So many women think that they'll just go to hospital, have a baby, and all will be well. They think they will be respected, supported, and that the experience will be a happy one. Unfortunately that's not what's happening to many women. I'm one of the ones who didn't have that experience.
When I go to the supermarket I don't expect the staff to treat me specially, I just expect them to be polite and helpful. When I imagined what my first birth would be like I had similar expectations but they went unmet. However, unlike a trip to the shops, the ramifications of my "birth" were lasting. They still impact on me thirteen years later.
Sometimes when women are critical of hospital staff or their birthing experiences, they are met with disbelief, criticism, and outright anger. I don't really understand why it's so hard for people to believe that a woman and her baby were treated badly in a hospital.
People criticise hospitals all the time, there are frequently news stories which report dangerous, dissatisfactory patient care, but society won't accept that this reality extends to the maternity ward. We know that doctors often make errors and do shonky work, but for some completely unfathomable reason it's almost impossible for some people to imagine an obstetric surgeon in the same light.
It's nice to think that birthing women will only be surrounded by caring staff who work hard to ensure the safest, happiest birthing experience possible, but it's not reality. The same way that it's nice to expect your grocery shopping trip will be easy and you will encounter only friendly and helpful staff, but you know you may also encounter rude, bored, inexperienced, rushed, and overtired staff - you should expect nothing less in a hospital when you intend to give birth there.
So if you are pregnant or planning a baby, what can you do to protect yourself against the possibility that you will encounter less than perfect hospital staff?
- Give birth at home with an independent midwife and / or a doula.
- Take a doula to hospital with you
- Be well informed about hospital protocol and typical interventions and their impact on birth
- Write a HARD ARSE BIRTH PLAN! Don't stuff about with "wish lists" and never ever ever include the words "unless necessary". If it's necessary of course you'll consent to interventions - refer to point 3.
- Ensure that your partner is well versed on your birth plan and hospital policies. He / she may become your best advocate or be used against you. (it happened to me twice)
- When you're in labour it's not your job to please hospital staff or to be convenient, it's THEIR job to ensure that your needs are met, so be assertive!
- Last but not least ==> if a woman says she was treated badly and feels dissatisfied or worse, don't deny her that personal truth. Be part of the solution, don't add to the problem.
Remember that although you may want a natural birth very few staff in a hospital have ever actually seen birth without interventions, or unhindered birth (click here). Watching The Business of Being Born is an eye opener when the young medical students are asked how many unhindered births they've seen and they all answer "ummmmm none". Statically speaking, if you're after an unhindered birth you have a far greater chance of getting it at home.
Finally, to those doctors, midwives and nurses who do work hard to protect women's bodily integrity, and offer genuine support to labouring women, THANK YOU! Please keep doing your job to the best of your ability, and when you hear women criticising hospital birth, don't take it personally. Work towards changing the system that you work in but don't attempt to silence a woman who has suffered birth rape, birth trauma, or dissatisfaction as a result of her own experience.