This is an odd day. My eldest child is 16 today, and it is therefore, the sixteenth anniversary of becoming a mother to a term baby: bittersweet memories vie with the present day realities leaving me feeling somewhat disorientated and bewildered.
At 8.20am, 16 years ago, after 24 hours labour: being transferred into hospital, having labour augmented, suffering agonies without anaesthesia with those synthetic contractions, giving birthing yelling in animal agony as I birthed my baby in fear and pain, facing a blank hospital wall and a drip machine because I was not important enough to be talked to face to face by the staff. That memory haunted me for many years and my body remembers, even if the joys of subsequent births have healed the wounds.
And yet despite this my baby was born miraculously calm and cheerful, she fed right away and easily and we both took to breastfeeding as ducks to water. This was the joy of motherhood for me, and it continues to be.
And then the weeks of challenge, nursing a baby learning the art of motherhood alone with a husband working away, building a new life outside of employment which had been the centre of my life up until then.
And as winter turned to spring and then to summer, I would sit in our tiny garden overlooking the park, with my tiny daughter playing at my feet, and as she grew older how I loved to sing and to read to her.
These memories partially suppressed bubbled to the surface through this day 16 years on. Sixteen years old, my child was woken by her four siblings, being sixteen years old she curled her lip at our practical present, being sixteen she had already got her birthday money out of us some days earlier, being sixteen she wanted to spend her birthday not with us but with her friends at a sleepover. And I realised I was clinging to a daughter I no longer had.
“How do you mother a teenager?” I ask the memory of a mother struggling to come to terms with her new role 16 years earlier.
And today I went to a meeting where CS rates were discussed and professionals talked of women as ‘them’ as opposed to ‘us’ the professionals. I thought this does not feel right – ‘should it not just be ‘us’?’ Was this the attitude underyling my experience of becoming an object in the hospital system 16 years ago?
And this afternoon, in another meeting I learnt that the Government has changed its mind and Maternity Services will be commissioned by GP’s. And I wanted to cry with frustration and fear. 16 years ago I had to change GPs twice to find a GP who would cover my homebirth (despite the evidence even then that supported my choice). Dr Eisner (now retired) and her practice were the only ones to really specialise in maternity care in the area. Certainly Dr Eisner was the only GP who ever turned up to one of my births – and 16 years ago she turned out at 4am and stayed with me until her surgery began – so just missing the triumph over adversity which was my first birth.
I so fear GP’s who have no interest and no committment for good birth, whose knowledge is limited and partial, taking control of the budgets and purse strings, using their power to stop the progressive investment in normality, not understanding the importance of ensuring a good start to motherhood and a good start to those little lives. GPs who care but don’t understand because in the last 20 years they have progressively handed over all the work and knowledge and experience to midwives and centralised maternity services based in hospitals.
I was so looking forward to midwives as independent professionals in partnership with their medical colleagues and service users having the chance to be part of the commissioning of the care they see as necessary for the wellbeing of women, and now we have GPs – General Practitioners being given the role – who asked for that?
I feel tonight that if we all pull together, work hard and campaign well, we might just stave off the worst – but that is no where near good enough! I want the best, the best for my daughter – my daughter who is sixteen today – not the make-do, not the maybe if we have enough staff, but the world class services that have been abolished in the new terminology of the new Government. I want my daughter to have world class midwifery and maternity care – because she deserves it and so do I!
And so today past and present collide. The personal is so painfully the political. And with bitter sweet memories, and anger borne of experience and determination borne of love, I pull on my boots, roll up my sleeves, paint my placard and light my candle in the dark.
Sisters I hope you may join me, I cannot do this alone. And tonight I feel as alone as I did all those years ago staring into the abyss of a blank hospital wall.