Yesterday was International Day of the Midwife. I saw but didn’t participate in the social media celebrations. Not because I wasn’t feeling it, but because my clinical academic midwife life was full to the brim. This included:
- Supporting a planned OptiBreech vaginal breech birth through the night and until the birth occurred in the morning;
- Conducting two interviews for the Wellcome Biomedical Vacation Scholarship at 9.30 and 11.00 — amazing candidates this year!;
- Receiving the news that the OptiBreech team has been awarded a £15k ESRC Impact Acceleration Grant;
- Receiving and responding to the news that both my funder and my employer have received complaints that the OptiBreech Project is ‘promoting vaginal breech birth;’
- Being a keynote speaker in the Virtual International Day of the Midwife 2022 conference at 2 pm;
- Allowing my little dog to take me for a walk to support my physical and mental health;
- Taking a massive nap; and
- Spending a wild evening in on my sofa, knitting a jumper for my son Waldo the Stonemason and listening to a Miss Marple audio book.
If you feel exhausted just reading that list, you’re as human as me!
A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.– Simon Sinek, shared by Céline, an attendee at my VIDM presentation
This feasibility study is undoubtedly the most challenging and most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. Being a research leader means being a change leader, and change is never easy. The OptiBreech Project is proposing a paradigm change in the way we support vaginal breech birth. This means a change from promoting caesarean section (CS) to supporting each individual women’s choice of mode of birth, in line with NICE Guidance. And it means a change from using unreliable ‘selection criteria,’ which are also inconsistent with the concept of individual choice, to relying on specialist expertise to respond to unfolding and infinitely unique circumstances.
Being a breech specialist is not easy. In addition to a lot of time spent on-call, it’s not like working in a low-risk midwifery setting, where you can anticipate 90% of women will have the normal birth that they want. Many women are heart-broken when they find out their baby is breech. We can support them to plan an elective CS, and some women are happy about this, but many are very disappointed, even when they feel this is the best option for them and their baby. For those who want to plan a vaginal birth, but only if the baby is head-down, baby turning (ECV, external cephalic version) is only successful up to 50% of the time. We are still there for women when it does not work.
For those who want to plan a vaginal breech birth, the barriers sometimes seem impossible. It’s not uncommon for women to make an informed decision to plan a physiological breech birth (PBB) and return to clinic in tears because of the way someone has spoken to them, be that another health care professional, a friend or family member, or an unkind stranger on social media with opinions about the wisdom of their choice. The criticism, judgement and stigma can feel very heavy at such a vulnerable time. Our interviews with women on the study indicate they have felt supported to change their minds and plan an elective CS in these circumstances. Of course we can and do facilitate women changing their minds, but we can’t take away the hurt women feel when they wished for more support to make a different choice.
Birthing people who stick with their choice to birth vaginally despite such ubiquitous doubt frequently want reassurance that everything will be okay. Of course, we can never guarantee a perfect outcome. We can only guarantee that we are doing our best to increase the chances we will get professionals with enhanced training and experience to their birth. We believe this will improve outcomes for these births (that is the premise of the research), but we will not know until many OptiBreech births have occurred. And we all have to be prepared for a higher need for intrapartum CS to achieve a safe outcome for breech babies, even when trying for a vaginal birth.
Those of us supporting women who choose physiological breech births face similar criticism and judgement on a regular basis. Sometimes the lack of respect and unkindness feels overwhelming, and it is tempting to succumb to despair. I find it helps to remember that behaviour like this comes from a place of fear, a belief that doing things differently could have disastrous outcomes. Nobody wants this, and nobody wants to be responsible for it. In difficult times, I lean into the support I feel from many wonderful midwifery and obstetric colleagues, who help bring me back to a place of compassionate understanding. Only by opening to understanding each other can we move towards trust and safety — physical, emotional and spiritual safety in each others’ hands.
Listening to my ‘Joy and Love’ playlist helps too. Here’s a mini playlist of my favourite Resistance Revival Chorus songs, for anyone who needs them today.