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Janet’s story

Watch one woman describe her experience of maternity care - through pregnancy, birth, and beyond.
I’m Janet, and I’m here to tell you my birth story. So my pregnancy was, basically, pretty normal. We’d been trying for a while. We got excited, went to the doctor, and got it all confirmed. Had some early scans done, which were a bit much, a bit invasive. I didn’t think that there were going to be vaginal exams, but there were. But that’s OK. We got through that. And then, referred to the hospital. But I didn’t get to see them until 16 weeks because the doctor told me that’s when I could get there, that’s when they took you in.
When I got there, all of the places in the midwifery group practice were already taken because, apparently, if you know about it in advance, you can book. But I didn’t know, and so I didn’t book. And so I missed out, and I had to do shared care and hospital care. I saw some really well-qualified people, some really friendly, supportive people, but I saw a different person every time. And the appointments all felt really rushed, and I never had time to ask the questions that I wanted to ask. And I just kind of felt a little treated like a number sometimes, but kind of not at the– it was weird.
I went to some really helpful antenatal classes, and my husband was able to attend those because they were outside work hours. And we had a tour of the birth suites, we did a bit of practise of some physio positions, pelvic floor exercises and stuff. And then, the anaesthetist came and talked about epidurals, and we talked about inductions and caesareans. And I was really looking for more information on giving birth naturally and managing the pain without drugs, but there really wasn’t much available. So that was a bit disappointing. Once I got further along in the pregnancy, I saw the doctors and the midwives at the hospital more regularly.
And I had a really great doctor right before my due date, and he was excellent and really supportive. And I was hoping to see him again, but I didn’t. I saw a really cranky, rushed doctor. I was a week overdue by that point. And he was like, no, you’re a week overdue, and you have to be induced because it’s too dangerous to leave it longer. The baby will be too big, it could be dangerous for you, it could be dangerous the baby. But I’d heard from friends that if you were induced, the labour was harder and more painful, and you had a greater chance of caesarean. So I really tried to say, look, no, I want to wait.
But they insisted. And they just made it sound so scary and so dangerous, so I said yes. The next day, we turned up at the hospital as instructed, 6 AM. And they had a look and said that I wasn’t ripe, and I have no idea what wasn’t ripe means, but I wasn’t. And so they gave me this gel, they put this gel in and told me to walk. And so I walked, and I walked around the ward, and I walked up and down the corridors, into the cafe, and everywhere. And I kept walking until visiting hours were over. And so Mike had to go home, and I was there by myself.
And it was really, I don’t know, that was probably the lowest point. I felt really isolated and unsupported. But anyway, about midnight, I started to get some back pain. And they checked me again and said that I was ready, so they could take me to birth suites and break my waters. So I called Mike, and he broke all the speed records getting back to the hospital. And we went in to the birth suites, and we were like, yay, it’s it. This is it, finally. We had a really nice midwife, and she was encouraging me to try all different positions and helping me with pain relief. But then that morning, she went off shift, and we got a new midwife in.
And I think it must’ve just been a really busy day for her, I think. Either that or she was just not very helpful. So she, yeah– no, she was pretty negative, actually. She told me that she didn’t think that I would– the baby was in the wrong position, and that its back was to my back, and that would make it extra painful, and the induction would make the labour really long, and that I clearly wasn’t coping already.
And so I needed to think about pain relief options, and that epidurals don’t hurt the baby, and if I want to have one, then I should have one sooner rather than later because if it gets too far along, then I wouldn’t be able to. And so I was really– didn’t want to, but she sort of made me feel like I couldn’t do it. And I wasn’t confident that I could anymore. And so I had the epidural. And I didn’t think about it beforehand, really, I guess. But of course, once you’ve had an epidural, then you have a catheter, and you’re in the bed, and you’ve got a foetal monitor, and it just, I was– yeah I was stuck there, then.
And as soon as the foetal monitor went on, Mike just kept looking at it and was getting really stressed and worried because he could see the heart rate going up and down. And I was just there for ages. A new midwife came on then, and she was lovely, super nice, and really supportive. But I already had the epidural by that point, so I was in the bed, stuck there. And she was starting to get a bit concerned about the contractions because they were going down. And so they decided to give me some stuff in a drip to speed it all up.
And I was a bit scared about it, but I didn’t want the baby to be in trouble, and I didn’t know what to do or whether it was just– it felt like it was all slipping out of my control. And so I said yes, and they put the stuff in the drip. And in hindsight, I wish I’d said no because then, the baby really went into distress, and the heart rate on the monitor just went really down. And the next thing I know, I’m being whisked off down the corridor to theatre for a Caesar and then I had a baby. And it just happened. It felt like it just happened to me.
So here I am, two weeks later, sitting here telling you the story, and it just feels like it’s never going to end. I thought that I would be starting to get into the swing of this motherhood thing now, but I’m– yeah, I’m on antibiotics because I have had an infection in the wound from where I had the surgery. And they’re just making me feel ill and tired. I don’t know. Maybe I’m tired because I have a new baby. I’ve been trying to breastfeed, but at this point, I think I’m just going straight over to bottles.
It was really hard at the beginning because I couldn’t even get Callum out of the cot by myself because I could hardly move from the wound. And then, everyone just kept giving me different advice on how to hold him– try this way, try that way– and he just wouldn’t latch, and my milk wasn’t coming in, and he was under weight. So they suggested that I top him up with formula, and it just kind of became a thing. And so that’s just how it is now. I’m sterilising bottles at 5 o’clock in the morning, and I’m tired. I feel like, from start to finish, nothing went the way that I expected it would go.
I thought that it would be this really joyous experience, and I would love pregnancy, and that birth would be transformational. But instead, I just feel like I failed. I failed myself, and I failed the baby, and I failed Mike. And everything seems out of control and– like I should have known, and I should have– I don’t know. Maybe I should have researched more, or maybe I should have talked to more people or stopped and said no to some things. But I didn’t, and it’s too late now. And I just, I guess I just have to keep going.

