By Mary Newburn
In September 2016 I travelled to Sydney, Australia, to present on service user involvement in maternity services at the 11th Normal Labour and Birth Conference. This article is based on the presentation, providing further background on how I got involved as a service user advocate. I have been active in maternity services since the 1970s following the births of my first two children and two very different experiences of labour and birth. The first birth, after persistent occipitoposterior position during many frightening hours of very painful labour, was traumatic. However, it was also a rewarding and life-changing experience that I have replayed in my head for almost 40 years. Thankfully, the trauma has now faded but at the time, during the dead of night and all alone, I thought that I was going to die in that white box of a room. Aged just 18, I had a lot to cope with. My mother was living almost 300 miles away; I was isolated and vulnerable
The hospital was old and antiquated, soon to be closed down. Ultrasound was beginning to emerge for scanning in pregnancy, but was not a routine part of antenatal care, and epidurals were not yet available for pain relief. I did however have ARM, an oxytocin drip and electronic fetal monitoring with abdominal straps that restricted movement and in combination made contractions horribly painful. I was given a deep, badly sutured, episiotomy causing lots of pain for months to follow. One-to-one midwifery care in labour was not considered important but large amounts of opioids were administered, a style of management that has been well-documented (Donnison 1988, Davis-Floyd 2001, DeVries et al 2001). I was fortunate when there was a 12 hour shift change, for the second time. Having been lying on a high labour ward bed for 16 hours, the new midwife inspired and ‘delivered’ me from the misery and horror of it all. I remember to this day her saying, ‘Come on, we can do this!’. This midwife was the first professional to connect with me as an equal human being since I had been admitted, treating me with real kindness and giving encouragement.
When pregnant with number two, I attended some NCT (formally known as the National Childbirth Trust) antenatal sessions that were transformative. I planned for a home birth, though this was not something my NCT teacher viewed particularly positively. She was a nurse by background and most of her experience was of hospital births. As a second-timer with an array of practical labour preparation skills to draw on, the second labour and birth was truly empowering — despite being back in the same obstetric unit for reasons beyond my control. Instead of lying stranded on my back while my belly heaved over me, I was upright and leaning forwards. My partner massaged my lower back with the heel of his hand and soothed it in between contractions with a cool compress.
Newburn M. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 27, no 1, March 2017, pp 5-10.
© MIDIRS 2017