information as possible before you have your baby can make such a difference to how you feel and can help you make informed decisions about your body, your labour and your birth. Ladies, you deliver the babies, as midwives we just facilitate this and act as your advocate.
Many hospital units offer a ‘birth afterthoughts’ service whereby, after having your baby, you can have an appointment with a midwife who will go through all the notes and documentation from your birth. This is often done when a woman falls pregnant again and lots of memories – sometimes not always positive ones, rise to the surface. I hope Natasha Pearlman has access to such a facility.