Tuesday 17 January 2017

Guest blog from WI member Nicola Hatch Lighterness about the new WI report 'Support Overdue (2017)'

WI member, baby blogger, and new mum Nicola Hatch Lighterness, welcomes the publication of the WI’s new report into women’s experiences of maternity care and shares her own story showing why we need more midwives now.

In 2012, WI members voted to start a campaign to push the Government for more midwives. We had heard horror stories about the care of our friends, our sisters, our daughters; we started to suspect that we weren’t alone in our struggles with postnatal depression or breastfeeding; those of working as midwives or support staff had begun to suffer from extreme burn-out. Something needed to change and as the largest women’s organisation in the UK, if we didn't speak up who would?

I joined the WI in 2014 when I was trying to have a baby. By that time the WI had already published a report examining the experiences of women giving birth and over 30,000 members had participated in the campaign. We were making progress. The NHS, citing our report, commissioned a major review of maternity services and the Secretary of State for Health admitted that we needed more midwives. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published its first ever safe staffing guidance for maternity settings in 2015, which the WI contributed evidence to and warmly welcomed.

But we are still missing 3,500 midwives in England, a shortage I experienced first-hand. The WI is today publishing a new report – Support Overdue (2017) – which sadly shows that my experience is not unique. The report found that as many as 50% of women will give birth in labour wards today that are short-staffed, leaving many women alone while they are in labour or unable to receive essential care like pain relief.

Being pregnant is a joyful time for many women, but it can also leave us feeling vulnerable. Midwives are often our lifeline, the person that’s standing in our corner, making sure everything is ok and reassuring us when things get tough. So many mums I know speak glowingly of how lovely their midwives were. So what is going wrong?

Well, the WI found that a big part of the problem is fragmented care. With the birth-rate holding steady, and midwife numbers dropping, fewer midwives must care for more women. Midwives are so pressed for time that they are often pulled out of community care and into labour wards. This means that women can see lots of different midwives during their care and never have a chance to build a relationship with any of them!

Unfortunately I know all about this fragmented care, although on paper I was one of the lucky ones. In my local area, it is common practice to see the same midwife all throughout your pregnancy. For someone like me, who suffers from anxiety, this was excellent. I got to know my midwife and she got to know me. This meant that when she had to explain to me the possible complications of the low levels of Papp A that my pregnancy suffered from, she was able to do so in a way that didn't send me into a complete panic! Any test results that she had, she would give me in a reassuring way, and when my blood pressure started to creep up towards the end of my pregnancy and there was the potential for pre-eclampsia, I knew I was in safe hands.

By once my son was born, my care started to break down. Due to an admin error, I had been attending my antenatal appointments in the next town. This was corrected after the birth. All very well and good, except my new midwives, whilst very caring, didn't know me in the same way as my old midwife did.

I saw multiple midwives in my 28 day postnatal care period. I was unable to build a relationship with any of them and they didn't understand my anxiety. They couldn't understand why I would break down in tears during appointments.  They didn't understand why I struggled on with breastfeeding despite hating it, despite it making me feel more depressed. They didn't understand- and didn't anticipate- my constant worry.

All of this was made even worse by the fact that the midwives were too busy to come to my home more than once. I had to walk 30 minutes each way for the rest of my postnatal appointments. For someone with anxiety issues- like me- this was a daunting prospect. In fact, as many as 20% of new mums suffer from some kind of postnatal depression and we’re supposed to be seen during this critical time as often as we need to be. The appointments are also supposed to be at our home or in a location convenient to us. But for me- and all the other new mums in my area- this didn't happen because the midwives, wonderful though they were, didn't have the time.

Travelling to these appointments was difficult for me because I felt like a nervous wreck. I look back at this time now and those feelings of being overwhelmed are enough to stop me from having another child. This is why the WI is recommending that as a bare minimum standard all new mums receive midwife visits in their home at least twice postnatally. This would have helped me so much. Midwives want to do it, but there are not enough of them to go around.

I know we’re fond of saying ‘all’s well that ends well’ and for me it did end well. I got through my difficult postnatal time. But the WI thinks that just ‘getting through’ is not good enough anymore. Nearly three quarters of a million women will use the maternity service every year. These women and their families rely on midwives to be there when it matters. Policy makers need to act now and end the shortage of midwives.

To read Nicola’s baby blog visit: http://allthingsspliced.co.uk/

To learn more about the NFWI’s campaign for More Midwives visit: https://www.thewi.org.uk/campaigns/current-campaigns-and-initiatives/more-midwives

Nicola and other members of Brentwood Belles WI

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