My journey with the Women’s Institute started when I was trying for a baby. Trying and, seemingly, failing to make that baby. It was a lonely time, when I needed a distraction from my everyday life and worries.
In the WI, I found that distraction. I found a band of strong, intelligent, interesting women. I found an instant group of friends, all of whom are very different, and all of whom make me laugh and make me view the world differently at every single meeting. All of whom, I can see, when grouped together across the country with the rest of the Women’s Institute, form a formidable force to tackle life’s everyday issues.
One of the issues which many women face at some point in their life is maternity care. My journey with the WI started not only when I was trying for a baby, but also two years after the Women’s Institute passed a resolution to push for More Midwives. And even though I hadn’t been directly involved with the campaign, when I fell pregnant with our first child, the campaign for More Midwives would resonate with me clearer than ever.
Being pregnant with your first, second, third, even seventh child is a joyful time for most women, but it can also leave many of us feeling vulnerable. Midwives are often our lifeline, the person that’s standing in our corner making sure that everything’s ok and reassuring you when things get tough. So why are there so many horror stories surrounding maternity care?
It’s not the fault of the midwives themselves, that’s for sure. These men and women do a fantastic job, and the majority of the mothers and mothers-to-be that I know have glowing reports of how lovely their midwives were or are. But sometimes, the system fails all of us, and that’s where the WI’s campaign for More Midwives steps in.
The shortage of midwives in the UK can result in fragmented and rushed care. An ongoing baby boom and an increase in the number of complications in pregnancy mean that midwives are facing increasing pressure within their duty of care. The National Federation of the Women’s Institute therefore called upon the government to invest in the training, employment and retention of midwives in England and Wales to ensure that services are adequately resourced and are able to deliver a high standard of care for all women.
Unfortunately, I know all about this fragmentation of care, and yet, on paper, I’m one of the lucky ones. Under my PCT, it is common practice to have one-to-one midwife care when pregnant. For someone like me, who suffers with anxiety, this was excellent. I got to know my midwife really well, and in turn she got to know me, too; this meant that when she had to explain to me the possible complications of the low levels of Papp A that my pregnancy suffered from, she could deliver the details in a manner which wouldn’t send me into a complete panic. Any test results she had, she would give me the results in a reassuring way, and similarly, when my blood pressure started to creep up towards the end of my pregnancy, and there were mutterings of ‘pre-eclampsia’, I knew that I was in safe hands. I couldn’t fault my prenatal midwife care at all.
But once Baby Lighty had made his appearance, admittedly after a very smooth labour where I was extremely well looked after by a student midwife and a qualified midwife throughout, things started to break down slightly. Because of an admin error, I’d been attending my prenatal midwife appointments at the wrong clinic in the next town. This was picked up after Baby Lighty was born, and I was transferred to the children’s health clinic within my own town. All very well and good, except my new midwives, whilst very caring, didn’t know me in the same way as my old midwife did.
I saw more than one midwife in the 28 days that I was in their postnatal care, and because of this, we couldn’t build a relationship in the same way that I had with my prenatal midwife and they didn’t have the same understanding of my anxiety. They couldn’t understand why I would break down in tears during appointments as I was convinced that something awful would happen to this tiny, precious little bundle of joy that I’d only had in my arms for three days but whom I loved so much already. They didn’t get why I struggled on with breastfeeding, despite hating it, despite it making me feel more and more depressed. They didn’t understand that I worried constantly about something happening to me which would separate me from this little person that I’d created.
All of this was coupled with the fact that I had to walk the half hour journey to my appointments each time. Baby Lighty was born during a baby boom, meaning that I had no home visits after the immediate after birth visit, simply because the midwives were run ragged and couldn’t physically fit in all of the community visits they would normally. Mr Lighty would therefore take the car to work, and I’d walk the half hour to appointments, feeling like a nervous wreck, worrying about whether the baby would need feeding again and how I could stop him from screaming if we bumped into anyone we knew in our small town. I look back at that newborn phase now, and the feelings of being overwhelmed by motherhood are enough to stop me from having another child.
My story is just one of many. The WI, together with the NCT, surveyed over 5,500 mostly first-time mothers as part of their Support Overdue campaign to find out how the shortage of midwives affected their care, and whilst many had a great experience, others felt disappointed and even frightened at times. By contacting their local MPs, WI members have been able to call for urgent action to stop women having to face these issues. Since the WI have been campaigning for More Midwives, there has been a renewed focus on maternity staffing in the NHS, although there is still more work to be done.
However, if there has been an improvement in care for one woman, then the campaign has been a success. Our midwives are a fantastic resource, and one which we should take great pride in and care of.
A version of this post originally appeared on the WI’s website, to read this version click here. To read more about my 15 minutes of fame in support of the Support Overdue campaign, click here, and or more information on the campaign itself, click here.