When I published my letter to my midwife, detailing how her betrayal of my baby and I left me feeling, I received so many messages of support and shared grief that I lost count. But I also received a lot of messages about remembering the positives. That everything happens for a reason. And this is exceptionally true.
My midwife betrayed my trust, hurt me more deeply than anyone will ever know. But in doing so she gave me an amazing gift – one I’m sure she never meant to!
Prior to my “failed vbac” I thought that I knew some stuff. I had suffered birth trauma before you see. And as a result I had done a crap tonne of research. I knew about “bait and switch”, I knew about the cascade of interventions, I knew about the importance of choice of care provider and I knew that homebirth was my best option for the birth I wanted.
But there’s a difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it with every fibre in your body. Knowing it with your soul. And sometimes the only way to truly know something is to live it and learn it the hard way. And so I did.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Just because it is a midwife providing the care doesn’t mean that you are receiving midwifery care. This was probably the first BIG lesson learned. I remember commenting to my doula at about 40 weeks – “I’m not actually receiving midwifery care, I’m receiving obstetric care…it’s just being provided by a midwife”. I chose a midwifery group program model of care because I wanted evidence based, woman centred, respectful midwifery care. If I wanted “standard care” I would have just signed up for it! And don’t get me wrong (although I know some people love to!) I don’t “blame” the midwife. I couldn’t imagine how heartbreaking it must be for these women to enter into a profession expecting to provide a certain service and then to not be able to. But let’s stop lying to women about what type of care they can realistically expect to receive.
Midwives are the experts in normal birth. At my booking in appointment at 10 weeks, while discussing my plans for my birth, my midwife assured me that “midwives are the experts in normal birth”. This made me feel so incredibly grateful that I had chosen midwifery care. But, as with the point above, all is not as it seems. A huge question to ask here is: What is a “normal” birth? Because a “normal” vbac involves a lot of stuff that wasn’t on my plan and bore no resemblance to a physiological birth – which is what I actually wanted. Midwives are becoming the experts in normal hospital birth – how to cannulate, how to set up and monitor the CTG machine, how to ensure that VEs are completed “on time” and how to check whether the woman falls into the realms of “normal” according to the partogram. Want to know if your midwife is an expert in physiological birth? Ask her how many scarves she’s knitted this year – the more the better!
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Trust is important. We hear a lot about how important it is that women trust their care providers (but less about how important it is for care providers to be trustworthy…Hmmm). But I found that it’s also super important for care providers to trust their clients. Once I realised that my midwife did not trust me the betrayal was almost complete. She didn’t trust that I had the absolute best interests of my baby in mind. She didn’t trust that I was best placed to make decisions about my birth. She didn’t trust my decision making ability. And really she didn’t trust birth. How could I trust myself when the “expert” didn’t?
The Australian maternity care system is broken…and I can’t fix it. I had dreams of going in and having such an awesome, hands off, physiological vbac that my hospital would all of a sudden realise how wrong they’ve been. Sounds so silly, now…thinking that I would be able to fix a system that is so huge, so dedicated to the protection of hospitals and so fundamentally broken. Clarity.
I no longer hold such delusions of grandeur as to believe that people will trust me, that I can trust them, that they mean what they say and say what they mean. I no longer seek to educate people just about birth physiology – if you want to learn about "the stages of labour" you can read it in a book. I seek to help women discover, remember, develop the tools they need to secure their own power over themselves and their births. I seek to help women find their own truths and their own paths to the births that are best for them and their babies.
Courtesy of MorgueFile.
Perhaps the biggest gift my midwife’s betrayal gave me is my writing. It would never have occurred to me to write, until I started thinking about writing a letter of complaint about how I was treated. And if my words have helped even one woman to rediscover her legal, physical and spiritual power in birth, if my writing has encouraged even one midwife to evaluate her own practice then I can be grateful. Grateful that my midwife’s betrayal of me could help another woman and her family.
As a midwife of many decades experience I know how I started out as a good little hospital servant. Love the work but always felt there was something better. As experience built I started to learn the real art of midwifery from the women, from hearing what they said, good or bad. From hearing from other midwives that were internationally famous and going to conferences to hear them. I morphed into a midwife that trusts birth and love my clients. The end result of all of this is good outcomes. Not perfect but good and improving. Could it be the continued reading of the evidence and incorporating it in my work? That is so easy to do these days with the internet and social media.
I believe there is no excuse for supposed midwives to be medwives. If they stay like that then it means that is the core of their personality, uncaring and not improving. If I was around Lizzie, I would take you on.
I saw this article on my Facebook feed, and also read your letter to the midwife providing your care.
Your experiences and feelings about this entire experience are first and foremost your own and you are absolutely entitled to feel however you like. As the daughter of a veteran CNM with 20 years of experience, a medical student, and a new mother, I would like to express my thoughts on what seems to be your disregard of the idea of a healthy outcome. Despite progression in the field of medicine, birth IS the most transformative, cathartic, and dangerous moment of a woman's life. While we all have wishes for a certain plan, at the end of the day we (mother and provider) want a healthy baby.
It is all too easy to provide Monday-morning quarterback advice through the anonymity of the Internet. Despite my misgivings over this article and your letter, I am happy that at the end of your delivery you had a healthy baby! That is the MOST important thing and all too easy to overlook in the storm of misgiving and concerns you list about your birth experience.
I also felt that a healthy baby was the most important outcome - although I do feel that a healthy baby requires a healthy mother to raise it. It can be difficult to bond and care for a baby when you are suffering from constant flashbacks and keep randomly bursting into tears.
I also don't think that midwives need to lie to and coerce women in order to ensure that they have a healthy baby. It is entirely possible to respect women AND have a healthy outcome for everyone.
There are normal midwives out there it is just difficult to find them, most are obstetric nurses. VBACs would be fine if labour was kept as normal as possible. They want you to have continuous monitoring in labour, OK as long as you can be OFF THE BED. Standing or sitting on a chair or birth ball. Lying down puts extra strain on your scar and you are set up to fail. Keeping women relaxed and calm is the major task for a good midwife as adrenalin 'sticks' to the cervix and makes it harder to open. So so sorry you did not get a normal midwife. www.painfreelabour.blogspot.co.uk
Thank you so much for this brave and courageous article...I have trained many midwives in my life and many of them just don't get it that the woman in labor will always find her power to bring forth her baby in dignity and love....with her partner!!!!! All we have to do is sit in the corner and knit!!!!!