This morning, Womans Hour was guest hosted by Kirstie Allsopp. She chose to devote the entire programme to discussing childbirth and why many women don't have the birth they had planned. Her guests included Belinda Phipps, CEO of the NCT, an organisation Allsopp has been (very) critical of in the past.
It was actually all very civilised at 10am on Radio 4, I'd been expecting crochet hooks at dawn* and to be honest I was a little disappointed. But when I listened to the podcast this evening, with the advantage of a glass of wine and on-going sleep deprivation, I was overwhelmed by the need to post ranty tweets. Unfortunately after adding @anyonewhomightlisten, even if I broke every rule of the English language, I was out of space. So I'm ranting here again, it's about time anyway.
There were a few things that bugged me, but here's the biggy: When Phipps was being quizzed about how supportive the NCT were of caesarean birth, she stated that there was: "an awful lot on the (NCT) website"
Really? Not the last time I looked but perhaps I'm being unfair. So I went to the NCT website and I searched for articles and pages about caesareans, out of interest I also searched for "home birth" (" "is there for the search term).
Now, bear in mind that around 1/4 of UK births are by c-section and about 2% happen at home. Also, note that Phipps said during the programme that the NCT was a charity for parents, driven to support whatever it was that parents needed. On that basis you'd expect "an awful lot" of information about caesareans and a bit about home birth. Here's what I got:
Number of articles/pages mentioning search term:
Home birth 56
Number of articles/pages specifically/solely dealing with search term:
Home birth 10 (actually it may have been more, I got bored going through the list after that)
On it's own that's not great, of course there should be articles on there about home birth but when more then ten times as many births happen in the operating theatre, shouldn't a charity driven by parents reflect this?
When I took a look at the c-section articles I was even more disappointed. One went through what happens during the surgery, good good, but here are the other two:
Reasons for Caesarean Birth includes information on choosing not to have a C-section when one has been recommended, eg for a breech baby, or foetal distress. Of course woman shouldn't just blindly do what the man in the white coat tells them, but there are good reasons for suggesting surgery in those situations and that isn't really acknowledged in the article (doctors don't tend to suggest major surgery just for a giggle). Also, I don't see any pages offering support to women who want a C-section but are being refused one.
Giving birth by caesarean section: elective and emergency caesareans has a whole section on the risks of surgery, but nothing on the benefits, like, for example, there are a whole lot of people in the world who aren't dead because of c-sections, that sort of thing.
In addition there is a whole page about choosing a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) but I can't find anything devoted to opting for an elective C-section in those circumstances. Then there's a page entitled, rather disdainfully: "Other modes of birth" which links to a helpful information leaflet about caesareans which urges you to "Know your rights. Protect yourself. Protect your baby" then moves on to state that "experts agree" that too many women have c-sections and that vaginal birth is "much safer". Hardly balanced, or indeed factually accurate.
Oh, and there is the press release (found on a different search) about the NICE caesarean guidelines issued in 2011. The NCT charity who supports all parents choices were "glad" that the new guidance "does not suggest that caesarean should be offered as an option to all"
Phipps did her best to convince listeners that the NCT is a charity for all parents, for those who dream of giving birth at home and those who, through choice or necessity, end up under the knife. No judgement, no right or wrong. Sadly that isn't backed up by the information on the charity's website. Claiming to speak for everyone, while providing only limited and often negative information on an issue effecting 24% of births just doesn't seem right to me. We need an organisation to stand up for parents at one of the most vulnerable and emotional times in our lives, but for many or us, the NCT just isn't doing that right now. I hope Kirstie Allsopp and others will continue to put pressure on them to become all that they claim to be.
*Actually, sorry about the crochet hooks comment - every women reading this who's had her waters broken for her just squeezed her knees together a bit...
A couple of other points from the programme:
BBC health correspondant Jane Draper, stated that the World Health Organisation recommend a Caesarean rate of no more than 15%. The WHO dropped this recommendation in 2010, acknowledging that it wasn't based on any actual evidence.
When asked about problems arising in labour Phipps agreed that things can go wrong: " I mean hospitals can't always provide a one to one midwife and all of that sort of stuff" but failed to mention that the sheer physical lunacy of human reproduction may occasionally play a part too.
And a couple more positive notes to end on:
Zoe Pen (Obstetrician) said: Most births are normal but not everything is controllable. If you and the baby are ok why is that not considered a success?
Christine Hill (Author and former childbirth educator - with a deliciously posh voice) - "you can not have a baby without a sense of humour.. its all too grizzly"