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Our session covered it all, whatever your experience...

Ah birth. Where to start? Hospitals, bags, birth plans, midwife-led, water birth, home birth, vaginal, c-section, drugs, no drugs, the placenta, breast feeding, bottle feeding. A multitude of questions floating in a sea of unpredictability. In my own NCT classes, our teacher (who was lovely and actually very matter of fact) openly admitted that the course was not an adequate preparation tool. The four sessions promptly skimmed over a wide range of subjects, often accompanied by dog eared laminated sheets that seemingly appeared to have been created in the late 90’s? Whilst I (like many others) are extremely grateful for the NHS and all the services it provides, time and finance do not dictate an extensive look at birth and all that it entails.

Beth and I had two very different approaches to birth. Beth, wanted to know everything and openly admits that she reads up on the end of a film before watching it. I, buried my head in the sand and figured I’d work it out when the time came. Like everything else with parenthood, it’s hugely personal. Your choices, your body, your child. And yet.. it would actually appear that whilst it is your body, it’s often not your choices.

Birth Trauma Association, a ‘charity that supports women who suffer birth trauma – a shorthand term for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after birth’ suggest that 3% of women ‘develop postnatal PTSD, or birth trauma’ and ‘an estimated 30% experience some symptoms of PTSD, but not the full-blown condition’ (source found here). This week we were lucky to have a visit from Susi Fish, a volunteer for the association who presented us with an introduction to BTA as well as touching on her own experiences. Whilst not everyone experiences this, many of us know someone who has had a traumatic birth - her invaluable insight gave us both signposts and symptoms to look out for in ourselves and others.

Your birth story is a highly personal one and many of us shared our own experiences. An overwhelming feeling of not being in control was apparent as well as none of our discussed ‘birth plans’ (which midwives now call ‘birth preferences’) taken into consideration. Many of us felt a frustration of not being listened to and some were turned away or made to wait before being checked over by a midwife.

AIMS, an organisation created to 'support women and families to achieve the birth that they wanted' is an excellent website for those looking to gather more information about the services and groups on offer.

With Government resources becoming less and less, we are all faced with a barrage of headlines in the news surrounding NHS cuts and budgets, so how do we ensure that we (and our babies) don’t suffer as a consequence? Reading Maternity Voices for those local to BM HQ, are an 'independent body, reporting to the local Federation of GP Commissioning Groups that commissions maternity services'. Many of us have completed surveys and questionnaires about our own experiences with direct results implemented within our local NHS trust. Click here for more information about getting your voice heard.

It’s important to reiterate that not all birth stories are negative, many of us go on to have positive experiences. It was a chance for those to talk about what they would do differently if they’d had the time again, or if they were planning on having another child. Most of us felt that we should have been more assertive in our choices and decisions both during and post birth. Going into birth first time around is an alien concept for most so knowing what to ask of our birth partners was near impossible. Other than the atypical ‘breathing techniques’ guidance and possible hypnobirthing/birth workshops, physical help couldn’t be given and requests couldn’t be articulated - how could they? As well as you know your birth partner and vice versa, it’s a solo journey for most, accompanied by as much support as is possible.

The overriding sentiment was confidence; in ourselves and our birth partners, in our bodies, in the staff but also one of medical availability. What were we entitled to and at what stage? Who could check us and when? How often could we request pain relief and what were the consequences? At what point is it beyond our control to refuse medical intervention? Informed decisions were key as well as having those with us to ask the questions when we couldn’t or didn’t think of it. Labour can be short but it can also be long (so, so long) and we felt that knowing we might not have control was a scary prospect.

For me, going into labour a second time around, I’ll certainly be reading about the end of the movie before watching it.

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