Guest post: Protecting choice in childbirth

Albany Midwives Practice is facing closure. In this guest post, Amity Reed reports on the effort to keep it open and why it’s so important for reproductive rights

albanymidves.gifWhen we think of reproductive rights, we often automatically associate the term with access to birth control and abortion.

But reproductive rights also include women who have chosen to complete a pregnancy and are seeking care and support antenatally and in childbirth.

On the face of it, it may seem that women who have made this choice have it easy, with little to fight for or be conerned about other than the usual ‘mum-to-be’ anxiety about the process of birth and the health of their babies. But for many women the lack of choice and increasing pressure to submit to a medicalised and micro-managed model of childbirth (where “the safety of the baby” often takes precedence over the mother’s autonomy) is distinctly risky, not only to her health and that of her baby’s, but to women’s reproductive rights.

Women from disadvantaged socio-economic groups are even more at risk than others, with their chances of dying in childbirth being six times the rate for those from middle class backgrounds.

One-to-one care and continuous support in labour are important to every birthing woman, but especially to those who suffer the consequences of inadequate care at a much higher rate and severity level. That’s why women’s right to choose where, with whom and how they give birth is every bit as important as their right to prevent or terminate a pregnancy.

It’s also why the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services is asking for our help in preventing the closure of the Albany Midwifery Practice, which serves around 200 women each year in Peckham, in South London, the 14th most deprived district in England.

Nearly half of the women using the midwifery service choose to have their babies at home, where they receive uninterrupted, dedicated care from a midwife known to them.

The Albany Midwifery Practice has long been recognised as a centre of excellence, with statistically better outcomes for mothers and babies than King’s College Hospital, the facility that is seeking to terminate its contract and, consequently, its ability to operate (14.4% Cesarean rate and a perinatal mortality rare of 4.9 per 1000 at Albany, as compared to 24.1% and 7.9 per 1000 at King’s). They also boast much higher breastfeeding success rates (80% as compared to 35%).

As stated in the press release:

In order to justify the suspension of the service King’s College Hospital appears to be trying to make the case that the service is unsafe. They have looked at a selected number of Albany cases admitted to their Special Care Baby Unit and asked the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries to investigate. We understand, however, that they have not examined the deaths of babies that have occurred in the King’s unit nor the babies from there who were also admitted to the Special Care Baby Unit. Nor do we have what AIMS believes is crucial data – comparative rates of mental illness after childbirth, where we believe the Albany is likely to have far better results.

AIMS demands that King’s College Hospital releases the CMACE Report and the comparable statistics for its own consultant unit so that data from both services can be examined objectively.

If you can take a minute to sign the petition and/or donate to help fund their fight, it would be very much appreciated. Spreading the word via social networking sites would also be useful.

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