Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Bimala's Story.

Here is Bimala's account of her baby's birth. As you'll read, Bimala worked at Midwifery Society of Nepal (MIDSON) and was incredibly helpful and supportive to me during my first visit to Kathmandu, and during the follow up visits with Royal College of Midwives. She was instrumental in 'looking after' all the volunteers with the GMTP programme. We are all indebted to her for making our visits so relaxed and pleasant.

Bimala shared with us her interest and concern regarding childbirth, and women's issues in general. She is a well educated, well informed, compassionate and incredibly generous woman. With the knowledge she received from the international midwives while working with MIDSON, she set her mind on that 'beautiful birthing room' picture we had described. It saddened me to read her words '...volunteer midwives whom I had worked with during my tenure in Midwifery Society of Nepal had messed it up for me.' But here is a strong woman. She held firmly the belief that her body could birth her baby, and remained questioning of  local protocol versus 'best evidence'.

How many birthing women believe they don't have choices? Or that their bodies are objects for healthcare professionals to do with what they choose? I think a realistic answer to this question would astound us. There is learning to be done, always, for women and care givers worldwide. Bimala has received criticism for bringing the hospital concerned into 'disrepute'. I believe the treatment she received during early labour is, sadly, the norm and widely practiced in Nepal. This birth story could have happened anywhere in Kathmandu. Surely it is helpful to focus less on the 'disrepute' and blaming of an informed mother, and more on improving respectful, evidenced based, woman centered care?

Excuses have been attempted.... No money. Women don't mind. They want a safe birth. It has to be this way. We are too busy. This Is Protocol.

I've listened to the excuses, and provided direction for change. It is slow. There is no justifiable reason for disrespectful care. The next generation are dependent on strong mothers, and we continue to allow...even perpetuate..this abuse. If this isn't okay treatment for your mother, sister, wife, daughter, then it isn't okay.

Thank you, Bimala, for having the strength and conviction to write this account of your little girl's birthday. I hope your message travels far and wide. Blessed be. xxx

My childbirth experience

Bimala Rai

[Hospitals in Nepal do not have the environment, both physically and psycho-socially, suitable for normal births. I had first-hand experience of the abuse of healthcare professionals during my childbirth in one of the reputed hospitals. Apart from unprofessional attitude and behaviour, there was lack of informed consent, client's privacy, therapeutic communication, autonomy for decision making, and respecting client's decision in their practice. Instead of an environment of calmness and happiness to give birth to my first baby, I was distressed and losing confidence in myself. Delivering a live baby seemed to be their only aim. Whether I as a mother would have a wonderful experience giving birth was far far far from their minds. 

Thankfully, because of few nurses, who were expert in normal births and strongly promoted it, I was able to deliver my baby the way I wanted to. They made me realize the importance of strong will and confidence mothers needed to have for normal birth, and of the role midwives played in helping mothers to do so. During 9 months of follow-up, my obstetrician never bothered to mention different exercises, positions, comfort measures that helped in progression of labour which these nurses taught me during 20 hours of my time with them. Follow-up of 9 months with these nurses would have been far better. It is unfortunate that theses nurses who dedicated their life to normal birthing do not have autonomy to practice as independent healthcare provider and do not have the title of ‘Midwife’ in Nepal.] 

I woke up when my water broke around 4:30 in the morning of March 13th. I went to the washroom to check for certain and I saw blood stain in my panty. I was excited, “Yay!!! Finally, the time has come!” No sign of labour pain but another gush of water leak all over my dress. I changed into a new dress and used a sanitary pad. I did not feel like sleeping, so watched music videos on TV and whistled along. I was in a happy mood. At about 7:30 am I woke my husband up and informed him of the incident. We collected our bags that we had prepared for birthing and went to the hospital. My mother-in-law accompanied us as well.

