News: Midwives will cease to promote ‘normal’ births

According to a Guardian article, midwives will end their campaign to promote ‘normal births’. I mean, that’s not strictly true, they’re basically just changing the terminology from ‘normal’ to ‘physiological’, but that doesn’t really change what they’re promoting. But the aim is to minimise ‘mothers feeling like failures’ for having a birth that’s anything other than normal. That means a vaginal birth with no epidurals, no inductions, no caesarean, no medical intervention of any kind.

Prof Cathy Warwick, the chief executive of the RCM, denied that the decade-long campaign had compromised the safety of new mothers but admitted it had created the wrong impression. “There was a danger that if you just talk about normal births – and particularly if you call it a campaign – it kind of sounds as if you’re only interested in women who have a vaginal birth without intervention,” she told the Times.
[…]
“What we don’t want to do is in any way contribute to any sense that a woman has failed because she hasn’t had a normal birth. Unfortunately that seems to be how some women feel.”

Our experience, shared with 60% of all births, was very much not ‘normal’; we pretty much hit every medical intervention apart from forceps or caesarean. But while some few midwives in the hospital might have used this now altered terminology, there was certainly no shaming going on, which was a huge relief. It’s a stressful time for mum, physically, mentally and psychologically, and the last things anyone needs is someone endangering her life by shaming her into avoiding the help she may need.

However, I must say that NCT provided antenatal classes were certainly less subtle about their campaign in our experience. The terminology of ‘normal’ vs ‘medical’ births was heavily emphasised, the benefits of one lauded, while the downsides of the other exaggerated. It meant that when events drifted towards the realm of intervention for us, we felt insufficiently prepared for everything going on.

I’m not going say that one way is the right way for giving birth, nobody can say that. It’s entirely up to, primarily, the mum, whilst being as well informed as possible. Maybe changing the terminology to add less pressure, less emotional blackmail will help a little.

A New Arrival – And What I Learnt

Well, a week has passed since the birth of our daughter and it’s gone in the blink of an eye! Sadly, due to a fever, mother and baby were kept in the postnatal ward of the hospital for five days after birth. So between the initial checkups, getting booked in, induction, labour, post-labour recovery and antibiotic treatments for mother and baby, there were nine hospital days in total. Everyone’s home now, and we’re trying to figure out feeding and sleep and life. But before I get on to any of those things, here’s what I learnt from our nine days:

  • Induction: It can take ages, there are several stages/attempt, any of which might or might not work. We went the whole course, ending with the drop feed of syntocinon. That one worked, which is just as well as it’d been three days by that point.
  • Hospital Bag: All of those things were needed. Just don’t expect to get any reading done. Also, definitely bring a pillow, those chairs are uncomfortable to sleep in.
  • TENS machines: They sound great! By the power of electricity, early labour pains will be lessened! It seems their effectiveness is anecdotal at absolute best. We made sure it was properly applied by the midwife, it was a well-recommended brandname product, and it did bugger all.
  • Hypnobirthing: Might have been more successful if started very much earlier. Contractions tend to take you out of your mindfulness.
  • Epidural: As it happened the birthing centre wasn’t an option for us anyway, the induction forestalled that. But as a birth partner let me tell you, the relief you feel when mum’s pain vanishes is beyond palpable. It’s like a tension leaving the room and everyone in it.
  • Hospital Food: Everyone jokes about how gross it is. It’s not a joke, it’s bland, disgusting, barely edible. It’ll do in a pinch if absolutely necessary, but be prepared to buy sandwiches, bring food from home, or order pizza. And yes, postnatal wards especially are generally willing to let you order food in, and it was such a godsend.
  • Wards vs Rooms: If you have a long postnatal stay, try and get a private room. Some hospitals have them on a first come, first served basis, some have private, paid-for options. But it’s going to make quite a difference. You’ll have someone checking in on mum and/or baby roughly every 20 minutes, and they don’t knock. Constant in and out, endless interruptions, no matter what state of undress or distress anyone is in. Now multiply that by four, for a typical post-natal ward, and add in everyone’s guests and partners. Nightmare.
  • Breastfeeding: It’s tough. So much tougher than all the NCT and antenatal classes really tell you. We struggle immensely and even with five days of midwives at our beck and call to help, we’ve still not cracked it.
  • Skin to skin: Forget the apparent benefits. It’s amazing. Why wouldn’t you want to do this all the time?!

There’s so much more, those days went by slowly at the time, but now hindsight has compressed that to a mere blink of an eye. And all the difficulties seem so diminished when I look at my daughter, whimpering in her sleep and making little hoglet sounds.

Epidural vs Birthing Room

Ah, when we first discussed this, shortly after meeting the anaesthesiologist, this was largely cut and dried. Then came endless antenatal classes with all their talk of ‘normal births’, which are those of no medical interventions, vs the dreaded ‘medical births’, which are either the worst thing ever or perfectly normal, depending on whether you believe the midwives or doctors. So, the pendulum swung towards as natural and calm a birth as possible, one with hypnotherapy, scented candles, a birthing pool, light music and nothing stronger than gas an air, all from the comfort of the calming and medical equipment free birthing room. Epidurals aren’t available at all in the birthing room, and moving from one room to another at the peak of labour might be complicated.

Well you know what? It turns out there’s a middle ground. Maternity wards were already making provision for more natural births, with water baths and other facilities, before birthing rooms became a thing. Which means many labour wards have such facilities on site, as well as a separate birthing room. That, to us, and the advising midwives, seemed the best of both worlds. Provision for a calm, drug free labour, but if it’s required, all the facilities of the labour ward, including the epidural should it be required. So, we can try the water bath, we can utilise the hypnobirthing, but my anxiety levels can be mitigated by the knowledge that medical professionals have everything they need, should it be required.