Protecting human rights in childbirth

BLOG: Second birth partners – why does it matter to women/birthing people?

Today we hear from Birth and Postnatal Doula, Carla, trained by BirthBliss Academy and her client Kitty about their experience of navigating NHS maternity care, during the pandemic. The experience of being told slightly different things by different staff members, and that nagging fear that you might not be allowed something that is really important to you, even when it has been agreed it in advance, was a familiar theme of enquiries coming into our advice line over the past year. Many Trusts have made exceptions to allow second birth partners over the past year. This flexible and individualised approach is what the law requires but it is still a restriction on individuals’ rights and should only remain in place if it can be justified.  A clear and public policy of welcoming additional birth partners is greatly preferable as it removes uncertainty and reduces anxiety. 

My client, Kitty, had planned a home birth and was very clear all along with her NHS Trust that she had booked a doula.  This was welcomed by the homebirth midwife who invited me to attend several meetings alongside my client, which I did.  As the pregnancy progressed there were concerns about the baby being small.  These concerns were not shared by my client as she is very slight, her partner was very small when he was born, she had family who were small babies, and her baby was very active, and the placenta was fine when tested.  However, in the end Kitty agreed to an induction with the explicit agreement that I could be present.  She received this confirmed in writing.   

Kitty and her partner arrived at the hospital early in the morning for her induction of labour. I drove down to the hospital that night to be told I wasn’t to be allowed in yet.  Together with my clients, we decided over the phone that it would be good if they both got some sleep and I agreed to return and sit outside the hospital at 6am the next morning.  I let Kitty know when I was there, and the staff now said I could come in once my client’s waters were broken. This took place as the induction was progressing but once again, I was still not allowed in to support Kitty and her partner. In the end, I entered the hospital and messaged Kitty that I had arrived and she told me come on in.  When I first saw Kitty, she was smiling but bouncing on her birthing ball extremely fast and was telling me about how they had been forced to lose their temper with the staff and get really angry in order for me to be able to join them.  

I suggested to them to spend a couple of hours without any intervention or acceleration, just to give Kitty’s body time to adjust to the waters having been broken, to practice her hypnobirthing and get into a good space. We could then see if her body would continue labouring without further interventions.  They agreed that this would be a good idea and together we requested that the medical staff left the room, which they did.  I helped them both to practice massage, to listen to their hypnobirthing tapes whilst cuddling and resting. I arrange some fairy lights, electric candles and shut the blinds, and I also put some frankincense on a cloth over her shoulder. Within an hour Kitty had a good cry to release tension and got herself into a beautiful, slow rhythm of breathing. She was getting regular contractions, and this was how her labour continued to progress.  Kitty did agree to the syntocinon drip but coped very well with it with her partners and my support. 

I truly believe Kitty would have had a traumatic experience if she hadn’t been given the time to become calm and get into her bubble, and she has come away from the experience feeling incredibly proud and happy with herself.  This has translated into Kitty really enjoying her new parent status, and her partner also felt incredibly empowered because he was able to be a really strong and caring birth partner. 

Kitty says: “When agreeing to be induced, we made an arrangement with the hospital that our doula, Carla, would be allowed to be with me and my partner ‘during labour and the birth’ and we had this in writing from my midwife. She had also said to me we would be allowed to have Carla with us the entire time.  It was absolutely essential to us that we had Carla with us if I was to agree to being induced in hospital. We were put into an observations room for the day before going into the delivery room and whilst in there, had various midwives come in and inform us we wouldn’t be allowed our doula until I was in ‘established labour, 4cm.’ This really stressed us out. I requested to see the email that stated that it was only allowed when I was 4cm and they kept putting off showing me the email. I said the whole point was that Carla was with us when I felt I needed her, whether that be 0cm or 7cm. Eventually after 6 hours they made the relevant calls and agreed we could have Carla with us whenever we needed her, which ended up being as soon as my waters were broken. I’m glad we stood our ground, for a while it was looking like they were going to refuse her entry. And thank goodness Carla was with us early as I went from 4cm to pushing in no time at all.” 

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