My Thoughts on Delivering Babies with Emma Willis: Episode 1
I really wanted to watch it as it was aired but, since I don’t have a TV aerial (or whatever it is you need to watch it), I went round to my friends instead.
Last week, Delivering Babies replied to one of my tweets saying that the conversation around birth needs to be opened up. I couldn’t agree more. TV has the potential to do that. To get this information out to a wider audience.
I’ve only watched the show through once so these are my initial thoughts as they came to me.
I’m particularly interested in TV births since the birth of my own 2nd child featured on BBC1’s Childbirth All Or Nothing (Feb 2016.) I made the show because I felt like mainstream TV birth viewing needed a shake up!
So here goes…!
I’m wanting to know if this programme breaks the mould of birth usually shown on mainstream TV. Birth on TV usually shows a very medicalised type of birth often showing women lying on their backs to give birth; a position where we have 30% less space to get our babies out. It’s no wonder there are so many complications.
This type of medicalised birth is a million miles away from the kind of relaxed natural birth I normally witness as a doula or the ‘hypnobirths‘ of my own 2 children.
Most people, though not all, who employ me as a doula, are wanting me to help them stay away from a medicalised birth, although for the ones who feel a medicalised birth is the best course of action for them, I help and support them to have the most positive experience possible.
First off, the programme’s title sequence imagery shows a typical hospital labour ward environment: a classic drama filled birth environment, the sort normally shown on TV. It’s fast paced and there are people running about, buzzers and machines that go beep. There are graphs being churned out from a machine; perhaps a nod towards the conveyor belt policies women may be subjected to, especially in a hospital environment.
A hospital labour ward, by the way, is one of the four places of birth NICE guidelines suggest should be offered to pregnant women but, in my experience, women are rarely offered their full quota. Choice is limited by funding and the cultural soup in which we swim.
With a title like ‘Delivering Babies’, I’m not holding out much hope that women are really going to be put at the centre of their care. Has nobody told the makers of this show that in normal/ natural/ physiological birth circles, the word ‘delivering’ is at the centre of a great deal of debate?
Letters are delivered, parcels are delivered and pizzas are delivered BUT women birth babies. If something is ‘delivered’, it implies something is done to them. I’m all for respecting choice and if you want your baby delivered, then go for it.
But changing the language we use around birth may seem like a series of subtle distinctions but it’s one of the crucial elements needing to happen in order to hand birth back to women before we lose it altogether.
I’m watching the show and someone giving birth is lying on their back is being shouted to push. And I mean really shouted at.
“PUSH, COME ON. PUSH!” The midwife is literally shouting.
I didn’t think this kind of thing still went on! It’s so far removed from any birth I’ve been at. Most births I’ve been present at have been beautiful and sacred and calm and powerful.
Emma Willis says herself at the start:
“If you’re going to do something like this, you have to do it properly!”
But what is ‘properly’ when it comes to birth? Isn’t it about choice? Isn’t it about empowerment?
Are the hospital guidelines ‘proper’? Is being woman-centred actually on the agenda? Are women and their partners getting the best possible care? Are women really understanding of the options available and the implications of those options? Or are the hospital policies centred around doing everything possible to not get sued and to maximise efficiency?
Emma jokes that her presence on the ward will probably provoke women to think “Who’s this joker from the tele rocking up? I want the most capable hands.”
Of course, we want the most capable hands. We all expect that the hands you’d find when you present yourself in a hospital are the most capable hands. We’ve been programmed to think that. Doctors and midwives and health care professionals know best, right?
I find subtle and unsubtle undermining of women’s bodies… Val, the long-serving and dedicated hospital maternity support worker asks a new mum gave birth yesterday,
‘How are you feeling?’
“Like I’ve been hit by a train,” the woman replies.
“That’s pretty standard I think,” Val jokes….
While I’m all up for normalising the way a women feels, I do feel that ‘feeling like you’ve been hit by a train’ is kind of accepted in our culture. Somehow it’s ok in our culture to feel like you’ve been hit by a train when you’ve had a baby.
I want to call out this bullshit. IT’s NOT ACCEPTABLE.
Women could and should be feeling nurtured. Invincible. Like a goddess. Like a superhero.
But instead they’re feeling like they’ve been hit by a train.
The emergency buzzer goes off. Panic. Alarm. Adrenaline goes up. Adrenaline is definitely not the hormone that makes birth happen effectively. In fact, when we are making adrenaline, we aren’t making oxytocin which is the hormone that makes birth happen.
The next thing that has me with my head in my hands is hearing that the midwife had whispered to the mum,
“It’s going to be very large baby.”
Now, I’m sure this was done perfectly innocently but what message is that sending to the mum?
What is really interesting and what this midwife probably isn’t aware of is being told you’re baby is going to be ‘big’, whether or not it actually is, means you are less likely to be able to birth that baby without assistance. You are more likely to have a Caesarean birth or have an instrumental delivery (forceps or ventouse) whether or not your baby actually is big.
So being told your baby is going to be big, is an intervention in itself! If you take two groups of women, and inform one group if their babies are on the large side and you don’t tell the women in the other group anything about the size of their babies, the women who are NOT TOLD THE SIZE OF THEIR BABIES will have better outcomes.
I thought it was wonderful the way Emma spoke to the mother who’d given birth with her legs in stirrups with an epidural. “It’s amazing what women can do.” Mum is delighted! She’s smiling for the camera.
