We chose to have our second child abroad because UK maternity services are broken

The Independent Opinions 2 weeks ago

Yesterday’s news of the largest maternity scandal in the NHS’s history is a reminder of how history can repeat itself

A leaked internal report from the NHS revealed the deaths of at least 42 babies and three mothers at Shrewsbury and Telford hospital between 1979 and 2017. In addition, more than 50 children also suffered permanent brain damage after being deprived of oxygen during birth. The investigation also identified 47 other cases of substandard care.

The NHS does an amazing job for the vast majority of maternity patients, but our own experience of care for our first child was so bad we decided to have our second child born abroad. Our daughter was turned after being found to be in transverse lie at 38 weeks and my wife was then told to go home. She ended up having to go back into hospital two days later when she moved again.

We were never told anything about the potential risks of such a procedure which can include a prolapse of the umbilical cord and the need for an emergency c-section. 

While the birth itself went smoothly, the after-care was shocking. There was little help during the first night when the baby was crying and my wife had dropped the call cord – she was exhausted after being in hospital for 10 days.

Michelle Obama revealed in 2018 that both of her daughters were conceived via IVF after the lawyer had suffered an earlier miscarriage. "I felt like I failed because I didn’t know how common miscarriages were because we don’t talk about them," Obama said during an interview with Good Morning America. "We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we’re broken.”
In 2015, Priscilla Chan and husband Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, announced that they were expecting a baby girl following three miscarriages."You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook. “Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you, as if you’re defective or did something to cause this.“In today’s open and connected world, discussing these issues doesn’t distance us; it brings us together. It creates understanding and tolerance and it gives us hope.”
In 2013, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed she lost her third pregnancy, and that the miscarriage threatened her life.“My children ask me to have a baby all the time," she told You Magazine.“And you never know, I could squeeze one more in. I am missing my third. I’m thinking about it. But I had a really bad experience when I was pregnant with my third. It didn’t work out and I nearly died."
Beyonce spoke publicly about the miscarriage she suffered before becoming pregnant with Blue Ivy in her 2013 HBO special, "Life is But a Dream." The singer described her experience as "the saddest thing" she had ever experienced.“About two years ago, I was pregnant for the first time and I heard the heartbeat, which was the most beautiful music I ever heard in my life," Beyonce said.I picked out names, I envisioned what my child would look like… I was feeling very maternal. I flew back to New York to get my check up, and no heartbeat. I went into the studio and wrote the saddest song I’ve ever written in my life called Heartbeat."
In April 2019, Hilaira Baldwin revealed in an Instagram post that she was in the process of experiencing a miscarriage.Explaining why she decided to share her story on social media, Baldwin later said: "I want women who have gone through this to know: there is nothing wrong with you. "You are not alone. I know this didn't happen because I did something wrong. This is just nature."
In 2012, Hugh Jackman opened up about the infertility struggles he and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, had experienced. "It is a difficult time. The miscarriage thing, apparently it happens to one in three pregnancies, but it's very, very rarely talked about.... It's almost secretive," Jackman said."But it's a good thing to talk about. It's more common and it's tough, there's a grieving process you have to go through."
The singer said on a 2010 episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she was reluctant to share about being pregnant with her daughter Willow because of a previous miscarriage."I was just really nervous, and I have had a miscarriage before," she said. She eventually wrote the song "Beam Me Up" about her experience, which includes the lyrics "Just beam me up, give me a minute, I don't know what I'd say in it. I'd probably just stare, happy just to be there, holding your face."
In March 2014, Lindsay Lohan revealed that a painful miscarriage was the reason she missed some filming for her docuseries, Lindsay."No one knows this…I had a miscarriage for those two weeks that I took off,” Lohan said. “I couldn’t move. I was sick. And mentally that messes with you. Watching this series, I just know how I felt at that moment and I can relate to that girl, which sounds kind of crazy. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is really sad. Who’s helping her?’”
Lily Allen has spoken candidly about having a miscarriage in 2008 and a stillbirth, losing a baby boy at six months pregnant in 2010.“It was horrendous and something I would not wish on my worst enemy,” she said of the stillbirth.“I have dealt with it, you know, as being at one with it. But it’s not something that you get over. I held my child and it was really horrific and painful, one of the hardest things that can happen to a person.”
Before welcoming twin sons via IVF, Dion had a miscarriage.Speaking of the experience, she said: “They said that I was pregnant and a couple of days after my husband and I were not pregnant again. We didn’t want to feel like we were playing yo-yo. But we did have a miscarriage…I never gave up."But I can tell you that it was physically and emotionally exhausting."
While married to Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman experienced complications in two pregnancies. The first was an ectopic pregnancy at 23, while the second was a miscarriage and occurred about a decade later.In an interview with Marie Claire, she said: "I had a miscarriage at the end of my marriage, but I had an ectopic pregnancy at the beginning of my marriage. It was incredibly traumatic for me."
In her memoir, Inside Out, Demi Moore recalled how she became pregnant not long after she started dating Ashton Kutcher in 2003.Speaking of the loss in an interview with Good Morning America, Moore said: "You could see combination of his dread and it shifting then immediately in to matter of fact, practical, information. Because it was unquestionable. There was no heartbeat."
Opening up about the emotional toll of her miscarriage, Kirstie Alley said: "When the baby was gone, I just didn’t really get over it. Neither did my body. I so thoroughly convinced my body that it was still pregnant after nine months that I had milk coming from my breasts. I was still grieving, and I had just been told it was very possible I would never be able to have children.”
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and wife Tana have four children—but in 2016 they shared that Tana miscarried five months into her fifth pregnancy."We had a devastating weekend as Tana has sadly miscarried our son at five months," Ramsay wrote on Facebook alongside a photo of Tana after she finished an Ironman triathlon."We're together healing as a family, but we want to thank everyone again for all your amazing support and well wishes."
In 2012, Sharon Stone revealed that she has suffered three second-trimester pregnancy losses."The last time I lost the baby, I went into 36 hours of labour," she recalled. "While we were at the hospital, our adoption attorney called."Stone went on to adopt three sons, Roan, Quinn and Laird. The actor said she was unable to have children due to an autoimmune condition that made it difficult for her to carry a pregnancy to full-term.
In 2018, Gabrielle Union announced that she and husband Dwayne Wade had welcomed their first child together, a baby girl, via a surrogate. The star previously revealed she had suffered at least eight miscarriages and three years of failed IVF treatments. In an interview with Women’s Health, the actor said that using a surrogate to carry her child made her feel like “surrendering to failure”. “There’s nothing more that I wanted than to cook my own baby,” Union said. “The idea of [using a surrogate] felt like surrendering to failure.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon decided to speak about her pain at miscarrying a baby in 2011 in the hope of challenging some of the “assumptions and judgments” made about women who do not have children. The SNP leader said she was in the early stages of her pregnancy and preparing to share the news when the miscarriage occurred. “Sometimes, for whatever reason, having a baby just doesn't happen – no matter how much we might want it to,” Sturgeon said. “Judgements and assumptions shouldn't be made about what are personal choices and experiences.”
Courteney Cox recently admitted that it was “terrible having to be funny” while filming Friends after suffering a miscarriage. Speaking in an interview, the actor explained: “I remember one time I just had a miscarriage and Rachel (played by Jennifer Aniston) was giving birth. “It was like that same time. Oh my God, it was terrible having to be funny.” After marring David Arquette in 1999, Cox had a total of seven miscarriages caused by anti-bodies that attacked the foetus. After two rounds of IVF she welcomed her daughter Coco in 2004.
After announcing that she was pregnancy in 2010, Mariah Carey revealed that her first pregnancy with Nick Cannon ended in miscarriage. 'Unfortunately that was a time where [the doctor] said, "I'm sorry but the pregnancy is unsuccessful",” Carey said. "It kind of shook us both and took us to a place that was really dark and difficult.”
In 2016, style blogger Leandra Medine, aka Man Repeller, announced that she suffered a miscarriage following IVF. Speaking about the loss on her website, Medine said: “It felt impossible to deal with emotionally, but even harder to try and suppress, which I so wanted to. “Over-sharer that I am, though, if anyone is to ask how I’m doing I can’t help but tell them, ‘I lost a baby last week, but it’s going to be okay.’ Almost as if it’s a badge of honor: I can get pregnant, too, you know.”

