Today, the picture is even more grim, not only in Uganda but in many other countries. According to the World Health Organisation, and the World Bank, 1,600 women die in pregnancy and childbirth daily across the world. It is the equivalent of a Titanic sinking every day. In the UK, only one women in 5,300 dies through complications in childbirth. One of the reasons for this (besides wealth inequality which is growing all the time in this so called globalised world) is that medical intervention is available to all of us and it is free and mostly excellent.
This is why I find the whitterings of organisations like the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) so irritating. Ever since the Seventies, there has been an orchestrated campaign by such organisations and childbirth gurus like Sheila Kitzinger to romanticise natural childbirth and to attack the medical establishment as hostile to the rights of mothers who all apparently want to dance in the meadows with daisies in their hair, mugs of elderberry tea in their hands, and then squat somewhere nice to bring baby into the world. Only every time they are found doing this vile men in white coats take them away to hospital wards and cut them open so that the children are born within office hours.
This campaign has even succeeded in influencing the Department of Health and local health authorities and trusts. Women in this country have been encouraged to fear hospitals and highly qualified staff, except midwives who are all lovely and without fault. This is absurd. Without doctors, surgeons and nurses to provide essential care when crises arise - and they do frequently and unexpectedly even for women born to breed - what we call natural childbirth would be unsustainable.
Third World people like me, remain enormously grateful to the British medical professionals for the way they have succeeded in making childbirth an almost risk-free activity. I have had two children 16 years apart. Both were complicated deliveries and in both cases I chose - like many other black and Asian women - to suffer as little pain and complication as possible. Perhaps this is why the NCT remains white and middle class, much favoured by the folk of Sussex and Norfolk. Yes, good midwives can do the job well and to the satisfaction of all. But for many of us, childbirth is a difficult and dangerous process and we need all the help we can get.
And yet the very people who provide it are treated with increasing disrespect. Now we have another whinge. New NCT research has indicated that 50 per cent of doctors oppose home births. They still tell women that home births are dangerous and "insist on making their own choice regarding maternity care". The NCT press officer told me that women were being "coerced" into making decisions they did not agree with. I am sure there are some authoritarian doctors who are indifferent to what patients want. But 50 per cent?
Could it be that in many cases it is genuine concern which makes GPs reluctant to support home birth? With increasing numbers of law suits against doctors can you really blame them for not wishing to take undue risks with their patients? The NCT tells me that when the situation is "normal" home births can be safer than hospital births. Well what is normal? And who does not know a story where a normal pregnancy turned very rapidly and frighteningly to abnormal? And do they care about the fact that thousands of women now feel failures because they had to have intervention and therefore feel themselves to be imperfect mothers?
And this business of choice is also problematic. Many NCT graduates go forth armed with extraordinary expectations which can only end in tears. When I was at Queen Charlotte's having my daughter, one fundamentalist couple had written instructions on their birth plan that even if the mother screamed and begged for it, no pain relief was to be administered. Another mother was inconsolable because she had to have an episiotomy and then found it impossible to breast feed.
I think it is great that so many women give birth easily and flow joyously with milk. But please don't assume that all women are like that and stop maligning the people who by their very existence make sure that we are all, natural and unnatural mothers, equally protected from harm.
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