This is the story of one woman – Janet – recounting what happened during her pregnancy, at the time of birth, and immediately after. Unfortunately, though, it’s also the story of millions of women around the world.

You can hear in her story how she was shuffled through a fragmented maternity care system. Although she was a healthy woman aiming for a natural birth, she didn’t receive the support or information she needed to navigate that system. Although it sounds like Janet had clinically competent care, as she tells her story it sounds as though her own wishes or needs were overlooked in favour of keeping the system itself smooth. During her labour, Janet didn’t really want pain relief, but when it was repeatedly suggested by her midwife that she needed it, Janet relented. Information about the effects and potential consequences of that epidural weren’t discussed – nor were Janet’s own wishes for birth taken into account. You heard how much she was impacted by the different caregivers she experienced during the pregnancy and at the time of birth.

An unsupported pregnancy, birth and postnatal experience – and especially when the experience is challenging or even traumatic – has consequences. Women are less likely to breastfeed, even when they plan to. They may find the process of bonding with their babies more difficult (though it’s important to note that, regardless of the birth, bonding and attachment are ongoing processes throughout life). Even the way women (and their partners) experience the early weeks of parenting is greatly impacted by the care they had during pregnancy, at the time of birth, and in days after birth.

Clearly, what happens around the time of birth matters: to women, to babies, their families, and therefore to our communities and world.

Over to you

Why do you think medical intervention during birth is on the rise?

Do you think a woman’s birth experience has an impact on her relationship with her baby?

Were you surprised by Janet’s story? How does this resonate with your knowledge or experience of maternity care?

Learn more

If you want to learn more, take a look at the links available under the See Also heading below. We’ve included additional resources like this at the bottom of most pages in the course, so look out for them as you continue. These are optional extras that are useful if you’d like to extend your learning.

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Maternity Care: Building Relationships Really Does Save Lives

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