We arrived at the hospital at around 8:15 am. My water kept leaking every couple of minutes. We went to the maternity ward. I was well acquainted with the former Nursing Director of the hospital who was still working there in another department. I gave her a call and told her about my condition. She said she would come visit me.  My husband was not allowed into the ward. It was a bit upsetting but nothing I could do about it. So he waited outside the ward. I was directed to a room with two beds which probably was the ‘Triage Room’. There were about 4-5 person there, no introduction were given but from my experience working as a nurse I deduced that they were a couple of student nurses, one junior nurse and two senior nurses. I gave them previous records of the latest fetus ultrasounds, lab tests, and follow-up with the obstetrician. One of the senior nurses asked me why I was there. “Well, I am pregnant and,” I started to answer her when she interjected in an annoyed tone, “I know you are pregnant, don’t tell me that. Tell me why you have come.” “Not a good start at the hospital to an exciting day,” I thought, a bit upset that she didn’t let me finish first. Calmly, I told her my water had broken, so I had come. She asked me a couple of other questions including my profession. I told her I am a nurse. She asked me to lie down on the bed, inserted a speculum per-vagina and swabbed my leaking fluid for sample. She did not use the curtains to maintain privacy, so my private parts were exposed for all there to see.  Very moment I had a flashback of my conversation with one of the UK Midwife. 
[After observing per vaginal exams done on mothers-to-be without privacy in front of other care providers, the UK midwife had asked the doctor if the mothers were okay with that. The doctor had replied that it was normal in Nepal and that women did not mind. Since, women in UK liked their privacy and as midwife they ensured that, she was curious to know if it was not mandatory in other countries with different cultures. I had replied to her by saying-“Where respect, privacy, confidentiality, informed consent and decision making are concerned, there is no such thing as culture/country context. Period. Women in Nepal cover their body flesh with clothing as much as possible for propriety, how is she okay when Doctor/nurse she has never met before comes in and exposes her most private body parts and stick fingers in? Majority of women in Nepal are not empowered to speak up for their needs and rights. So, though internally they are shocked, disgusted they try to cope with it by mentally establishing the idea that Health care professionals are allowed to do what they do without her consent. So, these pregnant mothers are normalizing unacceptable conduct from Health care professionals which in return is fostering discrimination, disrespect, and acceptance/expectation of low level of care for women in general in Nepal.”]
And here I was in similar situation. I hesitated to ask the nurse to use the curtain. Not because I felt helpless or underpowered to do so, but because I thought my asking her to do so might make her upset that I had pointed out her bad nursing practice, (keeping in mind they knew I am a nurse as well.) They could have taken it in a positive way i.e. mindfully use curtains for privacy in future, or could take it in negative way which was to see me as a threat, preaching to them about their practice throughout my hospital stay. I wanted to focus on giving birth in that hospital and the last thing I wanted was to be viewed as an annoying patient to my healthcare providers. So, I refrained from making any comments. However, whatever the reason was for not commenting, was I normalizing that misconduct by doing so? As someone educated, bold and a health care professional myself was I doing wrong by not speaking up? I had internal conflict. 
After a couple of minutes a doctor came in and asked me why I had come, looked at my previous records and asked me to lie down again. She then inserted her fingers per-vagina. Again, no curtains! I was also thinking that it would have been nice if the doctor had done the per-vaginal examination while the nurse had speculum inserted for swab test. But I was afraid my comment would upset both the nurse and the doctor; so I kept it to myself. Then I felt sharp pain shooting up into my abdomen and felt like peeing while the doctor was doing her examination. After the doctor was done with PV exam, I went to the washroom to pee with that abdominal pain still lingering. When I came out the former Nursing Director had arrived and with a smiling face asked me how I was feeling. It was so nice to see a smiling face in such an occasion.  I greeted her and said, “I was fine but now, for some reason, I have pain in my lower abdomen after the doctor did per vaginal exam on me.” The doctor, writing something on the table beside us looked at the former Nursing Director and said, “Oh! I performed a membrane sweep on her to induce labour!” Again, it was upsetting that the doctor had not informed me about the procedure she was about to perform on me. And again, I held myself back from commenting fearing unpleasant relationship between us, and the internal conflict I had started building up.

