Thursday 25 May 2017

When the experts give birth

Ever wondered what giving birth is like for the professionals? Three mums who work in the childbirth field reveal how having their own babies affected their attitudes

Obstetrician Clíona Murphy
Obstetrician Clíona Murphy

CHILDBIRTH can be a shock. It doesn't matter how many books you read, or how many horror stories or good birth tales you are told. When your own time comes, you can find yourself floundering.

But what if you work in the childbirth field? We talked to three professionals to find out how their own experience of birth, and the weeks beyond, affected them and the way they view their careers.

The obstetrician Clíona Murphy gave birth to her first son, Luke, nine years ago. She was a surgeon at the time, about to transfer into obstetrics.

“I wasn't trained at that stage but I thought I knew something about it,” she says. “My waters broke and I was thinking, ‘This is great. I will have the child very quickly.' “I went into hospital one night, and had Luke at 9pm the next evening. That seemed really long to us, though now I realise it's normal.

“I wasn't prepared, though, for the responsibility of a new child. My attitude was, ‘He is crying for three hours, what is wrong with him?' “It made me aware that women need good support after birth. I talk to mums about that. I ask whether they have support and if their husband is taking time off work. You don't discharge someone without asking.

“You don't need to be a mother to be a good obstetrician, but I hope it has given me empathy. As a mum, you can put yourself in their shoes. We have patients who stay in for four weeks before delivery. I am able to connect with them, and to realise that, as a mum, it is a difficult thing to do.

“There is a big myth out there that doctors want to be involved, and want to be delivering babies by forceps or Caesarean section. Ideally, though, we don't intervene with a woman in labour. We go round and say ‘hello,' so that if we are required later, they have at least seen our faces.

“I've realised, though, that you have to be a bit flexible. With childbirth you cannot plan. What you would like and what may happen are not necessarily the same thing. The birth experience is important, but a healthy mum and baby is what really matters.”

Andrew's birth seven years ago was straightforward. Clíona had a planned induction and an epidural, making for a pain-free labour. When she went into labour with her third child, Stephen, three years ago, it was another easy experience.

“I remember thinking, ‘I am not ready for this' when the pain kicked in,” says Clíona. “My husband, who is an anaesthetist, said he thought, ‘Here is my wife, an obstetrician, and she is saying she's not ready for this?'

“We do have women looking for an epidural when they are close to having the baby. “Obstetricians have a tendency to say, ‘you don't need it.' I have a certain sympathy.”

The antenatal teacher: ‘I really didn’t want him born in a hospital’

MUM-OF-THREE Kathy Cleere started out as a high-flyer at an advertising agency in London. “I loved my job,” she says.

“I worked as PA to a director but just after I was promoted I had my first baby, Thomas, now 12. “I'd gone to National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes but I went into labour early – the night of the last class. I forgot everything I'd been taught. I remember being told to cover up and have some dignity.

“I was given two Panadol and two sleeping tablets. They sent my husband home for some sleep and I was left alone rocking on a bed.

“In the morning, they said I could have an epidural but it was too late. I was ready to push. I was on my back for two-and-a-half hours. I had a drip and some stitches. It was hard.”

Two years later, Joshua was born at the same hospital but things were very different the second time around. “I was lucky. I got the hospital's only birthing pool and the labour was lovely.

“It was such an amazing experience that it gave me a passion for birth. When we moved to Ireland, I trained as an antenatal teacher with Cuidiú (the Irish national childbirth trust).

“I loved teaching women. Then I trained in baby massage and pregnancy yoga. I've been teaching yoga for the past three years. And now, at 44, I'm training to be a midwife.”

Meanwhile, Kathy has given birth to a third son, Daniel, now four.

“Having a baby after you've been a teacher is very different,” she says. “I knew so much more. I really didn't want him born in hospital, so I hired an independent midwife. It was lovely having my antenatal appointments at home. “I'm training through Trinity College Dublin in an Obstetric unit that is very machinery led.

“Some women want drugs and epidurals, and that is fine, but I want to better facilitate those women who do not. I can't change the system, but I can make it better for the women I am with.

“I'd like, eventually, to work in a birth centre, or to become independent.

“I want to empower women to trust their bodies and to have belief in themselves. For me, midwifery is about helping people to get through the maze of birth in the best way they can.”

The midwife: ‘I felt confident in labour’

JULIE Higgins was already a qualified midwife when her first child, Aoife, was born in 1989.

“I trained in England. I had Aoife in the hospital where I worked and that made it easier. I was looked after by people I knew – those I had huge confidence and trust in.

“Where I trained there was no epidural service. I was induced, and used a TENS machine for the pain. It was an easy experience. When Darragh was born two years later, it was a long labour. I got tired but I had no fear. Again, I was looked after by people I knew.

“Having Cian in Ireland nine years ago was completely different. I didn’t know the system. In England, I was looked after by a midwife all the time. You only see a doctor if you need to. In Ireland I saw an obstetrician at every visit. When I went into hospital, I didn’t know anybody.

“In 2003, I started working again. I worked as an agency midwife, so I could see how all the Dublin hospitals worked. I felt that education was lacking in Ireland, and the reason I’d felt confident in labour was because I understood it. So I started up private antenatal classes.

“You have to give birth yourself. The midwife is just there to help. If you are educated and know what may happen, you will be less afraid in hospital.”

Last year, Julie started work as a community midwife at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. Since having her own children, Julie is aware that women need support after birth as well.

“Motherhood has changed me,” she says. “Women in Ireland get great antenatal care and great care during labour, but then they are handed their baby and told to get on with it.

“I spend as much time teaching about the early days as about birth. It can be a heck of a shock.”

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