There is a lot I would like to say to you but it all boils down to this: Please listen.
Listen to as many voices as you possibly can. Even, no, especially the difficult ones. There must be no voices too hard to hear and no beliefs too sacred to be challenged.
Listen to the loud voices, the ones who come to you with years of campaigning behind them. But also seek out the quiet ones. The mums who don’t write blogs or set up support groups, who’s experience of maternity care was great or simply adequate. Find those who are silently trying to put a bad experience behind them or grieve for a baby who never came home. Those voices can be hard to find and harder to hear but if the review is to achieve it’s true potential, they must be sought out.
Hear all these voices, the loud and the quiet, the angry and the joyful, with an open mind. I know that’s hard. You all come to this review with your own knowledge and beliefs, born of personal and professional experience. How could you not? But try to set it all aside just for a little while and put yourself in the speakers shoes. Even if what they say runs contrary to all your own beliefs and experiences, they deserve to be heard, some might even have a point.
Listen also to the voiceless statistics, the dry scientific evidence from studies that can’t hold anyone’s attention the way a personal story can. They may still have something very important to say. Don’t avoid them if they upturn a belief you hold dear, challenge them rigorously, but be prepared to change your mind if you have to. If the statistics and studies agree with you, then challenge them even harder.
Try for a while to quieten history. We know that historically human reproduction was filled with dangers. But we’ve come a very long way (at least in the developed world). Now the majority or us can assume we’ll take home a healthy baby and be alive and well to care for it. But it’s not just distant history that haunts us, the shadow of domineering male obstetricians who expected women to shut up and do what they were told, still looms. Though most doctors and women hold very different attitudes now. Then there are the choices which are now very safe but still viewed with the fear of the past. Pain relief, for example, has never been safer or more effective. Yet it is often looked on with concern or even a lingering biblical disdain that somehow women are meant to suffer in childbirth. If we’re going to move on and create a maternity service that is both safe and compassionate, that offers both choice and protection from harm, then we need to shine a light on the here and now, not what used to be. We have never had so many good, safe, options but women must be made aware of them and when they make choices they must be respected, not caricatured as happens so often in our media.
Finally, listen to this – Thank you. I’m just an ordinary mum, nothing special but for what it’s worth I am grateful to all of you for taking part in this review. I’ve experience both wonderful and dreadful maternity care on the NHS, I will be forever indebted to the people who brought my babies safely into the world but I know things are far from perfect and the challenges will only become more complex. Thank you for standing up and tackling that, I hope when the review is done your voices will be heard too and acted on by those with the power to bring about change.
For readers who don’t know, The National Maternity Review was setup following the Kirkup enquiry into deaths at the Morecombe bay maternity service, I wrote about the Kirkup report here. I know of at least two other bloggers involved with the #MatExp group who have already written to the national maternity review do go and read this by Leigh Kendall and this by Helen Calvert.