Next I was taken to a room with eight beds. It was a bright room. There were three more mothers-to-be, one without IV, one with IV running and one on continuous FHR monitoring machine. The one without IV was crying in pain, looked restless and trying to get out of bed while the nurses were telling her to stop crying and lie down on bed. The other two mothers-to-be were quietly lying on their respective beds. There were same nurses and the doctor from the triage room and another lady in sari and lab coat who was ordering nurses around, assigning beds. I guessed she was the nurse in-charge/supervisor. She did not talk to me.  Not a pleasant atmosphere in the room, at least not for me.  Those international volunteer midwives whom I had worked with during my tenure in Midwifery Society of Nepal had messed it up for me. Influenced by them, I had a wonderful image of a room for my childbirth, image of a quiet room with may be a bed or chair to rest, slow calm music in the background, a birthing ball or other tools for comfortable positions during labour, and only my husband and a midwife in the room for birthing. I had wanted to stay home for birthing but my family were strongly against it, especially my husband. So, there I was in a room full of beds, medical instruments and equipment, little space to walk around, and unhappy mothers-to-be, nurses and doctors who had not talked to me after the triage. I just sat up on the bed assigned to me and watched the activities around me. 

My water was leaking about every 10-15 minutes with slight blood stain but otherwise clear fluid. A nurse came and checked fetal heart rate with a fetoscope. The junior nurse placed IV cannula on my left arm to take blood sample, but left without flushing the blood on the cannula. I called her back and asked her to flush the IV cannula which she said she would. However, she got engaged with another task. So I called the senior nurse and requested her to flush the cannula with sterile saline in case the blood blocked the cannula. She ignored my request and said, “Do not worry. Nothing will happen, we will take care of it if there is a blockage.” This time I could not keep quiet. I would be risking a blocked IV cannula which would mean opening a vein again in another place. So, I kept politely insisting on flushing it right then. The junior nurse saw me talking to the senior nurse, so she came and flushed it. 

It was about 9:30 am when the senior doctor came in for rounds. She came to my bed first and all the nurses and the junior doctor gathered around her. The junior doctor reported to her about my condition. The senior doctor ordered the junior doctor to administer Tab Misoprostol at 10:30 am if I did not get labour contraction by then. I got anxious hearing the order for artificial induction. The senior doctor did not even bother to inform me of it and started walking away. I called after her, “Excuse me doctor. Is it necessary to artificially induce labour now? I want to wait for the labour contractions to start naturally.” “We need to deliver your baby within 24 hours since there is high risk of infection to you and the baby. We cannot wait longer than 6 hours for induction of labour in cases of water break. So, we will wait only until 10:30 am which is 6 hours post your water break.” She replied and walked to the next client. Nope! What I wanted or whether I agreed to their plan for artificial induction was not in their list of priorities since they did not bother asking me or waiting for my reply. 

