Protecting human rights in childbirth

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BLOG: International Day of the Midwife 2022

Consultant midwife and Birthrights Associate Trainer Alice’s story

I am honoured to have been asked to write this blog for Birthrights, and to be a Birthrights Associate Trainer. I have long admired their work, and share their inclusive values and approach, promoting rights for everyone who is pregnant including women, trans men, non-binary and other non gender-confirming people.

I came to Midwifery in my early 20s, after reading about the Albany midwives and feeling inspired to join such a privileged and worthwhile profession. The Albany may have gone, but I am extremely lucky to have known and worked alongside one of their midwives, who inspired me to be a real voice and advocate for women and who made me think that just maybe, I could be a Consultant Midwife one day. Sometimes I still can’t believe that one day is today, and I know I am incredibly lucky to hold the position I do. I am currently one of only two Consultant Midwives in Scotland; we are waiting for a third to start in post following the retirement of a longstanding colleague. I worked in London for ten years prior to this role, so it has been an adjustment to move to Scotland and to help define a role which only exists in two other health boards. I am hopeful that the role will be re-introduced across Scotland over the coming years. I feel it is such an important role in advocating for women, and for maintaining a midwifery voice in an increasingly obstetric and intervention led maternity system.

I wanted to work with Birthrights as their values so closely align with my own. I believe completely in a woman’s right to choose the care she receives, and that women should always be the primary decision makers in their care. It should never be our goal to achieve compliance by coercion; our role is to provide balanced information about the pros and cons of all the available options and to enable women to make the decision which is best for them and their baby. In my experience, this can get lost along the way when a woman chooses something which sits outside of guidance. Midwives and obstetricians alike assume that women don’t understand the risks of their decisions, rather than accepting that each woman has a different level of “comfortable risk”, even if that is outside of our own comfort zone. Often women can feel bullied and disengage from care entirely, which is surely worse than culturing a mutually respectful relationship, whereby the woman trusts us to work with her and to support her in achieving the best birth experience possible? It doesn’t mean blindly saying “yes” to anything, but it does mean opening up the conversation and exploring each woman’s individual values and why something which is so important to one person, might not matter at all to someone else. We must always be mindful not to make assumptions, nor to project our own values and beliefs onto those we care for.

I genuinely love my job and I still feel passionate about midwifery, and proud to call myself a midwife. It is such an important role and one we must fight to protect; I am hopeful that this International Day of the Midwife reminds midwives why we do what we do, and the unique place we hold in the most important time of many women’s lives.  

Do you work with pregnant women and birthing people?

Our training equips doctors, midwives and other birth workers with knowledge of the law and human rights principles, an understanding of how to apply it in practice, and the ability to communicate effectively with women and birthing people in a way that upholds their human rights. We offer a 10% discount to multidisciplinary teams.

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