Archive for the ‘Reproductive rights’ Category

Big birthas

March 17, 2013

Have come across a new website, Big Birthas, which aims to provide information for larger mums to be.

As someone who is overweight, and was much heavier for baby two than baby one, I was worried about how this might impact my antenatal care and birth planning. Fortunately, and slightly surprisingly, my weight was never raised with me as an issue. I had expected it might be and did a fair bit of reading about high BMI and home birth before my booking appointment. But it never came up. Instead it was actually Bub’s weight (over ten pounds at birth) that put me into a higher risk category and under consultant led care..

However I can appreciate that a site like this would have been very useful when I was doing my online research into pregnancy with a higher BMI. For instance this article about water birth is really informative and relevant to many with high BMI (a friend of mine was told she couldn’t use a hospital birth pool due to her weight.)

As Big Birtha says:

Being bigger when getting pregnant is associated with greater risks, it’s true. It would be naive to ignore those risks. And when those risks do arise, extra care is needed, as with anyone experiencing problems, but Big Birtha’s perspective is that those risks have become overexaggerated, and misrepresented, and the treatment of larger women is becoming overcautious and overmedicalised as a result.

Most overweight pregnant women go on to have normal pregnancies, with no complications. And yet they are not treated accordingly; as any other normal pregnant woman, which aside from anything else, is a shame as doing so could save the NHS a fortune!

If we bigger women want to be treated normally, we need to take control of the facts and information available and fight our corner to get the births we deserve and are capable of.

Check out the site here.

Bristol’s positive birth stories

January 7, 2013

A fab new local website has just been launched. The Bristol positive birth stories website aims to create a community within which there is a culture of confidence around labour and birth. There are already a number of really lovely birth stories on the site and I believe the site has ambitious future plans to help link up mums to be with those who’ve given birth and can share their experiences.

This is all perfect timing for me. With six weeks to the due date of Bub’s little brother or sister I’m starting to get my head into gear for another birth. I’d love a second home birth and have been reading lots of birth stories recently. Finding some positive local stories is the icing on the cake!

And today is a really great day to promote the site as my own birth story first time around has just been published. Check it out on the site here.

Equalising parental leave – yes please!

October 12, 2012

Finally a Government announcement I actually welcome. I guess after two years there was bound to be at least one along sometime.

I’m talking about recent announcements on equalising the approach to maternity and paternity leave. After a compulsory two weeks off for the mum post-birth parents can decide for themselves how to split up to one year of m/paternity leave between them.

This seems to me to be the only way to begin to chip away at the pay and career differentials that beset women once they start to consider having children. As long as there is a massive potential difference between women and men’s post-baby work life there will be discrimination*.

There are also self-imposed barriers too. As someone who has had one child and is well into pregnancy number two I know this has impacted on my approach to my career. I’ve seen men at similar life stages switch jobs, take promotions and put work first in a way I never felt I could.

For me all potential job moves have had to be scrutinised for the maternity package. Any change in role had to be weighed up against the delay this would have put onto my plans for a second baby. I’m not saying any of this was or is wrong. But it’s not something that at present is ever a factor for men. And this inevitably leads to men leaping further ahead.

There are still some issues with the policy I think. No mention is given about pay. It’s vital men have equal access to m/paternity pay on the same grounds as women. Otherwise the same old patterns will remain and true choice won’t be given. And men who’s partners aren’t in work should also be eligible to take leave.

I am annoyed at the voices saying that this will have a massive impact on business. There is no more leave per baby available. It’s just going to be available on a more equal footing. I think what these people are really acknowledging is that men get recruited to roles that wouldn’t be given to women. Or at least not those women likely to have kids. So all of a sudden what a shock we’ll face if those men start to take a share of post-baby leave. These men are clearly so vital to our economy, in a way that women aren’t, that the impact would be apocalyptic. What nonsense! And what a great reason in itself to remove this additional hurdle to women’s career progression.

* I realise that there are many other barriers to women’s progression at work and that this is one issue in many. But as a pregnant woman this is very much on my mind so forgive the neglect of the other issues just now.

Access to abortion under attack (again)

July 9, 2011

A march in support of women’s access to abortion is taking place in London today.

This is in response to threats to abortion access put forward by Nadine Dorries MP and Frank Field MP.

They want to impose new counselling requirements on women seeking abortion, while simultaneously preventing abortion providers from offering pre-abortion counselling.

At present abortion providers are heavily regulated bodies whose advice, guidance and counselling provision is delivered to strict standards. However these proposals pave the way for anti-choice organisations such as LIFE and Care Confidential to become formally involved in advising women facing unplanned pregnancy.

These proposals put additional barriers in women’s way, adding to what is already likely to be a very difficult situation. And they may potentially expose women to misleading and deliberately anti-abortion messages right at the time when they most need accurate, reliable and unbiased support.