Mums who have given birth in that way are superwomen for sure. All women who give birth are amazing. However it’s happened.
I also note how the term Caesarian section is being used. The hospital have 1000 each year. The term Caesarean births is generally thought of as being more respectful to women who’ve had one.
I would have liked to have heard that Michaela decided that a Caesarian birth was the safest option for her baby rather than the narrator saying that “Drs have decided to deliver Michaela’s baby.” Michaela’s baby had been gestating for 33 weeks and her waters went 6 weeks ago. The body is incredibly clever and waters often replenish. However, the reason given for the recommended Caesarian was lack of amniotic fluid and risk of infection.
If that was me, I’d be asking questions.
Perhaps those questions had already been asked before mum made her decision as to what she wanted to do. Questions like…. What will happen if we wait? Is there any evidence that my baby may get an infection and if so, where is that evidence? Are my waters being replenished? What are the benefits and risks of Caesarian? What options do I have and what are the benefits and risks of those options?
The teeny tiny baby born under bright lights. Can we turn down the lights? When will ‘Natural Caesarian births’ be standard practice? Natural Caesarian Births include as many of the elements of a normal vaginal birth as possible such as low lights except around the incision, respectful and minimal conversation in the room, mums can have her own music playing if she wishes, mum can have the screen up or down so she can view the birth or not depending on her wishes, optimal cord clamping and skin to skin immediately after the birth.
The baby who is ‘struggling to breathe’ has been separated from Mum and ‘taken straight to intensive care’ ‘while mother recovers.’ I wonder when women are going to start asking for hospitals to stock the bedside trolleys that ensure if babies do need help to breathe in the first few minutes of birth, this can be done next to the mum rather than babies being taken away which can cause even more anxiety for mum.
The baby was ‘still in neonatal intensive care unit’ some time later and I wonder what would have happened if baby had been ‘allowed’ to gestate for longer? We simply don’t know.
Val, the health care assistant says that “All births are lovely, whatever way they come out.” She’s just such a brilliant person for a hospital to employ. Always chirpy and helping women cope with the system. I wonder how many of those women have gone home and feel that their births were indeed lovely?
Emma comments that ‘midwives are remarkable women who do not get the credit they deserve.’
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. They are working in an extremely hard system ‘on their feet for 12 hours a day’. That is extremely tough and I wonder how they can provide optimal care with such intensely long shifts?
I notice that Emma is wearing a KICKS COUNT lanyard. She’s advertising an organisation on TV which has at its core, the aim to reduce the rate of stillbirth. While that is a very honourable and important mission, I know that that organisation has actively reduced women’s rights to informed choice by deleting and removing what I’d consider to be sensible advice on their facebook forum.
If an induction is recommended, in my opinion, parents-to-be need to ask questions to determine the risks and benefits of all their options. They need to determine their own risk and what that risk means to them. After all, risk is about numbers and the ‘risk’ presented may be high or low depending on your view. It is the parents right to consider where that evidence comes from and make an assessment of the bias and flaws that exist in that evidence in order to make their own decisions.
I was pleased to see that not all of the babies were born in the hospital. Emma found herself on her way to a home birth.
I was delighted to hear the midwife state that home births have ‘statistically shorter labours’ with ‘less pain relief and much, much calmer babies.’
Who wouldn’t want that?
I wonder how many of the programmes audience have actually heard that comment? Are we going to get an influx of women planning to birth their babies at home. It’s my opinion, that if women truly knew the difference of a home birth and a hospital birth, way more women would plan a home birth and only transfer in should the need arise.
Emma arrives at the birth. It’s the woman’s 3rd baby. She’s ‘Hypnobirthing.’
Although the woman who is giving birth at home has way more autonomy than the women giving birth in the hospital, I still find I’m shouting at the tele at this point.
Emma, why hasn’t anyone told you that that woman needs not to be disturbed? Every time you speak to her, especially if you ask her questions, you potentially cause her labour to last a bit longer. She needs to focus. To focus inward. To concentrate fully on what her body is telling her to do.
Stop talking!!!! You’re disturbing her! Why are you talking!!!! Why has no-one told you?
And why is the midwife talking in a normal, loud voice to the ‘hypnobirthing mum?’ Why is she not talking in hushed reassuring tones if she needs to talk at all?
Women giving birth need to know you’re there.
Excessive wittering or distraction can cause women to come ‘out of their zone.’ Vets know not to disturb a labouring dog or cat or fine prize horse so why are we disturbing women?
Women ‘in the zone’ need their sacred birth space held. They need to be able to focus inward to they can focus and concentrate 100% on what’s going on in their bodies.
As the baby is arriving, the people around her are getting louder and louder. I’m sure mum doesn’t mind. She’s totally in her own zone but birth physiology dictates they should be quiet as mum really needs to focus at this point. Imagine people shouting next to you or disturbing you when you’re trying to do an exam.
She doesn’t need COACHING through her pushing although some birth attendants feel that they need to DO something.
There is no-one that wants baby out more than that mum. Believe me.
The Mum at the home birth did amazingly well and chances are she didn’t even notice all that disturbance. Mum was up and about 1 ½ hours later. She could have her children around, have lunch and dinner and sleep and in her own bed.
The home birth rate is going up in adequately funded areas.
I wonder if we’ll be massive surge in homebirths after Delivering Babies?
Kati Edwards, , KG Hypnobirthing Teacher Trainer, Doula UK Registered Doula, Assistant Neuropsychologist, Ramsbottom, Manchester