Birth, Twitter, and Perception

Since Hugo died, I have been using Twitter to promote Hugo’s Legacy. I have been fortunate to engage and make friends with a range of people who share my passion for making a difference to other women’s maternity experience. Twitter has on many occasions been set alight with women talking openly about their own experiences, and healthcare professionals talking about how things can be done differently. It has been quite a wonder to behold.

However, some conversations are unhelpful, create confusion and generate further polarisation of opinion.

A significant part of #HugosLegacy is about the importance of language, and the impact it can have. I was proud to be asked to be asked to be the #MatExp language champion.

Language matters – it is at the centre of everything. Language is important not just in a healthcare setting, between professional and patient, but also between professionals too.

Discussions around birth naturally generate a lot of passionate debate. There has been much discussion about ‘normal’ birth, a ‘prevailing fear’ of birth in the delivery room (from mums and healthcare professionals alike), and where is the right place to give birth. I have previously outlined my thoughts about the debate in posts such as There is No Right Way or Place to Give Birth, and the Importance of Balanced Messages When Talking About Birth.

However, some number of conversations are unhelpful and contribute little to the issue. Some conversations have been uncomfortable to observe because of defensive responses, unkindness, ‘side-taking’, trading of insults – they go round and round in circles and achieve nothing.

We need to stop and consider the impact of these conversations on women. Stop and consider how many people observe on Twitter without contributing their own tuppence worth.

We need to stop and remember that many tend not to trouble to read the whole thread, or examine the context. That people often take things at face value, which can lead to a negative perception. Perception often becomes fact, leading to a reputational issue.

We need to stop and consider the impact of conversations on the perception of maternity services: respect, kindness, listening and empathy are key, but are sadly lacking in some conversations.

We need to stop and consider that the perception of the birth debate can be summed up (somewhat crudely) thus: “‘Natural birth is best, interventions are always bad, good luck to you if you have to go to hospital”.

Seeking to remove fear of one thing by replacing it with fear of something else just generates more fear. Not to mention a whole heap of confusion for women about what and whom to believe, what and whom to trust.

On the whole, my experiences on Twitter have been excellent. People have been kind, supportive, sensitive and empathetic. However, I have at times not felt listened to  during discussions about birth issues. I have been upset by the response I have received on a couple of occasions. I have also been frustrated when a helpful discussion about anxiety after birth trauma was derailed by a interjection that led to an unhelpful discussion about the whys and wherefores about normalising birth.

I understand no upset is intended. I understand it can be difficult to express completely what you mean within 140 characters on Twitter. I understand that passion can sometimes take over. I understand that brevity and multitasking can lead to misunderstandings.

There have been times that I have not contributed to a debate because I thought there was little point. I’m not shy about expressing my opinion, meaning we need to be cautious about inadvertently discouraging engagement.

We all need to be mindful of the words we use to engage and the impact they have, whether it is in a healthcare setting or on social media. This is particularly true when talking about birth, which is always an emotive issue and when people are talking about very personal experiences.

Whenever I contribute to birth discussions on Twitter, I try to see things from my personal perspective, as a bereaved mother whose last pregnancy nearly killed me too; and from a professional perspective, as an NHS communications professional.

I have an understanding of how Trusts work; I have been involved with investigations, and sat through inquests related to the deaths of children and babies. My heart always ached for the bereaved families. Since the death of Hugo I know all too well the pain of losing your baby. One reassuring thought I have amidst my heartbreak is I know that everything possible was done to save Hugo’s life. I cannot imagine the pain of the families who could have had their babies in their arms if only things had been done differently, such as with the Morecambe Bay scandal.

For all my knowledge and experience, however, I cannot help but feel frustrated and confused.

As Great North Mum observed in her recent post, “A large problem with the whole issue of maternity services in general is the fact that midwives and doctors are all lumped together as entirely separate professions and tarred with the brush used to paint the worst of them. I have good professional relationships with both midwives and obstetricians and have seen the collaboration and mutual respect that characterises the best of both careers – but the average woman without the benefit of this perspective could be forgiven for being perturbed.”

Let’s not exacerbate these unbalanced perspectives with unhelpful discussions on social media.

There are so many of us collaborating, trying to make a difference to women’s maternity experience. Let’s remember that we are all working towards the same aim – safe care for women and babies, however and wherever the babies are born.

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