On Sunday 7 March hundreds of men, women and children marched from the Elephant and Castle area of London to Whitehall to deliver a petition to the Department of Health and letters to the Prime Minister.
Speakers from the National Childbirth Trust, The Royal College of Midwifery, Independent Midwives UK, Association for Improvement in the Maternity Services, and the Albany Midwifery practice spoke in support of maternity services like the Albany across the UK.
(Apologies in advance for the video quality. I was trying to feed and soothe my daughter while recording. As a result I was also not able to capture all the speakers.Â If and when better versions come online, I shall replace them! )
Prof Wendy Savage spoke about birth from an obstetric point of view. She reflected on how little things have changed in the past twenty -odd years, since the reclaiming birth march in the early 80’s. Professor Savage spoke about how birth and maternity matters are not a priority for government and will not be unless we make it one. She encouraged us to write to our Mps to prevent women in the 21st centuary going through what women in the 20th century have. She also spoke of plans to have massive maternity units for â€˜cost effective’ reasons, and how we should fight against it.
Jon Skuse from the Royal College of Midwifery spoke about their support for midwives, although the heckling from crowd members wearing â€˜I’m a midwife’ shirts would lead me to believe that there hasn’t been any evidence of this so far.
Annie Frances of Independent Midwives UK spoke out against the conveyer belt of maternity care being the only reasonable option for the majority of midwives and women today.Â IM UKÂ have a vision for women to know their midwives for that journey in to motherhood from start to finish, with the ability to make informed choices without bullying or pressure to conform.
Gail Werkmeister of the NCT highlighted the power that parents have to change things by lobbying politicians in time for the upcoming elections. She said that 25% of women are left alone and frightened during labour, 33% of women feel that they have experienced birth trauma and men in general have no idea what to do during childbirth (as evidenced by the television showÂ â€˜One Born Every Minute’.)
Belinda Phipps, also of the NCT stated our list of needs: more midwives, individual caseloads for midwives, no conveyer belt maternity units, everyone to know they can have a home birth, birth centres in every community, access for dads to post natal areas, and for women who need doctors, decently trained qualified consultants, We don’t want unnecessary caesareans to be financially beneficial to hospitals,Â but we do want the DOH to recognise birth as the start of a family, giving parents a fighting chance to have a happy start to parenthood.
I was pleased that the overall message wasn’t that homebirth is the only option, as we know that it can not always be, but that homebirth should be a choice. Birth with familiar midwives should be a choice. Birth without stress should be a choice, and informed consent should actually be true information and balanced education.
Although the objective of the march was a serious one, there was a lighter side too, with Miles Jupp and Peter Duncan performing rewritten popular songs.
The atmosphere was amazing. As my first venture in to activism of any nature, it was wonderful to see so many people peacefully gathering, respecting stewards and police and the normal London crowds. It was also very encouraging to have so many young children in the march, carrying banners and placards, chanting for choice.
I had tears well up a number of times looking at children carrying such notices as â€˜I was a homebirth baby – let me have a homebirth too’.Â I’m sure much of this is parental influence blending with childish enthusiasm, but still, at least these are young men and women thinking about childbirth outside of the sterile hospital experience in stirrups with strangers.
Someone with a video camera asked me why I was there, and my response was simple. The message on my baby’s shirt reads â€œI was born gently in to my mommy’s handsâ€ and I believe all women should have the option of a gentle birth. All women should be allowed the choice to do what they were made to do, rather than having politics and money decide what we are capable of.
After all, how far have we really come as women if our most basic differentiating factor, our ability to bear children, is manipulated, directed and controlled to suit the schedule, the pocket and the ego of others?
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