Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Perhaps modern medicine doesn't know it all."

An excerpt from Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth:

Len warmed a small towel on a hot water bottle, and we wrapped the baby in it. Liz, Len and I were all stunned by the smallest human being - I estimated about one and a half pounds - we had ever seen. I had no experience of caring for a premature baby.

Just then, Conchita regained consciousness, and cried: "Nino. Mi nino. Donde esta mi nino?" (Baby. My baby. Where is my baby?) Len told Liz to tell her mother that the baby was very small. He then took the scrap of life over to his wife. With a sharp intake of breath, she put out a shaking hand to touch her child then smiled and murmured: "Mi nino." It was as she drifted off to sleep, her hand resting on Len's hand and the baby, that the Obstetric Flying Squad arrived.

In the 1950s, most big hospitals provided such a squad as back-up for domiciliary midwives. It was the proud boast of the London squad that it could reach any obstetric emergency in 20 minutes. That night, the smog slowed its response to three hours. But at least we now had an obstetrics registrar, houseman and nurse, and within minutes the GP also arrived. He looked exhausted after more than 24 hours treating patients, yet he had the courtesy to apologise for being late.

We all agreed mother and baby should be transferred to hospital but Len was alarmed. "Does she have to go?" he asked. "She's never been away from home."

Eventually it was agreed she could be treated at home but the baby would have to go to hospital. We went back into Conchita's room, where mother was still asleep, her hand over the baby that was still lying on her chest. An ambulance was called from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and when it arrived, it discharged a doctor who hurried past carrying an incubator, then another carrying a ventilating machine followed by a nurse carrying a huge box and, finally, two ambulancemen and a policeman carrying oxygen cylinders.

In Conchita's bedroom there were now five doctors, two nurses, a midwife and Len and Liz. The paediatrician, who took over from the obstetrics squad, gasped when he saw the size of the baby. "Think he'll make it, sir?" asked the young doctor.

"We'll have a damn good try," said the paediatrician. But when he tried to take the child from a still sleeping Conchita, the muscles of her arm tightened. Len leaned over to her, murmured and tried to loosen her hand but it tightened and her other hand came over to cover the first. Len then asked Liz to explain to her mother in Spanish that the baby had to go to hospital.

Conchita's eyes flickered open. "No," she said. "He will die." She thrust the baby down between her breasts and folded her arms over him. With perfect confidence she said, again in Spanish: "No. He stays with me. He will not die."

The paediatrician said the baby needed an incubator and the expertise of the world's greatest children's hospital. But Len stepped in. "This is my fault," he said. "I must apologise. I said the baby could go without consulting my wife. I shouldn't have done that. When it comes to the kiddies, she must always have the last word." The doctors eventually gave up, packing up their equipment, and the GP and I, nervous at the responsibility we were about to take on, began to arrange blood transfusions and nursing cover for Conchita.

Everyone dispersed. I couldn't face pedalling home alone in the fog, and fell asleep in one of the Warrens' armchairs. I woke five hours later to find Conchita dipping a fine glass rod, used for icing cakes, into breast milk on a saucer and then touching her baby's lips with it. His lips were no bigger that a couple of daisy petals but a tiny tongue came out and licked the fluid. Len said Conchita had been doing this every half hour since 6am.

For the next five months, Conchita carried her baby in a silk sling nestled between her breasts. Had someone taught her all this or was it purely maternal instinct? Whatever it was, both she and the baby survived. I still think that if the baby had died at birth or been taken to hospital, Conchita would have died too. Yet if Conchita had refused to hospitalise her baby today, she would probably have had it taken away under a court order. In the 1950s we were less intrusive into family life, and parental responsibility was respected. Perhaps modern medicine doesn't know it all.

14 Comments:

Blogger Lindsey said...

Too true!

BTW Did you ever get the email I sent you in May? Just checking it didn't get lost in space :)

8:22 pm, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Lindsey, oh it might have. I'll check back. Got a very full inbox ATM!

11:38 pm, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

fantastic , and so true

12:46 am, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Lindsey said...

lol, I know the feeling. I was just asking if I could have the new password for your baby blog :)

4:02 pm, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Sure Lindsey :-)

I'll send you mine if you send me yours ;-)

4:26 pm, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Lindsey said...

ROFLMAO - sure no probs :) On it's way :)

6:49 pm, June 14, 2007  
Blogger 'EF' said...

I am very grateful that you published this post..it does make me weep to think of what is happening to maternity services...it's all just getting further and further away from what is right. Oh for the goodold slapdash days!