These proposals may not even be debated in parliament as it appears that the Department of Health is considering introducing these new counselling arrangements via regulatory change, rather than through legislation.

I’m really concerned about this chipping away at women’s access to safe, legal abortion. Abortion was only made legal in the UK in 1967 and is still only possible if two doctors certify that certain grounds are met. There are many safeguards and counselling is already freely available for those who wish to have it.

This change is aimed squarely at putting another hurdle in front of women, implying they can’t be trusted to make the right choice, and to give those who oppose abortion a role in their decision making.

I can’t be on the demo today but I support their actions and hope they can help show up this proposal for the thinly disguised anti-choice attack that it is.

More information on the campaign here and a good Guardian comment piece here.

America prison threat for women who miscarry

June 25, 2011

Article in the Guardian today which would’ve sent me hopping mad if it hadn’t been so incredible horrifying and plain scary.

Women in America are being jailed on murder charges following the loss of their babies. The article gives several women’s stories. One was a teenage drug addict who had a late miscarriage and is now facing a life sentence. Another made a suicide attempt which was unsuccessful but again resulted in miscarriage. She has been charged with murder. Both women in very difficult circumstances but surely what they need is help not to be tried as criminals?

The report says that “Women’s rights campaigners see the creeping criminalisation of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion, in which conservative prosecutors are chipping away at hard-won freedoms by stretching protection laws to include foetuses, in some cases from the day of conception.”

This terrifies me. It really does. Women do not transform to mere chattels for their unborn babies on conception. They should have the right to control over their bodies at all times. If they are desperate enough to be taking drugs or attempting suicide they need help, not prison! All this is likely to do is make women resist seeking assistance in the event of miscarriage which may ultimately end up in women’s deaths. But women’s health and well being never seems to matter much to those who seek to oppose abortion in all circumstances.

Breastfeeding on the increase

June 23, 2011

Good news out today that the number of mums in the UK who start breastfeeding has risen to 81%.

However there are still differences between socio-economic groups with those with least education being much less likely to start. I guess this is pretty predictable. Professional, educated women are more likely to have decent maternity leave packages. They’re more likely to attend NCT classes. They are also more likely to have friends and mothers who breastfed.

There isn’t any data on the numbers of women who start breastfeeding but, for whatever reason, stop before they might ideally have wished to.

The Government is making some cuts to breastfeeding promotion, like Breastfeeding Awareness week. Maybe there are better ways to spend this money, I don’t know. However they say that health visitors will continue to play a key role in supporting breastfeeding in new mums. I seriously hope so but in my experience their interest in and ability to support breastfeeding is pretty mixed. Speaking to friends who struggled initially to feed many of them found most help via the dedicated breastfeeding groups and networks that exist. Many of these are voluntary local groups run on a shoestring. I think they are really important and these are all now potentially at risk with the squeeze on charitable giving and local grant funding.

I just hope that this positive trend in increased breastfeeding can continue. However most importantly more needs to be done to look at why women then stop breastfeeding and whether anything could have been done to help those who’d rather continue to do so.

Happy International Women’s day!

March 8, 2011

I’ve enjoyed celebrating International Women’s Day for years, but it’s certainly taken on a different, more tangible feel since I became a mum. Lovely though motherhood is it does make many aspects of life more complicated, more expensive and more difficult all round. And this makes me especially grateful for the hard won rights women before me fought for.

Child benefit, paid maternity leave, reproductive rights, choices in birthing, help with childcare costs, flexible working, equal pay… Ok, ok, so we still have some way to go on some of these and some are being put under threat by our current government.

But it’s only be appreciating the significance of what we do have that we can act to defend and expand our precious rights.

So I was really pleased to see an article in today’s Guardian comparing the options for mothers in the UK and the US. It’s a fascinating comparison and made me, once again, so glad to be here in the UK.

“Free birth control. Considering the current Republican assault on Planned Parenthood, such a benefit would surely cause mass chaos in America, but it’s one of the many things – including generous maternity leave, childcare benefits and healthcare – that women (and their families) receive in the UK without much, if any controversy. The American right often casts these privileges as indulgent or excessive, but what is clear when you witness them up close is the profound impact they have on ordinary women throughout the course of their lives, giving them choices that American women rarely get.”

For example, for women in the US, maternity leave is limited to a 12-week entitlement without pay. And this is only if your company is of a certain size. What??!? At twelve weeks Bub was still exclusively breastfed and waking every two hours all night. I guess I could have gone back to work if I’d absolutely had to but the personal sacrifice for both of us would have been enormous. No wonder so many of the great American mummy blogs I read feature stay at home mums. It’s clearly all but impossible to balance work and family there.

So here’s to IWD. A great time to remember and be thankful for what we have. But also a time to keep vigilant as we need to keep these rights for ourselves and our daughters.

