I am struggling to find the words to introduce this blog piece. All I can say is: How many times do we have to listen Dr Michael Gannon (president of the Western Australia branch of the Australian Medical Association) blame mothers for every problem in maternity health care before we decide that the misogynistic prick needs to go?
It’s not enough that women are blamed for any homebirth deaths (regardless of the actual cause of death) – now it’s our fault that babies are dying in hospitals as well. The hospitals that he is trying to tell us are the best and safest place for us to be with our babies. Because they have the “experts” who will save us – from our murderous bodies.
The WA coroner is presently investigating the tragic death of a newborn in a prestigious Perth hospital. “It is believed that the mother fell asleep while holding or breastfeeding her baby”.
That is all the info that is presented in the article. Until Dr Gannon informs us that:
“There have been a number of early neonatal deaths in Perth hospitals over the past 18 months where mothers, often exhausted and still drug-affected after labour, have fallen asleep and accidentally lain or rolled onto their baby.”
Perhaps one potential solution could be to actively try and decrease the number of women and babies who are "drug-affected" after labour? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
If there has been “a number” of deaths, I want to know why the coroner is only investigating one. Why has there been no media coverage? Why no outrage at the hospital system killing our babies?
And as Emma from WA pointed out:
“there is actually no evidence that this baby died because of after-birth skin-to-skin practices! For example, there are no details regarding the time period (did it happen hours after birth?) or if Mum had even been advised to not hold baby. Regardless, Michael Gannon has deemed it acceptable to victim-blame this poor mother and then extend that to other mothers and midwives. This mother (and too many others) is a victim of a system which inadequately supports women in the most critical period of their lives.”
Which leads nicely onto my next point about the postpartum “care” women receive in hospital.
Women are being shifted to the maternity ward within hours of birthing their babies. Regardless of whether the baby is birthed vaginally or surgically and regardless of the drugs she may have in her system. Once on the ward she needs to buzz for a nurse or midwife to come to her when she needs help. This woman – exhausted, drug-affected and maybe in a massive amount of pain - may be physically incapable of getting out of bed to attend to her baby.
Following my caesarean surgeries I was unable to move, pretty much at all, for at least 12 hours and with extreme difficulty for another 48 or so. For the first 12 hours or thereabouts I still had a urinary catheter in and an IV pumping narcotics into me. I let the nurse put my baby in the crib and he cried. I buzzed for someone to come help and waited half an hour. The nurse came and handed me baby and walked out again. She didn’t come back to ask if I needed help putting baby back in the crib so he just stayed in bed with me. During this time my partner was asleep after a long day and I couldn’t wake him from across the room. The only reason he was even allowed to stay in my room was because I had a very traumatic birth. The following night I was completely alone.
As a doula I see this often with women who birth outside of visiting hours. Once mum is back on the ward dad is encouraged to “go home and get some rest”, leaving mum completely alone as the sole carer for herself and her baby.
Skin to skin is proven to often result in better outcomes for mums and bubs than putting bub in a warmer. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Several times in the article Dr Gannon is quoted as talking about the “obsession” with skin to skin contact following birth. As though this is some sort of crazy new age fad instead of a biological imperative. I don’t know if Dr Gannon is up to date on his obstetric research but there is a LOT of it out there on the benefits of skin to skin – for babies as well as mums. Let’s take a quick look at what those are:
Help baby regulate temperature and breathing
Help with breastfeeding
Assist in the colonisation of the baby’s microbiome with bacteria from mum. Especially important if baby was born via caesarean.
It is really well documented that skin to skin contact initiates the release of oxytocin in both mother and baby. And oxytocin is referred to as the hormone of love for a reason. For more info on this research check out Michel Odent and Dr Sarah Buckley’s works.
Of course it is best practice for this immediate skin to skin to be undertaken with support. (Note that I said support rather than supervision…that was intentional.)
Skin to skin in the days, weeks and months following birth has some great benefits for mums and bubs and is certainly not a fad! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
And isn’t that one of the reasons we ‘should’ all birth in hospital? Specifically for this additional support and care?
Dr Gannon goes on to link the death with an issue with staffing at the hospital. Okay – fine. Dr Gannon - If you are going to demand that ALL women MUST birth in hospital then you have a duty of care to ensure that those hospitals are adequately staffed to ensure women and their babies are safe there!
Because do you know what the immediate postpartum period looks like for a homebirth?
The midwife hangs around for 4 or so hours keeping a close eye on mum and bub. When she feels comfortable that they are both doing well she leaves them in the care of the father or other relatives. Who are given instructions on what circumstances they need to contact the midwife and what circumstances they need to go to hospital. And these carers also keep an eye on bub ensuring that they are safe. It probably helps that mum is not under the influence of narcotics and is not recovering from a caesarean. Sound a bit safer than a hospital postpartum stay?
So Dr Gannon, are your hospitals really the safest place for us to be? Or only on the days that you ensure adequate staffing? Or only for those who choose not to breastfeed and to send their babies to the nurseries which were phased out years ago due to the evidence supporting rooming in and skin to skin….
Not really sure what you are selling Dr Gannon – but I’m not buying it. You want us to birth in your hospitals? You have a bit more work to do to convince us they are actually the safest place for us and our babies.
If you would like to read more about the AMA and the issues facing our maternity care system please check out these links:
Don't forget there are some girls out there having babies who are totally uneducated and don't even know who the father is. Maybe they do need some personal accountability for any bad outcomes. You gave no details about this woman in WA. How old was she? Did she have any family support? Was she obese? Was she a statistical minority in any way? You immediately looked for a "mysoginistic prick" target.