There seems to be a shocking and massively under reported crime wave going on. It’s probably been happening for years and yet we never hear anything about it. It’s a conspiricy (this is the internet people, there had to be one on here eventually), a government cover up no doubt, so what is this crime? People are holding guns to heads of women (and sometimes men) and forcing them into a life of midwifery (possibly).
Last week the NCT published the results of a survey on postnatal care. The survey had asked recent first time mothers about their experiences immediatly after their baby was born. It made depressingly familiar reading and to be fair I think I was one of the participants.
The Royal College of Midwives of course responded that their profession is underfunded and understaffed. I have no doubt that this is true but there is a world of difference between the midwife in the birthing unit who was running between me and another labouring mother, apologising constantly for leaving me (despite that fact that I didn’t really need her at that point) and trying her best to listen to and accommodate my preferences and the midwife on the postnatal ward who, upon finding me in tears told me to “stop getting all upset, you will spoil your milk and not be able to feed your baby”.
I should say I am not someone who cries at strangers easily, but by this point it was the early hours of Thursday morning and I hadn’t slept at all since Saturday night. I had had thirty plus hours of full on labour, a long list of medical interventions, major surgery and so many undignified moments that at least I can’t remember them all. I had also seen my much longed for new baby for the first time and felt the smack of terrifying responsibility and enormous love that comes with that.
Put bluntly I was in a bit of a state. I’m sure that plenty of other, normally perfectly sensible and capable women, have been in the same position as me, and like me, have been completely incapable of demanding the care they needed. So perhaps it is easier for postnatal midwives to get away with treating their patients badly. At least in the delivery unit the fathers are present to hopefully provide a little more sense*, but alone at night on the ward and still unable to move or think straight it’s difficult to argue with someone you are completely dependent upon, when they once again fail to respond to the call button.
I’m not saying that I expect a post natal ward, especailly one in an inner city hospital, to be a joyful, or even a pleasant place. It’s bound to be noisy, hot and have terrible food. I accept that the staff work long hours, there aren’t enough of them and night shifts suck. But, unless there really is a silent forced midwifery crime wave, the staff on the wards have, at some point, chosen to become and to continue to be midwives. They may well be underpaid and short on time, but a smile and a kind word cost nothing and take only seconds, and however tired and jaded the giver is, the recipient is probably feeling worse and for her that little bit of human kindness would be priceless.
The report didn’t just focus on the attitudes of midwives and I also agree that a lot could be done to improve the consistency of advice given, the apparent absence of a care plan etc. etc. But the one thing that would have made all the difference to me would have been feeling that the staff actually cared, even if it was just an act.
So if you have only contempt for new mothers and indifference for their babies, and there isn’t a gun to your head, don’t be a midwife, the job is just too important.
* Fred was certainly making a lot more sense than me during the latter, heavily drugged stages of the labour, but at least I knew that. Upon being handed the consent form for the c-section, with it’s long list of possible complications I just passed it to him and said “shall I sign this? I have no idea, I’m totally ****ed!”