In defence of home birth

August 23, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write for a while about the recent media stories about the safety of home birth for babies and mothers.  There was much media coverage and discussion at the time (1, 2) much of it not as measured as the original Lancet story

My gut instinct is that it makes little sense to compare data on home birth from a range of different countries, especially not the US and UK. The healthcare system in the US is so different to here I imagine it’s almost impossible to meaningfully collate statistics across the two countries.

In the UK women can opt for home or hospital birth without thought of the financial cost. We are fortunate enough not to have to worry about hospital bills running into the thousands when we make our decision.  When I chose to have a home birth it was following full NHS antenatal support and advice. I was safe in the knowledge that my (two!) midwives would be NHS trained and that the system would be seamless should I choose or need to go into hospital at any point. I can imagine that many women choosing home birth in America are not so fortunate, perhaps having had no access to any medical care during their pregnancy and without such a straightforward option to ‘go medical’ if required during labour. In fact I’ve just seen that in some of the US you are restricted from having your home birth attended at all – this must massively increase the risk to mother and baby should they go ahead with birth at home. More evidence of how meaningless it is to compare the UK and US position on home births.

However, fortunately I don’t have to delve into the murky world of statistics and counter-statistics as someone else has written a great article in defence of home birth instead. Sali Hughes in the Guardian writes that:

In fact, the safety statistics for planned home births are very good. Official government guidelines state that planned home birth is “at least as safe as hospital delivery”. The key word here is “planned”, because all too often home births are lumped together. This is one of the Royal College of Midwives‘ chief complaints about recent reports by doctors in the US (where midwives as we know them don’t exist) in The Lancet, claiming that “home birth” is more likely to result in infant mortality. This is simply not true of “planned home birth”. For example, a woman who goes into spontaneous labour at 34 weeks while standing in her kitchen is better off in hospital. Ditto teenage girls, who either don’t realise or ignore that they’re pregnant and end up giving birth in their bedrooms, women who have very fast labours, where transfer is out of the question, or those who choose to birth without any medical assistance (an entirely different practice known as freebirthing). These cases are often placed under the same umbrella as my methodically planned home births, to misleading and damaging effect. For clarity’s sake, planned home birth is organised in conjunction with your GP and local midwife team, and ultimately signed off by a consultant obstetrician if there are any irregularities.

I really like this article. I like that she isn’t judgemental about the choice between home or hospital – it’s  just what was right for her. And I like that she emphasises how integrated British home birth is with the established medical system. And I really like her defense of NHS funding and support for home birth as an option for all women.

If you’re interested in home birth I’d recommend reading Sali’s article (and the comments too if you want to be both elated and depressed in quick succession!) You might also enjoy reading our home birth story.

Abortion and IVF

June 7, 2010

Lois Rogers writes in the Times about the apparent ‘Scandal of aborted IVF babies.’ I hadn’t intended for my first post to be about abortion, but this article has annoyed me a great deal.

Firstly though, to nail my colours to the mast – I am strongly pro-choice on abortion. I have long believed that women should have the right to choose whether to continue with a pregnancy and believe that only the individual woman is in a position to make that decision. In my twenties I did voluntary work for pro-choice organisations in the UK and whilst I wondered if being pregnant myself might change my views it actually strengthened them. Before being pregnant I had no idea of the sheer physical impact a pregnancy can have, even in the very early stages. I can’t imagine the pressure of an unwanted pregnancy both physically and emotionally and believe it incredibly cruel to make a women continue with this any longer than she wishes. As soon as possible, as late as necessary etc etc. So that’s me, pretty firmly in the pro-choice camp then.

Now the IVF issue. It took us over 18 heartbreaking months to conceive our little boy and during this time we sought fertility help from the NHS. The service we received was excellent, but it wasn’t quick. We waited four months from initial GP approach to our first consultation at the fertility clinic, and then another four months for our first treatment. We didn’t need to go down the IVF route but I read enough testimony to be aware of how physically, emotionally and financially gruelling it is. I’m sure IVF isn’t something that any couple enters into lightly or if they have any other choice to conceive their child.

So my main issue with this article is its assumption that IVF and abortion are taken lightly by women. That women can just swan into a clinic and get IVF at the drop of a hat, and then – oops, I’ve changed my mind – go grab a lunchtime abortion. The wheels of the NHS and people’s lives just don’t work like that!

Whilst we can’t possibly know what has prompted women to seek an abortion following IVF, we can pretty safely say that neither choice has been taken lightly. Whatever has changed in their circumstances they didn’t foresee an abortion at the end of their IVF journey. At some point this was a wanted child and the circumstances that might lead to a women choosing an abortion at this time are likely to be complex and agonising. Describing them as having ‘changed their minds’ and making a ‘social decision’ is a disgraceful dismissal of what is no doubt one of the most serious decisions any woman may take.


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