I attended the Green Party Spring conference last weekend in Blackpool, and had a very busy time, rushing from one thing to the next! Not long after I arrived I was defending the maternity services policy that I had put forward, and was delighted when it was passed, albeit with one amendment. We didn't really have anything on maternity services before (well, the briefest of mentions) and now we have what I'd like to think is a well researched, well considered policy.
It's certainly an important issue. With 1 in 4 births now a caesarean section, compensation claims for obstetric care going through the roof, and a reported 11 million women in the UK having suffered post-birth trauma, the Government's 'Maternity Matters' report seems to have made little impact thus far. The £336m pledged by Labour for maternity services often hasn't hit the front line, and has reportedly been siphoned off into, for example, cancer and heart disease treatment.
Green Party maternity policy, importantly, pledges to ring-fence funds for maternity care. When I was researching the issue, this came up again and again. In short, I am delighted that conference passed the policy!
On Sunday I chaired 'Maternity Services Re-Born', a panel discussion on maternity Services. I had a high-profile panel lined up, including the well-known and truly inspiring Professor Wendy Savage. She is a distinguished gynaecologist and champion of women’s rights in childbirth and fertility. In 1985 Professor Savage was suspended from her post for alleged incompetence. The resultant debate, public enquiry and her reinstatement became a cause celebre.
She has authored several books, including ‘Caesarean Birth in Britain’ and ‘Birth and Power: A Savage Enquiry Revisited’. She is now co-chair of ‘Keep Our NHS Public’.
Also on the panel were Independent Midwife Annie Francis, NHS midwife and lecturer Sarah Davies and the writer and broadcaster Rowan Pelling. Rowan gave a very moving, passionate account of her two births. The first was on the NHS and extremely traumatic, and had long-term effects on her ability to bond with her son. Her second birth was with an independent midwife, and couldn't have been more different - she described it as a 'spiritual' experience, and had tears in her eyes as she spoke. I must say I had tears in my eyes too!
What a pity that such an experience is often only available to women who can afford to pay for an independent midwife. It should be every woman's right to have the birth she chooses as long as it is medically safe to do so. What a shame that on the NHS midwives have to be clock-watching and artficially speeding things up, rather than letting nature take its course.
As Professor Savage said in her speech to conference, "Tears come to my eyes when I see videos of births at home; we have made such a mess of birth in the NHS."
After the panel discussion had finished, I went and had dinner with Wendy, Annie, Sarah and Rowan. The strength of feeling around the dinner table was amazing. We spoke of what we could do to change things. I have so much respect for midwives - it must be the most rewarding and at the same time most precarious job, and with the added pressures of staff shortages and the threat of litigation.
I know for a fact that so many people - mothers, fathers, grandparents, midwives - feel very strongly about this issue, and rightly so. My panelists and I discussed how we could utilise that strength of feeling to make a change in the UK. Because a big change is needed, and fast.