A couple of weeks ago, I attended a free training event at Effra Space in London run by the charity Birthrights. It was not the first time that I attended a Birthrights’ event, and as a matter of fact, I’m a big fan of this charity and pledge a monthly donation to support the organisation.
Birthrights is the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights. It can be difficult to see how this would relate to the western world or even the UK, but human rights in childbirth are often overlooked in many institutions. It’s only when you attend these workshops that you realise just how often basic human rights are breached. Birthrights was founded by a group of lawyers, one of them being the straight talking barrister Elizabeth Prochaska who is the chair person, and their CEO is no other than the BirthBliss Academy’s professional panel member, Rebecca Schiller.
Rebecca’s book, Why human rights in childbirth matters, tells some harrowing stories about the treatment of women, not only in the UK but across the globe. It’s heart-breaking to read at times but clearly shows just how much human rights matter! It also has a brilliant section at the end of the book called Rights in birth: your pocket guide and really worth adding to your library if you’re a birth worker.
Returning to the workshop, the latter half of the evening, we were asked to look at some case studies and to discuss them in small groups, deciding whether the case in questions was, in fact, a breach against human rights or not. There were some very typical scenarios, such as a woman in labour, asking the doctor to stop as she could feel pain during an assisted delivery where an episiotomy was about to be performed but the baby’s heart rate was not great. Should the doctor stop or carry on to save the baby from any potential harm? In another case, a woman was asking for an elective caesarean but was being told she had to go have counselling first. Is that enforceable? Do consent forms actually carry any weight in a court of law? If a woman declines routine antibiotics for her new-born baby, can social services come and take that baby away?
Those of you who work with women during labour and birth will, no doubt, be familiar with these scenarios or variations of them. The fact is, a woman has to give consent to all procedures so a doctor or anyone else who is looking after her must stop if she says so. A woman has got the right to give birth the way she chooses and cannot be forced to attend counselling sessions - the NICE guidelines clearly state this. A consent form is not worth the paper it is written on and does not cover doctors or midwives from being investigated. And finally, for social services to take a child into care, there has to be a reasonable belief that the baby will be at significant risk of harm. Birthrights have some absolutely brilliant fact sheets on their website, which clearly sets out what the law has to say about different situations that women might find themselves in.
Each and every woman who is receiving maternity care, in pregnancy and during the birth of her baby, should be treated as an individual. Women should not be boxed into groups based on BMI, age, race, or disability and given the same care plan just because they fit a certain criteria. This is classed as discriminatory care. Hospital’s clinical guidelines or protocols are not the law and can, therefore, not be enforced on any woman. Depersonalised care is actually against human rights, which includes the inflexible application of institutional policy and a failure to take into account individual circumstances.
Another charity that is close to my heart is the White Ribbon Alliance and they publish a full Charter of Respectful Maternity Care. I also donate to them monthly and it makes me feel very proud to be supporting, educating and helping women and their families to receive respectful care.
If you want to be part of the team and make a difference to women and their experiences, please look into making a monthly donation to Birthrights and the White Ribbon Alliance .
Human rights should never be breached but certainly not during what should be one of the most exciting and special days of a woman and family’s life! It is every woman’s right to be treated with dignity, respect and humanity during childbirth!
You can be part of the solution and I know your donation will make a huge difference!
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.