As part of a campaign to bring back postnatal provision to Stroud Maternity Hospital, mum Lynsey Kelleher has penned a heartfelt article on what postnatal care means.
I think it is vital that the voice of women and parents is heard.
The outpouring of experiences coming onto social media since the “temporary” closure of postnatal care at Stroud Maternity Unit, has triggered me to reflect, not only on my own experiences of being a mother of 4 but of that transition into parenthood that is so clearly held so well in our wonderful unit.
From the moment of that positive test, usually sat in a toilet, we are literally and emotionally stripped bare. A primal wave of ancestry and connection to something greater than ourselves is felt so deeply that it can often feel like it washes away the person we were in a tidal wave of becoming a parent.
EVERYTHING changes. Our bodies morph into something unrecognisable, and we are expected never to grieve for that loss of body autonomy as we expand and stretch and ache and cramp in unimaginable ways.
Our minds no longer work in the same way, thoughts and reactions are suddenly so different. We didn’t even realise what we took for granted until a maelstrom of hormones strip parts of us that we hadn’t reckoned.
Our relationships and connections to others also change. We look deeper into the eyes of our mothers and sisters, we shape our lives with our partners around a new and unknown person that we have yet to meet.
No part of our lives is untouched by the force of pregnancy. For those for whom it is the first time, staring into an unfathomable future, with that unique mixture of excitement and fear. For those who have been here before and not had the next stage, who grieve the loss of the one that came before and dare to hope the rainbow is in sight.
For those that planned and tried. For those that needed help to get to this point and have deeply yearned. For those that didn’t plan. For those that are still getting used to being where they are. For those with other babies at home. For those with stories, we can’t know. For every single one of us this time is unique.
The transition from person to parent starts with the thought, the dream, the knowledge of this life to come, but it does not end when the baby is born.
It’s laughable, at least it would be if this weren’t what is happening to post-birth parents right now.
From the battering of labour, through to the rawness of birth, we are stripped naked all over again….and again……and again. Until that child is here and we are spun into a vortex of emotion that we shall never truly recover from. To do so would mean this person would cease to exist and that is unimaginable. From the second a baby passes onto skin side they have always been here. There is no recollection of not knowing them.
This is not the end of the transition from person to parent. This is where the work lies. Our sore and battered bodies feel alien, our sleep-deprived, exhausted minds are muddled, our relationship to anything other than this baby is fraying away and there is no trust in the process, it’s traumatic and terrifying.
To be sent away at this point is barbaric.
Midwives existed long before hospitals did. Older, wiser, experienced sisters, who took control of the mayhem and rocked the baby, held the parents and gave their time to let the mess and muddle and muck of birth settle back to a point that the woman could awake a mother. Midwives are as old as time itself, as important to the process of procreation as ever a single sperm and egg could be. They weren’t designed, they evolved from a natural need for this transition to be held and guided. To make safe the way for the mother and the baby. To pave and soften the route from person to parent. This role is a deeply ingrained, evolutionary instinct.
It has changed and been professionalised and legislated and overseen by bureaucracy, but you ask any midwife why they do their job and ￼I guarantee the answer will be held in the primal desire to be there for parents and hold them in just the way it has been for millennia.
Now there is a six-hour window. Six measly hours to put those people back together after the traumatic beauty of birth and make them parents enough to take their newborn home.
Whatever support is provided at home IT’S NOT THE SAME.
Being propelled back into the safety of a nest (which is the luckiest outcome), is not the same as being held and given space to become, before being gently placed back into a nest.
This is postnatal care. Post Natal care is the transition from person to parent. It is both fundamental and elemental. It is the time and space people need to be held by the midwives and taught to be parents. It’s the space to let the body heal, let the feeding start, let reality stay on hold so that all that matters is the baby and parents. It can take 6 hours. It can take weeks or months. It should not be enforced into any window, but a minimum of days makes the landing softer.
So when the parents look up and say “we are ready to go home” they truly are.
Their transition back into a world that will include more than a baby is set, and they are stronger and ready to deal with normal life with their baby, because they’ve had time without anything other than their baby.
They know how to feed, they know how to react. They have been given time enough to recover from birth to hear the voice of their intuition and respond as parents.
That’s what good postnatal care does. It doesn’t prescribe what to do, it is time and space to recover enough from birth to trust in your instincts. That is how a person becomes a parent.
It doesn’t happen in 6 hours.
I am now 16 years on from that first event, and it’s something that is still happening every single day as I try and tune in to what my tiny baby needs as a nearly fully grown man.
It is not instinctive to leave a mother right after she has birthed. It isn’t instinctive to scrub her down and pad her up and eject her from one space to another in 6 hours.
No midwife wants to do this.
Why is this being allowed, leave alone being insisted upon?￼
It’s storing up a plethora of problems to be dealt with by another service.
Postnatal depression is something I have experienced twice. I believe cases will increase. Poor outcomes for parents and babies will result from this. There is simply no way it cannot.
Reading the stories of postnatal experiences on this page has cemented my belief that Stroud Maternity MATTERS.
I fought for it 16 years ago as a first-time mother. I have used the service through four pregnancies, two of which were home births, two of which were inductions in Gloucester with transfer straight back to Stroud care.
We aren’t asking for a luxury. We are asking for the human right to be held in the transition from person to parent.
We are asking that the elemental drive to provide midwifery is not seen as a service, as much a birthright.
Midwives were around long before they were ruled by a Trust.
Let women be held. Let people be nurtured. Let babies land softly into the arms of their parents. The stork is a myth. It’s time we remember that.