I had previously read research articles on 24 hour rule for water break and none of them had suggested that it was proven to be the best option. I rushed to the washroom with my mobile and started calling my relatives who had water break before actual labour pain had started. Of the four relatives I called, only one had artificially induced the labour and it was optional. She was given a choice to wait it out or induce labour artificially, in that too which way of artificial induction she wanted. However, all four mothers had delivered without any complications and had perfectly healthy babies. So, I went back to the doctors and so went our conversation in this way: 
Me – “Excuse me doctor. Please let me wait for a couple of hours more, may be till 2-3 pm, for labour contractions to start naturally, keeping close observations on my baby and myself.  If I do not have natural contractions by then, then I will not deny artificial induction.” 
Doctor – “No. We cannot do that. If you wanted to wait, you should have stayed home and not come here. You cannot do as you wish inside the hospital. We have specific protocols here. You have water leaking and with that there can be complications. We want to prevent such complications.”
Me – “I know you are trying to do what you think is right for me. However, I have worked with international midwives before and I have a belief of my own of what is right for me. Not all mothers have labour contractions start within 6 hours of water breaking. There are abundant cases where it started after 24 hours or more post water break and mother-baby turn out fine. There is also no guarantee that artificial inductions will work on me just fine! It has its own risks. I am not asking to wait 24 hours. My vitals are fine, I am not diabetic, fetal heart rate is good, baby is moving, and the water leaking is clear. So, I do not think waiting for a couple of hours more is going to do a lot of damage to the outcome.”
Doctor – “We saw it on your record that you are a nurse. Where did you do your nursing?”
Me – “International University of Business Agriculture and Technology in Bangladesh.”
Doctor – “Is it a Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree?”
Me – “Bachelor Degree.”
Doctor – “Where do you work?”
Me – “I used to work in Helping Hands Community Hospital at Chahabil. I had also worked in Midwifery Society of Nepal (MIDSON) where I was able to learn a lot from the volunteering international midwives regarding normal births. So, I want to have my childbirth through normal delivery. Again, please let me wait only a couple of hours more. I am also ready to sign a risk consent which could state that I had refused artificial induction at so and so time and that the health care providers would not be responsible in case any complications arise later while waiting.”
Doctor – “Look. I know in developed countries they try their best for normal births. However, in Nepal, it is a different context. Every pregnancy is a complication.”
Me – “It is also a normal phenomenon. So, depends on how you perceive it.” 
Doctor – “You are a nurse yourself so you know how it is in the hospitals. We have protocols here that we need to follow. If you want to wait you have to get discharged and go home …”
Me – “Okay then I will get discharged and wait at home.”
Doctor – “However, you have to sign Leave against Medical Advice (LAMA) paper to leave. If you do so, we will not treat you later if you come back with complications.’
Unbelievable!! I would like to believe that the doctor just worded her thoughts wrong and what she actually wanted to mean was that she would not be responsible for the complications later but would treat me nevertheless. I told them that I would leave against the medical advice. 

As I went back to my bed, they called in my mother-in-law and talked to her for couple of minutes. She came to me and said, “The doctors are upset with you. They said they had never seen such arrogant patient before, that you are being unreasonable. They asked me to make you understand.” I told her of my decision. My mother-in-law told me to do what I felt was right for me. 

By then it was 10:30 am. The doctor came to me and said if my cervix was effacing and opening well they would not use the artificial induction. I agreed and allowed them to do a PV exam. After the exam, doctor said that I was only 1.5 cm open which, in her opinion, was not a good progress. She told me it was time for induction, so I better make quick decision. I called the former Nursing Director and told her of my situation. She came and requested the doctors to let me wait for just a couple of hours. However, doctors denied. By this time I was distressed, worried, confused and starting to doubt my decision, whether I was taking risk for my baby as well.  But I strongly felt I could have normal birth without induction since both my baby and I were doing fine. So, I refused induction and signed the LAMA paper. They also needed my guardian to sign the paper (as if I was incompetent of making my own decisions.) I said my husband (who was apparently sent to arrange two pints of blood for surgery) was on his way to the hospital. She wanted my husband to meet her as well. When my husband did arrive, the doctor brought the LAMA paper, handed it to him and simply said, “We have been counselling your wife for the last two hours. Ask her what you need to know and sign it if you decide to leave.” Then she left. I had informed my husband about the incident through telephone on his way back. Poor him! He was in dilemma and asked me what he should do. I told him I would not artificially induce labour yet so we had to leave. With some hesitation he signed the paper. As we were preparing to leave, a lady (I guessed she was Nurse incharge/supervisor for the next shift) came to me and asked politely asked me why I was leaving. When I told her the reason, she did not make comments on my decision but simply warned me of the risks for infection and advised me not to wait too long before going to another facility. I was so grateful for her! Her conduct showed true professionalism of a healthcare provider. Not commenting on my decision showed she respected it, and even though I was no longer in her care she warned me of risks, and advised me of what she thought would help me after I left the hospital. I thanked her for her concern and left the hospital. 

