Royal College Of Physicians, 16th October 2013
by Sheena Byrom, Midirs.org guest editor
From the time I heard about this event from Rebecca Schiller, who was one of the organisers, I knew it would be a dynamic, thought-provoking day.
I was absolutely right, and as I travelled home on the train, North-bound from London late on Wednesday night, my head was buzzing with thoughts of the day and the potential for change in maternity care in the UK.
I always have a deep sense of despair when I hear stories in which women and families have been let down by maternity services. During my role as consultant midwife several years ago, I listened to countless distressing accounts from women who felt disempowered and even traumatised by their childbirth experience, and for some women the consequences remained with them for months and years.
This frequently affected family relationships and their ability to bond with their new baby. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, labour pain wasn’t always identified as a key factor for the distress. In fact, self-diagnosed trauma was more common in women who had had an epidural and an assisted birth.
But the things that women remembered, the details that were imprinted on their minds that played out at night or triggered moments, were the words used by their caregiver, or the unsmiling assistant, or the caregiver’s conversation about a drunken night out, all taking place between legs strapped up in lithotomy position. Shocking. Dignity and respect are fundamental human rights, and yet in these situations they are absent.
So the Dignity in Childbirth Forum dealt with the issues I feel passionately about. The event had been carefully planned to encompass a wide range of views from different maternity care professionals, lawyers, global health organisations, charities and voluntary services, and was the first its kind. For me, it was a reminder that how we are as midwives and maternity care workers is as important as what we do, because the impact has the potential to reverberate through generations.
The morning began with Elizabeth Prochaska. Elizabeth is a lawyer, and the founder of Birthrights. Together with Brigid McConville from the White Ribbon Alliance and Shauneen Lambe, chair of Global Dignity, they welcomed delegates and reminded us about the influence of power: childbirth can render women powerful or powerless.
Shauneen shared an inspirational and thought-provoking film about what dignity means to others.
Journalist Beverly Turner was the perfect Chair for the day. Her career background and passionate interest in childbirth gave her a unique ability to introduce and reflect on the speakers and their positions. Beverley facilitated discussions between speakers and delegates with great skill, and enabled different perspectives to be shared.
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