Sunday, March 26, 2006

Kerre Woodham: Giving birth is a risky business

Most new mothers start off believing they'll have a straightforward, natural delivery to the accompaniment of parping dolphins and the soothing chimes of Tibetan temple bells.

Oh, sure, there are some craven souls who think their fannies are there as men's rumpus rooms, rather than birthing canals, and who will insist on caesareans so they stay bright, tight and real. But for most of us, those living in the real world, we approach pregnancy and childbirth as we would an exam. We want to do it well, we don't want to cheat. We want to pass with flying colours.

Buckets of raspberry leaf tea are drunk and sweet-smelling unguents rubbed into those hard-to-reach places to ensure the birthing process is smooth and straightforward. But you can't, as the Rolling Stones put it, always get what you want.

A stroll through any old cemetery provides evidence that there's nothing natural about childbirth. Things go wrong, and although medical intervention in this day and age has helped to minimise infant and maternal mortality, mothers and babies die even in the 21st century.

Which is why the Jennifer Crawshaw case is so extraordinary. This week a jury found her not guilty of manslaughter and there was some pursed-lip mutterings from the midwifery council that the case should never have gone to court. The police defended their decision saying their expert legal and medical advice was that there was a serious departure from the care one would expect from a health professional and that as a consequence, a child died.

For the College of Midwives and Crawshaw's lawyer to claim that because the parents hadn't complained, the police shouldn't have investigated, is patently absurd. The only question I have of the police is why the parents weren't up in the dock with Crawshaw.

The mother was so determined to have a natural birth that she overrode the concerns of her midwife and doctors. Her half-baked notions of how a birth should be were more important to her than her child's life. I find that incomprehensible.

Crawshaw's comment that the dead baby was a loved and beautiful little girl whose passing was one of life's true tragedies, is unctuous waffle. Her passing, as Crawshaw put it, could have been avoided if the mother had diverted from her birth plan, and Crawshaw had had the fortitude to insist on medical intervention.

Crawshaw may love her job, but sometimes love isn't enough. Common sense, mental toughness and the ability to react to intense pressure may be better attributes for a health professional than a well-stocked collection of relaxation CDs.

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