Sunday, November 7, 2010

What the women said ...

... in their submissions to the Maternity Services Review

The website at which the submissions are posted has a statement:
We have received many personal accounts from individuals. These provide a valuable insight into people's experience of maternity care in Australia and were considered by the Review Team in preparing the Review Report for the Minister.

Today I have taken the opportunity to look at just a few of those personal accounts from individuals, and separated out into themes (not in any particular order). Today's theme is Caesarean births and VBAC. Here are some direct quotes.  Women's descriptions of their own feelings have been highlighted.  The number noted in square brackets [n] denotes the reference number for the submission.

Theme 1: Caesarean births and VBAC

1.1 Cascade of interventions in primiparous woman at a birth centre [515]

For my first child, I was 25 and healthy, considered “low-risk”. I booked into the local Birth Centre at the public hospital (it sounds easy but in reality I was put on a ballot, missed out, then made it in when some poor unfortunate woman was shunted out for whatever reason). I attended antenatal appointments with the same midwife, who I thought was on the same page as me regarding birth. I wanted a drug free, intervention free birth. I was well-informed and well-educated.

However during labour my midwife told me she had to perform several interventions which I had been led to believe weren’t routine in the Birth Centre. These included vaginal exams (VEs), the premature rupturing of my waters, and coached pushing (when I was actually not fully dilated and not wanting to push yet as it didn’t feel right).

It is hard to stand up for yourself during labour, so I did not protest any of these interventions, yet they caused, in a cascade of interventions, my cervix to swell and my progress went backwards. My midwife said I needed an epidural and syntocinon to speed things up, even though that was the last thing I wanted, but quite disheartened I agreed. After getting me set up she then left to go home, which I saw as abandonment. My continuity of care ended there. After a few hours I was at the same point, having apparently progressed no further, and the obstetrician suggested a caesarean. Quite defeated and wanting the whole sorry ordeal over I consented to a caesarean that would have been completely unnecessary had my midwife kept her hands to herself.

1.2 Caesarean followed by a feeling of disconnectedness and a profound sense of grief [538]
I had my first baby by emergency caesarean section in a public hospital after a planned home birth. My main care provider for this pregnancy was a community midwife with the Community Midwifery Program here in Perth. During the pregnancy I felt supported by my midwife in any decisions I made about my pregnancy and birth options (Routine ultrasound, strep B testing, water birth etc), and despite the resulting caesarean section, I felt the continuity of care was extremely valuable in making my pregnancy an exciting event for my family, as were able to create a caring and professional relationship with my midwife, leading to feeling secure as my birth approached.

During the birth I experienced great care at home from my primary and back up midwife, however once we transferred to hospital, their role as my primary care providers was not recognized by the hospital, and subsequently I lost faith in my body’s ability to birth as I received fragmented care from a number of different midwives and at least 3 different obstetricians, all of whom I had never met, and who did not take the time to discuss the progress of my labour with me. My resultant Caesarean section was a traumatic experience, and I was not able to hold my son immediately, leading to a feeling of ‘disconnectedness’ from him which sadly lasted well into his first year.

After the birth I experienced symptoms similar to those which I now believe similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with an inability to sleep, flashbacks of the anesthesia and caesarean procedure itself, and a profound sense of grief that my experience of meeting my first born child had not been the joyous occasion I had hoped it would be.

1.3 VBA2C [404]
Our first baby was born in private hospital by emergency caesarean after a failed induction. My husband and I were left to ourselves in the delivery room for long periods. When we did see someone they were total strangers, people we had never before met, who came and went as shifts changed. Minimal help with breastfeeding was provided until 4 days later I had a wonderful agency nurse who spent an hour in the middle of the night giving me the support I so desperately needed. The whole experience was very frightening and traumatic. I was subsequently diagnosed with postnatal depression.

During my second and third pregnancies we paid for our own private midwife who was with me during the pregnancy, labour and post birth. Although our second child was also born by emergency caesarean, I had the continuity of care that made all the difference to the experience. She was with me throughout labour, then in theatre, and afterwards she helped me in recovery where she enabled my baby to stay with me and ensured I received all the help I needed with establishing breastfeeding.

Finally, with the support of my own midwife I was able to birth our third child vaginally, without intervention and will never forget the hormonal high and feelings of self respect, dignity and peace that contrasted so starkly with the terror, grief and despair I felt when my first child was born.

1.4 Emergency Caesarean followed by VBAC [516]
I had my first baby in a public hospital. He was born by emergency caesarean because he was brow presentation. ... I had assumed that my care at the hospital would be in keeping with basic tenets of human rights- that I would be treated with dignity and respect during birth. This was not my experience.

During the 13 hours of labour prior to the emergency caesarean I experienced a shift change of midwives and felt that the second midwife wasn’t confident to guide me. I felt that she gave up on me. I remember her telling me that she had recently had a caesarean and that it wasn’t that bad. I had painful internal examinations during contractions. The bright lights and the public nature of the environment made me feel violated. This fragmented care with people moving in and out of the birthing room upset the flow of events.

Once the wave of interventions had begun I felt there was no any other option in that environment than to do what I was told and to be a ‘good girl’. Several professionals told me that I would be risking my baby to try anything different. I was frightened, I felt coerced and patronised by the midwives and the obstetrician. I demanded that I try every other monitoring option prior to the surgery which was my most feared scenario. As a way of trying to reclaim some sense my own power in the birthing process I wanted to have my baby remain with me and I wanted somebody to stay with me in recovery. I was denied both of these. Post surgery I lay on a bed for an hour shivering alone, without my baby. I felt exposed and ashamed. This deeply impacted my confidence and the crucial bonding with my baby and set the conditions for what I now recognise as Post Traumatic Stress after the birth. I believe this was caused by a combination of factors namely a restrictive birth environment. I suffered a deep sense of failure and grief which has only been resolved with my second birth.

I approached the second birth very differently and chose a homebirth. My partner was also very enthusiastic that we try this after the previous hospital experience. In spite of the fear mongering about VBAC and the dangers of uterine rupture my second baby boy was born peacefully at home in the water. My main care provider was a midwife in private practice. During the pregnancy I experienced great support to make my own choices. During the birth I had no internal examinations. There was no sense of time constraints during the nine hour labour. It was on my own terms and I felt comfortable and safe in my home environment. I felt that my midwife trusted in my innate ability to birth and believe this had a very powerful effect on the birthing outcome.

After the birth I felt great satisfaction and reclamation of my own dignity. I believe this was due to the wonderful support provided by my carer and the continuity of care I experienced.

These four accounts speak eloquently for themselves.
Recommendations of the Report of the Maternity Services Review (The Report) include:
"2. That the Australian Government, in consultation with states and territories and
key stakeholders, initiate targeted research aimed at improving the quality and
safety of maternity services in select key priority areas, such as evidence around
interventions, particularly caesarean sections, and maternal experience and
outcomes, including from postnatal care."
The Report trivialised homebirth and stated that "Homebirths account for a very small number of births in Australia. In 2005, homebirth accounted for 0.22 per cent of all births in Australia,28" The Report ignored the many submissions by women who called for greater access to home birth and private midwifery services.

Comments from readers are welcome.

No comments: