Birth in a time of Covid-19

I think most people are a bit anxious right now. There’s a lot going on and a lot to get your head around. But if you’re pregnant, it must be especially worrying. Particularly if it’s your first and you already don’t know what to expect. Pregnancy and birth keeps you on your toes at the best of times, but birth in a time of Covid-19 comes with further considerations.

You can read the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists advice on coronavirus infection and pregnancy here.

We’ve had a couple of recent births in the BigBirthas Facebook Group. With permission, here’s a birth story from someone who just did it four days ago! Hopefully this will give a bit of information and reassurance on what to expect if you’re nearing your due date:

Kay’s birth story

I gave birth to my little legend on Friday 27th March.

Newborn baby wearing a hat and clutching at a finger. Birth in a time of covid-19

I was induced at 37+5 due to obstetric cholestasis. (OC is a liver condition which affects 1 in 140 pregnancies in the UK. It is characterised by excessive itchiness, often on the palms of your hands and/or soles of your feet. A bit of itchiness in pregnancy is normal, particularly on a stretching tummy, but always worth getting checked out. – Big Birtha)

He came at 38+1. They kept me in hospital due being high risk with OC and high BMI and the midwives were absolutely amazing. They really put my mind at rest. The consultant and the anaesthetist were pushing for a c-section because of my size, but I rejected and carried on. I knew that I could do it.

In the end I managed all but the last hour without any pain relief at all and the last hour I allowed myself some gas and air. He was born at 2.10am on the 27th weighing 7lbs 14oz and is perfect.

My advice to everyone is to not let them put time pressure on you. If you choose a c-section, that of course is your choice and I am fully supportive, but I am so glad I didn’t let them hound me into one. The ward they put me on (postnatal) I was the only one that had a natural birth. It was so hard watching everyone else struggle even picking up their newborns, whereas I was up and walking about straight away.

Birth in a time of Covid-19 – Kay’s experience

They are taking the upmost care due to current situations, and I am generally a bit of a worrier. If you’re like me don’t let it get you down, I cannot express how safe they made me feel!

The midwifes were only allowed in that section of the hospital. Birthing partners were limited to one and had to take their own food etc. Once they were on the ward they couldn’t leave and come back again. It’s reduced the risk and made everyone feel more comfortable. We all washed so much too, mums, dads, and staff.

All in all it was a very positive experience, even in the circumstances.

Good luck everyone, from one very happy mumma. 💜

*****

Thanks for taking the time out to share that Kay, and congratulations!

Birth in a time of Covid-19 – highlights from the RCOG guidance

The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists is carefully monitoring all evidence as it’s released. So for up to date information, it is definitely best to read the advice on their page. The below is current as of 31st March 2020:

Generally, pregnant women do not appear to be more likely to be seriously unwell than other healthy adults if they develop the new coronavirus.

Based on the evidence we have so far, pregnant women are still no more likely to contract coronavirus than the general population.

What has driven the decisions made by officials to place pregnant women in the vulnerable category is caution.

It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms.

If you think you may have symptoms of COVID-19 you should use the NHS 111 online service for information, or NHS 24 if in Scotland.

Our advice remains that if you feel your symptoms are worsening or if you are not getting better you should contact your maternity care team or use the NHS 111 online service / NHS 24 for further information and advice.

The most important thing to do is to follow government guidance [to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus].

It is really important that you continue to attend your scheduled routine care when you are well.

If you have any concerns, you will still be able to contact your maternity team but please note they may take longer to get back to you

There is a long FAQ section in the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists advice so it’s likely most questions you have may be covered there.

Stay safe, and look after yourselves.

x

Big Birtha

Birth Confidence Summit

Do you have an urge to listen to BigBirthas.co.uk founder Amber Marshall talk about high BMI birth for 50 minutes? Surely you’re keen to marvel at how much I waggle my hands around when I talk (because it’s a LOT)!? Well, I’m pleased to tell you your wait is over! I recently took part in a free online Birth Confidence Summit, organised by Birth Confidence Mentor and founder of BirthEssence.co.uk Charlotte Kanyi.

Screenshot of Amber Marshall - founder of BigBirthas talking to Charlotte Kanyi of BirthEssence at the Birth Confidence Summit
Amber Marshall – founder of BigBirthas – talking to Charlotte Kanyi of BirthEssence

Charlotte has interviewed 27 ‘experts’ (her title, not mine) over Skype about many different aspects of birth. Talk titles include Healing from a traumatic birth, Exploring Induction Choices, Dropping the Nice Girl Conditioning – Make Birth Better (which links with) Visibility, Birth and freeing yourself from the Good Girl Archetype, Hypnobirthing for Confidence and more.

It’s a great idea and you can access all the talks for the bargain price of free!

I talk about why I set up the site, research, the difference between absolute and relative risk, looking positively at pregnancy vs the self-fulfilling prophecy, the media, blaming and scapegoating, and a bit about my two pregnancies and births and how I felt about them.

TL:DR?

In my interview I discuss how our bodies are designed for making and birthing babies. That we’re no longer in the minority and therefore shouldn’t be treated as ‘exceptional’ or ‘problematic’, in fact, we should have the same options as anyone else! Yes, carers should monitor the risks and act accordingly, but until something negative arises (and odds are it won’t) we should stay positive! Do your research and don’t expect your doctor to know everything about your personal circumstances and what is best for you. You decide, and you can use the BRAIN acronym to help you ask the right questions.

The Birth Confidence Summit Speakers

It’s a formidable line-up! There are some great speakers here:

Charlotte Kanyi, Confidence Mentor at BirthEssence

Natalie Meddings, Author, doula and birth yoga teacher

Debs Neiger, Independent midwife at Yorkshire Storks

Rebecca Schiller, Writer, Doula and Co Founder of BirthRights Charity

Alexia Leachman, Therapeutic Coach and Host of the award winning Fear Free ChildBirth Podcast

Kemi Johnson, Independent midwife,  KG Hypnobirthing Teacher and Positive Birth Movement Facilitator

Liz Stanford, Owner of the Calm Birth School of hypnobirthing

Clare Ford, Birth Coach and Master Reiki Healer at Beautiful Souls

Mandy Rees,   Pregnancy and Postnatal Yoga Teacher

Mars Lord, Award winning Doula, Doula Trainer at Abuela Doulas and Birth Activist

Phoebe Pallotti, Practicing Midwife and Associate Professor of Midwifery

Dr. Amali Lokugamage, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Author

Samantha Nolan-Smith, Writer, Feminist and Founder and CEO of The School of Visibility

Simone Surgeoner, Mother of four and Journey Practitioner

Jo Bolden, Mother of one and Co founder and professional dancer at One Dance Epic

Emma Svanberg, Clinical Psychologist specialising in pregnancy birth and parenting

Dr. Rebecca Moore, Clinical Psychotherapist in Birth Trauma

Naraya Naserian, Mother of two and Journey Practitioner

Zoe Challenor, Professional Singer and Co Founder of B’Opera and Mother of Two

Lorna Phillip, ​Doula and Mizan Therapist at Birmingham Doula

Jennie Harrison, Energy Healer, Mindset Coach and Birth Trauma Specialist

Joy Horner, Independent Midwife, and facilitator of Positive Birth Movement Group

Kati Edwards, KG Hypnobirthing instructor and Doula at Birth You in Love

Nicola Goodall, Author, Founder of Red Tent Doulas and director of Wysewoman Workshops

Maddie McMahon, Breast Feeding Counsellor, Doula and Doula Trainer at Developing Doulas

Rachel Elizabeth, Mother of four and Doula at Creative Birth

Take a look and big thanks to Charlotte for organising and facilitating!

Fat Vaginas

I’m sorry. There’s no point beating around the bush. This happened yesterday, and now fat vaginas are on the agenda:

Milli Hill, author of Give Birth Like A Feminist, spoke on BBC Radio Scotland for a discussion about induction rates. With her was Dr Marco Gaudoin, brought in for the ‘expert’ perspective. However, it turns out that Dr Gaudoin’s expertise is in fertility, not obstetrics or gynaecology… which may explain why he said this:

‘With obesity you’ve got increased fat tissue in the birth canal, which makes the birth canal that much narrower, which makes it harder for the baby to squeeze through the birth canal. So you are more likely to end up with what is called an “obstructed labour”‘

Dr Marco Gaudoin, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland 12th November 2019

What’s worse was that this happened at the end of the interview! Milli had no opportunity to challenge the doctor on his statement, or ask for evidence.

Fat Vaginas – Fact or Myth?

It’s no surprise that Milli had never heard this before, because there is NO EVIDENCE for Dr Gaudolin’s words whatsoever. They echo a theory suggested in a research paper back in 1997, and no-one has provided any evidence for it since.

It’s just more fat shaming.

Fat Vaginas: a display of inside-out purses looking remarkably like a selection of vaginas.
Vaginas come in a plethora of different shapes and sizes… image courtesy of The Vagina Museum

Ugh. Makes me want to beat some people over the head repeatedly with a copy of Give Birth Like A Feminist. Shame it didn’t come out in hardback.

You’d really hope that a qualified doctor would stick to established, evidence-based information. Sadly (too often, in my experience) when some doctors feel under pressure, they dredge some half-truth they heard somewhere from the back of their mind and present it as fact, rather than admit they don’t know.

It’s why I recommend anyone embarking on a high BMI pregnancy journey do their research and ensure they’re informed.

I have spoken to countless midwives (who have extensive experience of actual vaginas giving birth) and most agree that with the right support, there is no reason why a high BMI pregnancy shouldn’t proceed as with any other. Indeed, most of them do.

What Happened Next?

On Twitter, plenty came forward to challenge the “expert’s” ill-informed and misogynistic statements.

Then to my surprise, for once, the print media responded positively to the story! This may be thanks to Milli Hill knowing the right people to approach, but it was a refreshing change! The resulting article was comprehensive and well written.

Screenshot of Grazia online article on fat vagina comments.

Then other media outlets picked up on the story, including the Sun, who got an actual expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to comment!

Dr Virginia Beckett, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists clarified that having an “obstructed labour” has nothing to do with “fat vaginas”. Which we knew, but it is nice that someone well qualified to address the issue has done so.

Screenshot of the Sun online article about fat vaginas

Next Up to fight our corner was the Daily Mail!?

Yes, really! Asking lots of people with much more experience and expertise… and me. So, yeah. That happened. I was tempted to be indecent and suggest that if our vaginas are so ‘restricted’, how lucky must our husbands and partners be? But I behaved myself. And contrary to my expectations, the journalist didn’t twist or change what I wrote at all, bar removing a paragraph that had already been covered by a previous interviewee. You can read what I wrote here:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-7680527/Doctor-claims-obese-women-fatter-vaginas-likely-experience-obstructed-births.html

Jaw on floor.

The article came with the usual stock headless belly image, naturally! But as soon as I realised and offered an actual picture to replace it, it was quickly swapped.

Of course, the article goes on to report the bloody relative risk stats rather than the true percentages, as always. So there’s still a way to go, but feeling strangely positive at how this story has turned out, for once!

As I have said before and seem to need to keep saying; having a higher BMI while pregnant is associated with a slightly increased risk of some less desirable outcomes. But there is also evidence that the precautionary way high BMI labours are managed may contribute to this.

There is no evidence that fatter people have fatter vaginas. There is no evidence that having a fat vagina (if such a thing exists) is a cause of birth obstruction.

If you want to read more about how micromanaging our births can cause a spiral of negativity and interventions – see article I wrote on The Impact of Negativity on Labour and Birth.

Why hospitals need to grant pool access to bigger women

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know that I strongly believe hospitals need to grant pool access to women with higher BMIs.

My being denied access with my first-born is one of the reasons this blog even exists! I’d discussed it at every appointment, was promised a pool birth in the hospital (so long as the pool in the delivery suite wasn’t occupied when I needed it), taken on a tour of the pool room, but then repeatedly denied access to the pool while I was in labour until someone finally told me at 8cm dilated that I would not be allowed to use it after all. It’s also the reason I chose to have my second baby at home!

Hospitals need to grant pool access to bigger women - Big Birtha's Home Water Birth

My second labour and birth, where I did have access to a pool, confirmed everything I had suspected. The warm water was incredible at helping me manage the pain of contractions! Coupled with that, the buoyancy provided by the water meant that I could move around with ease. I was so much more comfortable and relaxed – even during contractions!

The frustrating thing is there’s no evidence to support restricting access!!

To be honest, there’s not a lot of good-quality evidence about the use of birth pools full stop. But because so few women get access to water birth there’s no data to show it’s safe for larger mums. But because there’s no data to show it’s safe, we’re denied access! Anyone see a problem here?

I’m not alone in thinking this!

It turns out that Health Care Professionals are beginning to notice this. So I’m delighted to report that the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services asked me to write an article for their journal, complete with oodles of references for you to wave in the faces of healthcare naysayers you may meet. Enjoy!

AIMS Journal Article featuring Big Birtha

https://www.aims.org.uk/journal/item/waterbirth-high-bmi