Improving Maternity Experience

What a fantastic, and exhausting, couple of days at maternity events in Birmingham and the Wirral!  I was privileged to be invited to attend the National Maternity Review’s “Birth Tank 2” event on Thursday, along with my #MatExp colleagues Florence, Gill and Emma, and lots of other social media pals.  Emma has provided a round up of that event, so it is Friday’s event that I want to talk about here.


I was invited by Hilda Yarker to speak at the launch of Improving ME – a maternity review specifically for Merseyside, Wirral, Warrington and West Lancashire.  I met Hilda at a National Maternity Review listening event in Manchester, having been introduced to her on Twitter by Gill Phillips.  Hilda felt that it would be useful to have someone speak about #MatExp at the Improving ME launch, and due to David’s care at Alder Hey and my subsequent #hospitalbreastfeeding campaign I also have an angle on maternity in the Improving ME region.

The opening presentations at the launch event provided a fascinating insight into current maternity care in the area.  Programme Manager Catherine McClennan was candid about the challenges faced.  It was made clear that there is going to be a substantial change to maternity services in the region, and one of the key aims is to reduce variations and improve outcomes.  There are financial challenges, issues of quality and safety, a poor record on perinatal mental health and some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country.  It was agreed that quality, safety and experience go together and that “okay is not good enough”.

David Rowlands, Clinical Lead Maternity, Children & Young People for the Strategic Clinical Network, was clear that “average is not good enough – we need to be the best.”  His presentation gave a nod in the direction of the Each Baby Counts campaign, but David was also keen to stress that “pregnancy is a fantastically normal condition” and that unlike other doctors he deals with health, not illness.  As with so many other maternity discussions in the current climate, it was very clear there is a balance to be struck between focusing on safety and being mindful that pregnancy is not an illness.  David talked about stillbirth rates in the region and stressed that these are not just statistics – these are real, devastated, families.

The subsequent speakers gave their perspectives on the review, with collaboration being mentioned numerous times as a key focus.  From my point of view, it was wonderful to see breastfeeding spoken of as a public health concern, and to hear Liz Gaulton, Director of Public Health for St Helen’s Council, include breastfeeding as part of the focus on health and wellbeing.  There was also mention of a history of poor attachment being at the root of so many problems experienced by young people, clearly a reference to the work of 1001 Critical Days.

My own presentation was the first in the patient stories section, and I had a few different areas to cover.  I firstly wanted to demonstrate how many discussions about maternity are taking place on social media and to encourage delegates to jump in and get involved.

Slide 1

Nowhere is it more true that all voices are welcomed than in the #MatExp campaign, and I explained the origins and grassroots nature of #MatExp, encouraging anyone with an interest in maternity care to take a look.

Slide 2

I then talked about my own maternity experience with David and read out an excerpt from my blog post about his diagnosis, birth and first open heart surgery.  I mentioned the #hospitalbreastfeeding campaign and my website, but also wanted to stress that many postnatal experiences are taking place in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, and that hospital  must be included in any review of Merseyside maternity services.

Slide 3

The National Maternity Review had already been mentioned a few times during the morning, and I again urged people to contribute their views if they hadn’t already.  I highlighted the key themes that my own Facebook group had fed back to the review via Sheena Byrom’s blog.  In particular, I picked up on the importance of collaboration with health visiting services, as this is so often missed as an issue for maternity care, yet can make a huge difference to the experience of families.  The issue is discussed further in this #MatExp post:

Slide 4

I ended with some pictures of my own family and suggested that maternity experience is about building happy families.  We all have something to say about our own experiences, the best things that can be replicated and the worst things that need to be eradicated.  The presentations from the parents who came after me certainly made that clear.

Slide 5

Grace Wood had been invited to speak about her experience of a traumatic birth followed by postpatrum psychosis.  You can learn more about Grace’s story by watching her interview on This Morning and buying her book, Saving Grace.  Grace’s key phrase for me was that midwives “are in the business of making memories”.  The nature of those memories can vary widely from family to family.

Monica and Kim spoke about their experiences, and Monica stressed that it is important for women to use their voice to help to shape maternity services, particularly by engaging with their local MSLC (maternity services liaison committee).  Kim described her two very different birth stories, and said that she didn’t know what was different between the two hospitals except that with her positive experience that hospital “seemed to care”.

Finally, Nicky Lyons from the Campaign for Safer Births told us Harry’s story.  An utterly heartbreaking example of poor, unsafe care resulting in serious, debilitating and life limiting illness for the child.  And devastation for the family.  Nicky’s key observation was that “labour is a moving train – there is no time when things go wrong.  There is no pause button.”  A very moving presentation and a reminder that safety cannot be an afterthought in maternity.

Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the afternoon session, but I did manage to do a bit of networking over lunch and met up with some Twitter pals.  Natalie Nuttall, founder of The Smile Group, and patient representative for Bliss, Ben Wills-Eve, joined me for some excellent chocolate cake and reflection on the morning’s presentations.  I was able to discuss breastfeeding with Liverpool Bambis and Homestart Wirral, and discuss continuity of care with OnetoOne midwives and local commissioners.


Many of the key themes being discussed were issues that had also come up at the Birth Tank event, and that keeping coming up on #MatExp.  We are all on same page, we know what outcomes we want to achieve and on what we need to focus.  The only way to achieve real change is to keep talking and to push forwards together.  Improving ME certainly seems to understand that.

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