'Can't eliminate all risks' in giving birth

21:09, May 24 2012

A decade into the 21st century, most of us will have been shocked to hear that a mother and child have both passed away during childbirth.

It was, of course, a much more common story 100 or even 50 years ago but there has been so much progress in healthcare and knowledge that we don't expect to hear such sad and tragic news nowadays.

What it clearly illustrates is that coming into this world is still a journey full of the same risks that all of our ancestors have had to face over the past few hundred thousand years.

The difference today is that we have centuries of accumulated knowledge that are employed in most birthing situations to eliminate as much risk as we possibly can.

But we can't eliminate it all.

When we were having our first child we were very anxious, as I am sure most parents are.


We had a specialist involved as well as a midwife. When it came to the midwife we went shopping and once we had made our choice a few weeks later she unfortunately changed jobs and we had to get a new one.

We were very happy with who we had working with us and it was inevitable that we developed a healthy relationship. But when we went into the actual birth we were very pleased we had a specialist close by as there were some real difficulties during labour.

After a bit of a false start in the afternoon, we were just about set to go to the hospital in the evening when the contractions slowed.

Despite that, there was still enough activity for it to be very clear that Megan was in labour.

After a long night and morning the whole thing ratcheted up again and by the afternoon we were in a birthing suite at Christchurch Women's Hospital.

To be brutally honest, I think I would have been happy to not be there but these days it is the proper thing to do so I was there being encouraging, answering the phone and picking up things.

After several more hours and a bath (not for me) I was a little worried that, due to the prolonged labour, exhaustion was about to set in so I asked the midwife to contact the specialist. She did so straight away but I couldn't help thinking that I was being a little improper. It may well have been a poor assessment on my part but I was worried I had actually upset the midwife.

Anyway the specialist entered the room and dealt with the situation very swiftly and our baby was born a few minutes later.

Strangely, we were then ejected into the frosty, misty night with a two-hour-old baby to travel across town to Burwood, because babies born with one midwife had to go to a certain hospital or some such thing. It struck me as some sort of health funding political absurdity anyway.

I suspect the timing of bringing in the specialist was about right and that the advice and support was great from both professionals but I certainly went away with a sense that we may have trodden on toes.

The next two children were born with different midwives, both of whom were fantastic.

Middle baby practically sorted himself out and, as the midwife was strolling up the corridor, I thought I was about to deliver the poor boy myself.

Our last baby was supposed to be sick so although we had a midwife we had always known we were going to have to deliver via caesarean birth (I did opt out of being in the delivery room for that one). But this midwife was extremely experienced and well-connected with the hospital medical teams and she did a marvellous job bringing everyone together on our behalf.

So, on the whole, we have been extremely well-served by the midwives and medical professionals who have been there to aid us and the births of our children. And the story will be similar for the majority of New Zealanders.

My only concern was that somehow I was affected by the perceived politics of midwifery versus the medics.

I have had the pleasure of working with some very active proponents of the re-introduction of midwifery as a modern health discipline and I know they are more dogged in their pursuit of quality within the profession than anyone else outside of it.

I also know they are the first to speak out against any quackery purporting to be best practice which, from time to time, has threatened to undermine the integrity of modern midwifery.

It does concern me that initial reporting of the tragedy in Waikato has already begun to imply a broader issue to do with the discipline itself. As I said earlier, the truth is that we cannot entirely eliminate risk.

The Press