In between lusting over expensive knitwear and compiling Jazz playlists on Spotify, I do the odd bit of parenting. Speaking of which, my wife and I are expecting our second child in less than two weeks (yes, we had sex again, despite knowing full well what the implications could be) and it’s brought back vivid memories of the time spent in hypnagogia on hospital maternity wards; a strange twilight zone when minutes crawl by like hours and nothing seems that tangible anymore; a bit like living in Andover.
Despite me feeling discombobulated for most of our time in hospital, I have one residing memory; midwifery on the NHS was inconsistent at best. Some were good, some were pretty rude and a few simply shouldn’t be employed in a public facing role. And sadly, the problem seems fairly widespread. In fact, a worrying recent report from the NCT highlighted a chronic shortage of midwives across the country, which it said left many women in labour feeling frightened or being treated “like cattle”. Unfortunately, judging by our own experience, these complaints would appear to be completely justified.
Disclaimer time: I’m extremely proud of the NHS and believe in free healthcare for all, and I know that NHS staff are expected to work all hours and some are often poorly paid for their efforts, along with many other public sector workers. The crux of the matter is that the continued funding shortages forced on our health service by successive governments can only bring dire consequences.
Surely the ability to communicate would be one of the prerequisites to a job in midwifery? When you’ve been awake and in pain for 18 hours straight, a calm, reassuring presence is what you’re after from your antenatal team. Sadly, I can count on a couple of fingers the times we were given an adequate level of interpersonal care our midwives – and we saw quite a few during our time in hospital.
Our first midwife loved taking notes. Reams of notes. She never spoke, just took notes constantly, and certainly never explained the reasons my wife still wasn’t dilating, even after 10 hours in labour. Only after my mother-in-law angrily demanded to see a consultant did we receive any clarity on the issue – which resulted in an emergency c section. I dread to think how long we’d have spent in that ward otherwise, and what harm that may have done to my wife and daughter.
Formula is not a crime
It makes absolute sense that breastfeeding is the optimum way to deliver nutrients to your newborn, but Jesus H Christ, they don’t half ram it down your throat. What if you simply can’t do it? Childbirth is stressful enough to get your head around, let alone trying to latch a baby onto your cracked, swollen areole. And, just as in our case, what if you’ve never even been shown how to do it properly in the first place? One of my friends in the same north London hospital as us had the problem that their newborn wouldn’t feed, and the staff just would not help her. Eventually one benevolent midwife managed to sneak in a bottle of formula for her, imploring her not to tell anyone!
This is just one of a number of anecdotes from female friends about bad experiences giving birth, ranging from the incorrect sexing of an unborn child, to the damaging and unnecessary use of forceps. Most of these issues could have easily been prevented with an adequate level of midwife care. My advice is to always ask questions, be as demanding (but not rude) as you like, and don’t take no for an answer.
Anyway, good luck to all expectant families out there and I’ll see you on the other side!