In this country (DK) there is a high level of medicalisation of birth (is that a term?) and I say this carefully, but I have also noticed out of the many women I know or know of that have given birth here, that there is an abnormally high incidence of the pokiest kind of birth tragedy...I mean: I am talking about babies dying or being injured due to some sort of birth intervention or the distance between the unborn child and the mother, (encouraged by the birth attendants)..and the system would call it a 'normal' birth but that the babe didn't survive or that the damage was unavoidable...but when I look at the cascade of interventions leading up to these troubled births I just see women not in tune, not able to be confident and say: "HEY! I don't care what you say as a 'professional' I know where I am at!"..because of the fear instilled into them by the hospital birthing system.

Oh dear. I'm off again. *sigh* But I tell you what..with a lot of things..different styles of home ed., different religious (or not religious) approaches, diet etc..I can say: well, there are many ways..that is okay..but I cannot say that with birthing ways anymore. There is something so sinister..so cold and distant about the way women are being treated in the birthing system that I have to say..this is one thing I know for a fact I am right about.

Yes, it is unavoidable that some women will have to be given drugs during birth..or that they will have to have emergency surgeries..but these are and should be the tiniest number...what angers me is the rising levels of c-sections..like it's NOT a complicated and very risky op..and the number of inductions and the fact that these are given as choices as if they are the difference between oh, I dunno - raspberry and vanilla ice cream-

But putting the butchering of women to one side, it's more the patronising way pregnant women are treated..as if they just haven't the foggiest what's going on inside their bodies and as if the first time they will meet their babies is when they come 'out'. I dunno about anyone else, but I knew my kids from the moment I knew I was pregnant..and I disliked the system treating them as if they were a dangerous mysterious package turning up by surprise and with the risk of going off like a bomb and destroying themselves and or me. Why do they always stress this thing about birth being dangerous? Are they talking about when women died by the score due to puerpal fevers and the birth attendants not washing their hands? yeah that was dangerous. But birth in it self is rather like life..we can generally expect the outcome to be life and health and we are mostly pretty well set up to do well and blossom.

Women in pregnancy are sacred. And sensitive. The lingo that midwives and doctors use about pregnancy is usually loaded with the suggestion that anything can and will happen during a pregnancy..if people were able to get the fact that the safest way to birth a baby is by being in tune (and some might doubt this but big wet raspberries to them) then I reckon that there would be a revolution.

What to do - I don't know..just try and educate our daughters and sons about the great big hospital birth scam. I hope that in the future the canny midwives will take over and that maternity services will be improved..there are a lot of people working for this and all it takes...all it takes - is for more women to stand up and decide to be brave about birth and tune in. The more clients demanding better services the more chance we have of getting them.

9:46 pm, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Brilliantly put, EF. I totally agree.

9:58 am, June 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say, I think the "old way" of haivng a confinement period after a baby is born is a good idea.

I know this was supposed to be to protect a new born from disease, but I think staying with your baby and not going out and about is a good thing during those first weeks. At least for a month or so. I think the confinement period was about 6 weeks....I may be wrong.

Having has a C-sec (incidently, it was needed, both me and the baby would have died without it) it's very difficult to associate your baby as yours. I do wish they could be avoided, but unfortunatley sometimes they can't. Certainly, it took months and months to get over and I had lots of post-natal problems because of it.

I think they do them a lot now to avoid infant death. Relatively few babys are still born because of the high c-sec rate I think.

Not that I'm justifying them!

J
x

9:32 pm, June 18, 2007  
Blogger shukr said...

oh yes, yes, yes!

now we all just need a midwife like EF.D

12:03 pm, June 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are you, your blogging is shamefully overdue. I am lagging from not being able to disagree with your blog!!!!!!! lol

9:06 pm, June 21, 2007  
Blogger Adele said...

Where are you Gill?

I just observed to David that you hadn't posted for a while and said I hoped you were alright. David said "Yes, this is like the cyber equivalent of milk bottles mounting up on the doorstep" which summed it up well!

Hope things are okay and you start blogging again soon.

Adele

8:51 pm, June 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Sorry guys, been busy here with a major house-sorting job. Big blog post currently brewing on that very subject! Hopefully ready by tomorrow, or soon after xx

J, I agree with you too. I had my youngest in January this year and did it all very instinctively. We didn't go out for the first 2 weeks, and that felt too soon, but sadly we had to get provisions. And I've had a c-section too (first baby) and know exactly what you mean about the feelings of disassociation.

Hmm, they said the c-section was to save his life and indeed, by the time they'd mismanaged the birth his life DID need saving with a c-section. Of course I'm glad he survived, but a well-managed birth experience would have been preferable!

I later learned that to get that you have to manage it yourself, unless you're very lucky with your 'birthing team'.

9:49 pm, June 25, 2007  
Blogger shukr said...

the excerpt still makes me cry!

10:05 am, March 29, 2008  

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