Staff were so deep in paperwork that at one point when I came to visit, all of the nurses in the post-natal unit were at the nursing station and not one was dealing with patients. 

We received no advice about bottle feeding whatsoever (despite the fact that our child wasn’t feeding properly), before being sent home at 9am on a Sunday morning when almost every pharmacy was closed. We were told to combination feed but that was about it. We resorted to bottle feeding entirely within a week or two of coming home.

Another friend had been instructed to stay in hospital after her baby had been turned. The consultant told her she had to stay until the baby was born and she was given a private room. Then at 2am the next morning, the nurse turned the lights on when she was asleep and ordered her to go home. When she came back in to be induced, she waited hours for an epidural as the only anaesthetist was busy during surgery.  A lack of maternity bed space remains an issue. Research by Labour revealed 287 occasions when maternity units were closed to new mothers in 2017.

A lack of maternity bed space remains an issue. Research by Labour revealed 287 occasions when maternity units were closed to new mothers in 2017.

So what can be done? Most importantly, staffing shortages need to be sorted fast. There are almost 2,500 unfilled midwifery posts in England alone

The government has promised to train 3,000 more midwives but given that they have decided to remove bursaries from students wanting to enter the field, that target will be hard to reach. In the meantime, we will need to continue to recruit from Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately, Brexit has already led to a huge drop in the numbers of midwives coming from the EU. As Gill Walton, the general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives wrote last year: “We used to attract European midwives and nurses; we now repel them. Make no mistake about it. Brexit poses an unprecedented threat to maternity care in our country.”

To make matters worse, the Conservatives have decided to talk tough on immigration and plan to charge EU nationals £625 each to use the NHS post-Brexit, even if they work in the NHS. Winning a few extra votes in marginal seats is clearly more important to them than ensuring maternity wards are adequately staffed. 

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Maternity care rarely gets many headlines during an election but the Shrewsbury and Telford scandal is a wake-up call that it is time for action and to stop using the usual scapegoats of health tourism or the level of immigration to swot away complaints about the NHS.   

The next government should be focused on making maternity care safer. That way, more parents like us will not feel they have to go abroad to have their baby delivered safely.

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