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After watching the fantastic film ‘made in Dagenham’ about the Ford women machinists walk out that led to the UK’s Equal Rights Act of 1970 one line stood out for me.

‘Rights not privileges’.

The main character of the film ‘Rita’ has a discussion with her husband in which he reminds her that he is a supportive husband as he has never laid a finger on her or the kids, has never cheated on her and is not a heavy drinker. Rita’s response to this is ‘that is how it should be!’.

In the same tone, as we certainly should not be congratulating our partners when they do not abuse us, why should we be congratulating a maternity service when it does not abuse.

How often do we hear comments from women such as,
I was ‘allowed’ to birth at home.
The staff ‘let’ me go over due.
They ‘let’ me try for a vbac.
I was ‘allowed’ to only have intermittent monitoring.
‘They were amazing at the hospital – they really listened to me’.
‘They really took my opinions on board’.
‘They were not pushy at all’.

That is how it SHOULD be.

The NICE guidelines state that:
‘Women, their partners and their families should always be treated with kindness, respect and dignity. The views, beliefs and values of the woman, her partner and her family in relation to her care and that of her baby should be sought and respected at all times….
Good communication between healthcare professionals and women is essential. It should be supported by evidence-based, written information tailored to the woman’s needs….
1.1.1.7 New – Women’s decisions should be respected, even when this is contrary to the views of the healthcare professional.
1.1.1.8 New – Pregnant women should be informed about the purpose of any test before it is performed. The healthcare professional should ensure the woman has understood this information and has sufficient time to make an informed decision. The right of a woman to accept or decline a test should be made clear.’

It is unbelievable that we live in a society that treats pregnant women and their partners in such a way that means when we are treated in the way we should be – we praise it so highly!

We should not have to be grateful when medical professionals do their job and respect our rights.

When employees are given annual appraisals they are generally rated. Their performance is often rated as below expectations, meets expectations or exceeds expectations. If the employee does their job, follows their job description and gets on well with their team, the customers and managers, then they achieve meeting expectations.If they do less than this they rate as below expectations. The only time the employee achieves exceeding expectations is when they do just that, over and above what is expected of them. Some of the praise of the staff/care at births seem to me to match the exceeding expectations type praise. However, when you hear a description of the actual care received I would certainly be ranking it at meeting expectations and often as below.

‘Rights not privilege’. This phrase has given me the words for how I feel about maternity services. I am still so fresh to the area and have so much to learn about the ways in which changes can be made and are being made.

We have AIMS which is a fabulous association, with some wonderful literature, support and campaigns. I plan to start promoting it more myself as I did nor hear of it until well into my second pregnancy.

We have committees and groups (MSLC, MSUG or birth choices groups) set up by the NHS or individuals and I’m starting to do my bit in my local area but from the small experience I have and the NCT voices training I attended I can already see that to make changes can be incredibly difficult.

Independent midwives are currently at the brink of losing their right to practice independently and NHS midwives across the country are campaigning to try and increase numbers within the NHS in order to relieve the ridiculously tight restraints on their practice through job shortages.

I think as well as the funding and subsequent service issues that we face, what we struggle so much with still is negative attitudes or lack of status towards the role of mother or pregnant woman. The language that has become so embedded within maternity services reflects this.

Even in today’s society where women feel they have the right and freedom to choose their role/roles (although this is disputed when income dependency, lack of income or education takes away the freedom) the role of mother is still viewed as low in status by many.

Those lacking in access to information can be easily persuaded to follow the professionals whether those paths are the informed choice of the woman or not, those who DO have the information and choose to use it are often treated with disdain by some professionals and even as a nuisance.

Even women who have high social or business standing in general, when lacking in the right information and support for birth, often lose all of their normal faith in themselves and instead follow the view that women need the professionals to help them have a baby and their ‘rights’ go out of the window. The individualisation of society means that we cannot always look to our female relatives for the hereditary support, information and role models for birth, breastfeeding and parenting. We instead look to literature or forums, and health or support professionals. We have gaps of such hereditary knowledge in the generations since birth became medicalised and formula was pushed as being best for baby. These practices we were told saved lives, and of course many interventions have indeed done so, and when breastfeeding truly cannot happen formula has its place. But what has happened since this time is that even when research points to birth,when treated as normal and natural, being safer than clinical birth and unnecessary practices and procedures these practices and procedures have become habit to mothers and professionals. As a culture many have lost faith in birth and breastfeeding being able to occur naturally and without medical assistance.

I believe I am digging down into my teenage and student feminist roots more everyday at the moment… Although in those days I actually thought of birth and having children as a social and societal ‘chain’ dare I admit around women’s necks! And now I want to fight for women’s rights again not only so they can experience the bliss that childbirth and motherhood really can be, but also so women can be empowered to find all the information and make decisions for themselves about theirs and their babies health.

I grew up thinking girly behaviour and clothes etc were not good – even to be seen as a negative or sign of weakness? Where was this from? Mum who admitted she always wanted to be a boy? Or society at large? Whatever the influence, as an adult and with life experiences starting to rack up I am overtime becoming more able to listen to what I want – whether that is to wear a feminine outfit, to not care whether i ask for a glass of wine or a pint or to shout out loud about loving being pregnant, giving birth to my babies and breastfeeding. Did I really just compare those things? My point is that whatever it may be that I have let go of – my fear of being a woman- my fear of being judged as female by others or myself – Has led to the growth of my faith in women and a womans instinct to birth and care for her baby.