We All Bleed Red

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They say with every cloud…there’s a silver lining. Well my grey cloud was lined with silver and gold and just kept giving.

My previous blog post outlined some of the challenges I faced during my third pregnancy. A combination of undiluted discrimination, and physiological challenges, which mainly manifested in pelvic girdle pain and a frightening unexplained extensive period of bleeding during my second trimester. Unfortunately the treatment I received from medical professions was eye wateringly unacceptable, painful, distressing and completely unimaginable. Covid has not only levied more pressure on the NHS and its finite resource pool, but also quietly permitted some professionals to take leave of compassion and play roulette with application of their duty of care. As a black female I have felt mistreated, unheard and experienced a shocking level of exposed vulnerability with no recourse. Following a lengthy letter of complaint to the hospital and still no concrete outcome or lessons learned, the one step the medical trust initiated because of their failings was to ensure I was supported by a team of midwives called the Lotus Team.

The Lotus team support Oxfordshire women and families with a variety of complex needs and provides access to one-to-one holistic midwifery care across all settings. They aim to improve outcomes and experiences for women and their babies and are part of the maternity services’ ambition of a known midwife for all aspects of care and provides continuity whilst developing relationships with the women under their caseload. The Lotus Team is part of a variety of measures to help provide individualised care to Oxford’s most vulnerable women as part of the national strategies to address health inequalities across maternity services and reduce neonatal and maternal mortality.

As a result of the mistreatment I experienced I was essentially gifted a doula on the NHS. And what a gift she was… A quirky, mildly eccentric midwife full of love and compassion. Her priority was to ensure I felt safe and this mantra was at the forefront of every decision she made.

Despite having adult children and a successful background in the corporate world, she decided to retrain and become a midwife 2 years ago. What an inspirational and bold move. Re-emphasisinig that its never too late to pursue your dreams and doing so may provide the piece to someone else’s puzzle they may never have been able to complete if you don’t take that step. We met during the pandemic, so I’ll refer to her as my masked angel at times, as I don’t know what she looks like without a mask!

She asked and never assumed, she waited, she listened, she quietly observed me and got to know me even in the handful of encounters we had before my labour day. She understood why I had been referred to her team, although we never spoke of the detail, she presented her unwavering support to me at every visit, in every phone call, through ever text message. She slowly and unwittingly established a trusting and safe rapport with me. She spoke with gentle confidence and encouraged me to consider my options. For the first time in years, and after 2 previous pregnancies, someone asked me what I wanted. Someone cared that I had a preference, and they were willing to listen and consider how to make that a reality for me. I was no longer powerless or insignificant, or a mute pawn. I was a woman with wants and needs and fears, and hopes and someone was finally listening.

I have a history of relatively quick labours and felt some anxiety at the thought of misreading the signs of labour and potentially having my baby on the hard shoulder en route to the hospital. Because of the amazing continuity of care, my midwife knew me well enough to know when my situation had changed. I was hesitant and unsure about labour signs and whether to call her, but knew my body had changed, and she believed me without hesitation and decisively told me to meet her at the hospital.

Part of my birth guide was a request for a water birth if the pool was available. My masked angel found an available room, got me comfortable and secure and told me that I would deliver my baby myself today. I don’t think I quite digested her words or really comprehended what she was saying. But she gave me a safe space to deliver my baby girl and told me to reach down and lift her out of the water.

It was the most beautiful and life changing experience. I didn’t have to push, I felt relaxed and safe and as I breathed deeply, the fetal ejection reflex took over and my daughter arrived. I could not have asked for a better experience. Following the hurt and painful memories I held previously, what a beautiful chapter to close my birth stories. Facilitated by support, care, love and empathy. Every woman deserves to be heard, supported, to feel safe and for their vulnerability to be protected. Every woman deserves the reassurance, the comfort and the care that I received, and this should not be dependent on their skin colour. No woman ever forgets their birth story, some remember with pride and some with pain, fear and anxiety. Whilst no one can determine how labour will unfold, there are so many ways that we can mitigate the trauma that some experience as a result of their birth stories. This trauma often cascades affecting the family as a whole.

Channel 4 aired a documentary on Monday called “The Black Maternity Scandal” giving an insight into the mortality rates of black women during pregnancy and childbirth.

What stood out most poignantly for me was the reference to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report entitled - Black people, racism and human rights. It states in the report;

Despite the stark finding from this data that Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women the report contains no recommendation specifically aimed at reducing that disparity, although it does commit to further research on its causation. The 2018 report noted the issue but merely concluded action is needed to address these disparities.

Nadine Dorries, the minister for maternity, also declined to be interviewed for the programme further reinforcing the government’s disregard, lack of commitment and inability to respond to the large racist elephant in the room.

The quiet cynic in me resents the need to be advocated for, to be listened to via a lotus midwife. Is my voice not loud enough, strong enough, relevant enough, important enough? I shouldn’t need the representation of a white impartial midwife to be heard. But if that’s what it takes to be heard and to survive then i’ll take that for now. But this isn’t the answer. We need real systemic, grass roots change. Black women deserve to be heard, for the narrative to change, for the statistics to matter. The last consideration any woman wants to face is being confronted with her mortality and the real prospect that what began with such hope could end so painfully simply because of her race. I’m one of the near misses, the unrecorded data that would undoubtedly send an even more alarming message about the value we place on women of colour, because I know I’m not alone. The streets unfortunately are lined with near misses, littered with stories, with trauma so many would rather forget. Those who can tell their stories despite the pain and scars, are seemingly the lucky ones…. still here, survivors. We stand for those who are too traumatised to speak and those no longer here to fight. We want answers, and we deserve change. We are life givers, let us live ours, without fear of losing at one of the most precious times of our lives.

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