Woman’s Hour and Birth Choice

I’m not sure how many of you will have heard Woman’s Hour this morning where the subject was choice in birth. Once I got past Kirstie Allsop’s uncomfortable interview style, I found it interesting to listen to, amongst others, Belinda Phipps and Christine Hill discussing antenatal education. It is a subject close to my heart, given the work I do in preparing doula clients for birth, and also as I embark on antenatal class provision myself.  There seemed to be unequivocal agreement that antenatal classes are  good thing, but it is intriguing to note the divergence of opinion on what subjects are key to cover, and what can slip.

Kirstie herself seemed to have strong opinions about the inclusion of discussion on caesarean births in classes and I am certainly not opposed to that. I don’t feel there can be a blind assumption that all births will go “according to plan”, and have certainly witnessed several that have gone off piste.  Sheila Kitzinger, the anthropologist, was key in introducing the concept of the birth plan to this country. She felt that women should retain control over what is done to their body, that they are entitled to a voice and opinion.  This in an age where we were expected to be polite patients and be done to. As with so many things the pendulum swings wildly and it takes a while to settle.  Many women have been disappointed and have had to deal with the grief of their birth not going to plan. I personally like the idea of birth preferences, of exploring options and writing down any that are really important – they give those caring for you during birth a quick indication of your hopes and expectations  whilst allowing for flexibility and unpredictability.  I disagree with Christine Hill’s comment of the birth itself not being that important. Psychologists have discovered just how profound birth memory is, how the memories of giving birth stay clear in our minds for life and just how deep birth trauma can go.  The subject of postnatal depression and post traumatic stress disorder were lightly touched upon, and it is clear in my mind how much a “happy” birth can prevent those two issues. A “happy” birth is an entirely personal choice too – it may be an entirely hands-off home birth in water, or an elective caesarean – there is a huge range of choice, and that is what it boils down to – choice, and owning that choice.

Sadly, very little time was given to my lovely colleague, Rebecca Schiller, a brilliant doula and co-chair of Birth Rights, an organisation which supports women with their legal rights in birth.  She speaks with such calm and authority that I could listen to her all day.  So, all in all, an interesting, thought-provoking, frustrating programme which touched on too many subjects in too short a time. I’m not sure that there could ever be a programme long enough to cover it all as we untangle so many complex, inter-related and interesting strands.