When a pregnancy is confirmed, the formation of the very first building blocks of society start taking shape. There are many things that will influence the shape and size of each piece, such as ethnicity, socio-economic layer, relationship status, how the pregnancy happened, whether it is wanted or not and what kind of support the pregnant person has.
When a baby is born, so is a family, whatever that might look like, from the smallest dyad to the large extended family. In these relationships, the child will build a mental representation of who they are, the world they live in, and what they can expect from others. They will join society, either feeling entitled to be part of it or believing that they are not. They will encounter other people who will treat them based on what they learnt in their own relationships. All of them will respond, behave and react to the world around them, based on the tools and the ‘truths’ their early experiences taught them, as well as what their ancestors handed down to them. Every encounter and every experience in their lives will shape and form them into the adults they become. There will be positive changes taking place and most likely, negative ones too.
If we agree so far, and I hope we do, I would like to pose the question to you, why pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period is not taken more seriously by us all? Why is it that we commonly look at all these things as medical procedures, requiring expert input and why we do not see them as the foundations of society? Why is there not more focus and attention paid to this part of life, that if we could get it right, has the potential to build a far more compassionate and kinder world?
We invest so much in talking about the importance of protecting the environment, the importance of giving our children a good education, the importance of ensuring those less privileged get the support that they need. But just imagine for a moment that we could create people that were born all wanting to look after the world and everyone in it? That the way they started their lives in the womb, and later entered this world, provided a solid foundation to make them into caring and compassionate people?
The lack of importance attached to these fundamental moments in every person's life can clearly be seen right now by the fact that restrictions imposed temporarily in maternity units are remaining in place across England.
As restrictions are being lifted in all areas of our lives and we start to find our way out of this Covid pandemic, many pregnant women and people are still not able to meet with a midwife face-to-face for antenatal appointments. In the areas where they can, they are stopped from bringing anyone with them for support. Pregnant people are going in to have ultrasound scans on their own, unable to share the joy of hearing their baby’s heartbeat for the first time with their loved one, and equally, all alone if given unexpected or tragic news about their baby. Restrictions in place prevent them from receiving emotional support so needed during these appointments.
Women and pregnant people are going in to have their labour induced, unable to take a birthing partner, and sometimes spending days in early labour alone. Others are being coerced into procedures, like vaginal examinations, because otherwise, their partner won’t be able to join them. They are only allowed a birth partner if they are in established labour. It used to be the case that in most maternity units, two birthing partners were allowed, now you can just about have one and they might not even make it if the labour is quick.
Pregnant people are feeling worried during pregnancy, thinking about what will happen at birth and afterwards. Will their partners be able to be with them? Will they feel coerced into procedures and interventions that they initially wished to avoid? Those of us supporting women and birthing people during labour know that sometimes, the early part of labour can be quite a challenge, and this is when emotional and practical support is so much needed. It is also pretty difficult to make informed choices when there is no one there who knows and understands their needs that they can discuss options with.
Research has already been able to identify “a substantial increase in the likelihood of maternal depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic” and we’re seeing an increase in self-reported levels of depression from 15% pre-pandemic compared to a current level of nearly 41%, as well as moderate to high anxiety increase from 29% pre-pandemic with current levels at 72% in pregnant people.
I have to say, I am finding it increasingly frustrating to try and get the message across to the world what an enormous impact the birth experience has on both the woman or person giving birth and their babies. It will influence the first few days and weeks of that family’s structure, their mental health, and even future generations. There is enough research out there to confirm that!
In the meantime, you can have your eyebrows threaded, get a facial, have a massage, go to the pub, go shopping, travel on public transport, and get on a plane to go on holiday. Yes, all these things are important, but giving birth with a partner by your side should be included too. Otherwise this generation are being denied the support they need to give them the best start to family life.
Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have lifted many of their restrictions on visitors and birth partners. Some NHS Trusts in England have also removed restrictions imposed during the initial outbreak so why are they able to do that whilst others say they cannot? What evidence and research are used to keep these restrictions in place? Human rights law requires that any decisions regarding restrictions on women’s rights are proportionate and are taken as transparently as possible. Yet, we do not get any answers from the NHS Trusts. We are stonewalled.
I could cry, I could scream and shout, but it will not make much of a difference. But maybe, just maybe, bringing like-minded people together and starting a campaign will. Perhaps I can make someone who did not give this a second thought before start seeing it differently. All it takes is enough people, influencing the right people!
Are you able to see the importance of how we treat pregnant women? Do you recognise the huge boost a positive birth experience has on the family?
If you do, then perhaps you are the one person that I need to take action for the sake of humanity!
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.