I don't like this photograph. It actually depicts the worst possible scenario. That is, a labouring mother flat on her back, vulnerable with her legs wide open. The midwives hold the power. As a midwife this is certainly not how I want my profession to be represented.
I imagine that the photo was taken to attract media attention, to draw potential viewers to the BBC TV programme it is associated with...and there will be those who don't notice the image particularly. But there is a message in the pose that has the potential to negatively influence society, and childbearing women. As the documentary programmes have too....ITV's One Born Every Minute, and BBC's The Midwives.
I have to admit that I always avoid watching TV documentaries about maternity services. My decision stems from the fact that I can’t bear to watch poor midwifery or obstetric practice without the ability to influence, and I think the intimate moment of a baby’s birth should take place in a private ‘space’ where the woman feels safe and protected. It certainly isn’t the place for TV cameras, even those that are hidden.
Childbirth is important for humanity, and the ultimate aim of maternity care workers is to ensure women have a positive childbirth experience. When women are in labour the hormones that aid the birth process are heavily influenced by the environment she is in. Michel Odent, a highly acclaimed French obstetrician gives his expert opinion; one which I fully support after observing childbirth first hand for 35 years. He said:
The best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labor but an experienced midwife or doula – an experienced mother figure who is there, and who can remain silent. Silence is a basic need for a woman in labor. Privacy is another basic need. Michel Odent
So that's a big enough reason not to have cameras in the birth room that broadcast private and intimate moments to millions, with no control over who watches.
And then there's the issue of editing. The producers want to draw viewers in with drama...and the drama is having the desired effect and the viewing is said to be 'compelling'...but what else is happening?
Globally, we are in a situation where women are becoming increasingly afraid of childbirth and unsure of their ability to give birth without medical assistance. There are lots of factors that influence this position, and the media play a huge part.
As a Facebook and Twitter user I have read so many comments in response to the midwifery documentary programmes, from mothers, women, midwives and student midwives. The comments mostly demonstrate the fact that the content of the programmes have stimulated fear. Some midwives, whilst acknowledging the scary and distressing scenes highlighting their colleagues 'under pressure', believe it to be good as it raises the issue of the shortage of midwives nationally. But should this be at the expense of those potentially and actually using maternity services?
Let's read the comments.
There is a gruesomeness to childbirth TV that I find partly compelling and mildly horrifying. I understand that births where nothing goes wrong don’t make for exciting enough footage but, as a childless, slightly broody 31 year-old, I found some of the scenes pretty harrowing, and had to watch with my fingers over my eyes. There were complications with almost every birth – is this the BBC’s attempt to keep that soaring birth rate down? If so, it’s certainly worked on me…
One tweet from a student midwife said that she was scared to go on her next shift following the programme....
'It seems such a shame they always show midwives shouting at women, calling them good girls, or do the 'silent midwives' not want to be on TV…'
Facebook (taken from One Born Every Minute-the truth page)
'I watched it last night and couldn't believe the triage midwife with the short blonde hair telling the soon to be mother of 5 that she was definitely not in labour. It was her fifth baby, she knew her own body!! I wanted to shout at the telly. I was so smug when the labouring woman progressed quickly and birthed not long after that. I did not like that midwife's manner at all, and she only seemed to get worse throughout the programme..'
'I am 21 weeks pregnant with my third baby, and watched the first programme last night. Honestly, despite having been very lucky both other times, it has left me petrified. Must get a sense of perspective....'
Oh dear. How to demoralise women.
We really need to turn the tide. In addition to #moremidwives we need some positive media....positive stories to raise the bar. What do you think?
P.S. On the contrary, I LOVED Call the Midwife. Quite different.