By Sharon Touhey, Student Midwife.
As a student midwife in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, one of the first things we were taught was what it means to be a ‘midwife’.
Given the word ‘midwife’ means ‘with woman’, the importance of building a relationship with women and, through effective communication, being able to provide them with information, health promotion and preparation for the birth and postnatal period is paramount. I realise I am still a student and have a long way to go to be an expert in my chosen career. But I have to wonder, despite having an average period of 30 weeks, from a pregnant woman booking her place of birth to her expected due date, is this period of time fully utilised to ensure the maternity service caters for every woman’s individual needs? I am not sure this is always the case when caring for deaf women during pregnancy, childbirth and postnatally.
The journey of one deaf woman’s experience in the maternity service was relayed to us and opened my eyes to the lack of deaf awareness within the maternity services and the health care system as a whole. As woman-centered care is pivotal to all our midwifery teaching and practice, it baffled me to hear that any mother could feel she was forgotten about during her labour, recalling that ‘in all the panic, no one thought of me’.
The sense of isolation felt by this woman due to communication barriers during her pregnancy was enough to make what should have been an amazing life experience into one of confusion and loneliness. From the difficulties of receiving information and support without access to a phone, to missing appointments as health care professionals called out her name, passing over her when she did not answer, she was led to believe her carers simply ‘forgot’ she was deaf.
This mother also explained how difficult it was on the ward during the postnatal period. On one occasion she had fallen asleep as a midwife cared for her baby, only to be awoken by another mother on the ward to find that her baby had been crying. A different midwife had returned her baby back to the bedside without waking to inform her and also possibly without being aware that the mother was deaf. Following this, she informed me ‘for the next three weeks I did not sleep very well as I felt so guilty at not hearing my baby!’
About Sign for Fun
As a result of this widespread lack of deaf awareness and poor communicational skills, Sign For Fun was developed. In early 2013, I and a number of students including interpreters and teachers in training, developed Sign For Fun and launched the website www.signforfun.ie.
We aim to raise deaf awareness and to promote Irish Sign Language, through various methods including videos from BooBear, our signing Teddy Bear which is focused on children, blogs from parents sharing their journeys after finding out their child is deaf and blogs from deaf parents and other inspirational people.
With an average of 5,000 deaf sign language users in Ireland and 70,000 in the UK, the importance of deaf awareness within our health care services cannot be underestimated. Awareness of these issues is the first key step to improved communication and a more individualised maternity service.
Photo credit: John Touhey. Photo caption: Phyllis Touhey (left) with Abby Rowan and BooBear.