How I discovered that giving birth is a precarious business

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I thought I was prepared for the birth of my first child in April last year at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. But the labour was difficult and I had an emergency caesarean.

I thought I was prepared for the birth of my first child in April last year at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. But the labour was difficult and I had an emergency caesarean.

At the time I thanked the hospital for saving my son's life. I am still grateful for that but now I also suspect the hospital may have helped create the crisis. My views changed after I investigated the state of our maternity services for a forthcoming Channel 4 current affairs programme.

I proposed the idea after talking to a close friend who is a highly experienced and well-trained midwife but who is leaving the service as she can't cope with the stresses of an under-resourced and over-medicalised system. She felt she was regularly seeing lives placed at what she believed was unacceptable risk.

After talking to top midwives, obstetricians and childbirth organisations I realised that staff shortages were linked to other factors, such as increased medical interventions, the rise in caesareans, and, in the worst scenarios, cases where babies had had some degree of oxygen deprivation. Poor birth experience was in turn linked to women suffering profound birth trauma, and these cases are believed to be on the increase.

Meanwhile the public and, most worryingly, expectant mothers, remained largely ignorant of the cracks in the system. But what really made me look at my own birth experience again was the distressing news that a friend had lost her baby son after a labour that was remarkably similar to my own, but at a different hospital. It was brought home to me that my suppressed fear that my son's birth had been precarious might be closer to the mark than I thought.

I spent all of my labour in hospital; after 15 hours they thought I had been "going a bit long" and my alarmingly young midwife went off to consult the registrar and returned with the recommendation I should be hooked up to a hormone drip. She did not suggest I walk around to see if that strengthened contractions (which often works) and she did not tell me that the hormone drip can adversely affect the baby.

I wonder why the midwife in charge did not tell me of the risks that are associated with the hormone drip. I now find that, time and time again, women who talk about traumatic births and feeling "out of control" cite very similar circumstances to those of mine.

'30 Minutes: The Truth About Childbirth', Channel 4, 6pm, Saturday 29 January

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