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17th Feb 2016

Andrea Mara on #GE2016: What Do Parents Really Want?

Andrea Mara

For many, GE16 is an opportunity to voice concerns on issues that particularly affect women, such as reproductive rights and maternity services. Since the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, calls for improvements to the way women are treated during and after pregnancy have become increasingly loud, and Friday, February 26th is a chance to be heard. 

I asked parents, when it comes to maternity services and reproductive rights, what do you want from the next government?

Mum-of-two Lisa wants the focus to shift to what’s best for the mother and baby. “Having used Irish maternity services twice in the past few years, I’ve witnessed first-hand just how overcrowded and under-resourced our hospitals are. The lives and health of women and babies are being placed at risk as a result. I’d like to see concrete plans from our politicians, explaining how they intend to address these issues – not just in terms of providing the necessary funding, staffing and resources, but in ensuring that our maternity services are following international best practices for care of mothers and babies. Too often hospital policies here seem to be based on what works best for the hospital rather than what ensures the best outcome for mother and baby.”

Ireland’s first National Maternity Strategy (launched last month) is set to deal with some of these issues, and was generally well received. It identified four priorities:

  • A Health & Wellbeing approach should be adopted to ensure that babies get the best start in life. Mothers and families should be supported and empowered to improve their own health and wellbeing
  • Women should have access to safe, high-quality, nationally consistent, woman-centred maternity care
  • Pregnancy and birth should be recognised as a normal physiological process, and insofar as it is safe to do so, a woman’s choice in pregnancy and childbirth should be facilitated
  • Maternity services should be appropriately resourced, underpinned by strong and effective leadership, management and governance arrangements, and delivered by a skilled and competent workforce, in partnership with women.

Of course at this stage it is a strategy – implementation will take time. But mum-of-one Nicola is optimistic. “The new maternity plan looks good. I was listening to a consultant on the radio talking about it, and about the fact that there are no bereavement counsellors in the maternity hospitals. I had never thought about it before but it is so important. It’s such an awful thing to happen and you need a professional to help. Also I’m totally up for more midwife community care. The care I got was amazing and it takes a lot of pressure off the system, which would give them more resources for the more complicated cases.”

Mary, a mum-of-two from Cork agrees: “I would love to see more choice for women. At the moment in Ireland there are very limited options for women having a baby. Most women will give birth under consultant-led care – whether public or private. However, midwifery led care has been shown in numerous studies to offer much better outcomes. So I would love more programmes like the Domino Scheme and Midwife-Led Units alongside every maternity hospital. Also easier access to home birth, for women who want this option, and a shift to more community-based maternity care – especially postnatally. I’d love if all women could have postnatal support in their own home after being discharged from hospital, and more support for women who are dealing with depression both during their pregnancy and postnatally. Finally, I’d love to see more resources and support for women who wish to breastfeed their babies. Our breastfeeding rates are very low and this is hugely to do with lack of support after the birth.”

Dublin mother Emma feels strongly about maternity care. “We need better maternity services, we need more midwives, consultants and lactation consultants, and we need better follow-up care. This is what we need, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if every woman met with a doula and had an introduction to gentle birthing?”

In her work as a solicitor, Emma sees what happens when women are not properly cared for. “I see so many women coming in to us after childbirth and no after-care. I had to send one young mum to A & E a few weeks ago as the hospital aftercare was so bad. She felt like she had no-one to turn to. Most of our cases are labour related so I am passionate about what we need. We don’t need conveyor belt systems in our hospitals.”

On the subject of the 8th amendment, the feedback from parents I spoke to was unanimous.

Helen, a mother-of-three, says that equality is a key election issue in her house. “Both my husband and myself are keen for equality in terms of access to services – particularly in the areas of education and healthcare. The repeal of the eighth amendment is a ‘deal-breaker’ in that respect, as is the longer-term issue of extending reproductive rights for women by liberalising abortion laws. With three young children we are both highly aware of the realities of raising a family and simply feel it is for no-one outside our family, indeed our marriage, to dictate how many children we have,” explains Helen. “Our three pregnancies gave us both an even more fundamental respect for the integrity of a woman’s body but also a full appreciation of the sheer responsibility of raising kids – something which no-one should have forced on them. The eighth amendment means a doctor cannot provide proper care to any woman in this country – and creates financial and logistical obstacles for any woman exercising her basic right to access healthcare and reproductive services. I feel very strongly that any party, or any candidate who doesn’t support the repeal of the eighth doesn’t represent me as an equal to my husband, and I could simply never contemplate giving them my vote. Happily my husband feels the same way.”

Mum-of-two Deirdre had this to say: “Like a lot of women, I have had a pregnancy that ended with no baby at the end of it. It was a baby that was planned, wanted and who would have been loved so much. It was an upsetting experience. I cannot imagine going through the same experience, but being made to choose between carrying that baby, potentially for months, with a broken heart, or travelling on a plane to an unfamiliar location and unfamiliar medics to end the pregnancy. I don’t know what choice I would make and I hope I never will. The health service should be there to help all mothers and fathers deal with devastating news and to help them whatever they choose. No one is pro-abortion, but it exists as the best answer for some circumstances. It’s hypocritical for a state to think that it’s okay for traumatised people to travel to another jurisdiction to end a pregnancy but an Irish health service won’t support them. The eighth amendment needs to be repealed.”

Abortion is an emotive topic, and many people are understandably deeply uncomfortable discussing it. But the current situation, whereby women are forced to go to the UK in their thousands every year is indisputably a problem.

Gemma, a mother-of-two, puts it very simply. “We need to stop putting women through unnecessary suffering and ignoring what’s happening – we need to stop sending women on planes and boats to the UK when they have no other option.”

However you feel about the state of women’s rights in Ireland, particularly in relation to reproductive rights and maternity care, Friday 26th is your chance to have your say.

Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after her three kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.