That morning I was confident, happy and excited. By the afternoon, when we were back home, I was worried and anxious, so was my family. But my strong determination and will for normal birth kept me focused. I knew of a birth centre where only normal deliveries were conducted by the expert Skilled Birth Attendants (SBA). It was called Adharbhut Prasuti Sewa Kedra (APS). I was acquainted with the birth centre and the experts there through MIDSON. I called them and informed them that I wanted to have my delivery in their birth centre. They asked me to come to their facility. I informed my family members about it. We took our lunch and went to APS Kendra. 

At 2:30 pm when we reached APS, Miss Amala Maharjan, a nurse with SBA skills and 20 years of experience working in Paropakar Maternity and Women's Hospital, was there to welcome me with a big smile on her face. We greeted each other, I introduced to her my husband and mother-in-law. I gave her the file with all the records of my previous check-ups. I also told her that I had refused artificial induction in the hospital and left it before coming to the birth centre. We discovered that the hospital had given any records or notes regarding the procedures and treatments performed during my stay there. I told her that they had performed PV exam twice and the last cervical opening measured just 1.5 cm. Nevertheless, she wanted to perform a PV exam again for official recording at the birth centre. I agreed and allowed her to do so. The cervix had opened about 3 cm, which was good progress. She said as long as both mother and baby are fine with no meconium staining in the leaking water, we could wait and watch for labour. I was relieved. She took my vital signs, foetal heart rate, and took me to the room where I was to deliver. It had two beds, baby weighing machine, two padded benches, birthing ball, a wooden birthing stool, and a cart with medical supplies for normal delivery. It was quiet in the whole building. There were few student nurses, two staff members and nurse Amala. I was starting to calm down. Nurse Amala asked me to walk around or take rest as I wished. She encouraged me to eat and drink warm fluids since I would need the energy later. So my husband and mother-in-law rested on the bench while I walked around the quiet building. I kept myself hydrated with warm milk, tea, and water. It was exactly what I wanted for my childbirth, a quiet place with my husband and nurse with me. 

At around 4 pm I felt a slight contraction in my lower abdomen. It went away very quickly. I kept walking. The after 20 minutes I had another contraction of same nature. After that I noticed it was coming and going every 25-30 minutes. I was sure then that labour pain had started, almost 12 hours after water break. If I was at the hospital I would have already consented for artificial induction of labour. So, I kept walking. Nurse Amala taught me few positions that helped in the descend of the baby in pelvis. While doing those positions, I chatted with nurse Amala about MIDSON. It was all nice and comfortable. Later, at around 6 pm, nurse Amala brought in an obstetrician who was an outpatient consultant at the birth centre. She reviewed my records and said that we could wait and watch, and left. Mrs Rashmi Rajopadhyay, founder chairperson of the birth centre whom I had known through MIDSON, came in to check on me as well. My mother-in-law went back home as it started getting dark, and my husband brought me dinner from home. After about 11 pm at night my contractions got a bit stronger, but tolerable, and lasted for about 25-35 seconds every 8-10 minutes. Nurse Amala would come to the room every hour to check FHR and my vitals, and reminded me to watch for baby’s movement and colour of the leaking fluid. She also advised considering use of Pitocin in the morning. She would encourage me to eat/drink and rest when possible. She also recorded my contraction at times. I used the wooden birthing stool a lot since it felt comfortable, while squatting could help in the decent of baby’s head in the pelvis. 

It was 10 minutes to 4am in the morning when I had my first intense and long contraction. It came back again after 2-3 minutes and lasted for about 50-60 secs. I called for nurse Amala who came right in and timed the contraction. She said she wanted to check for the progress of cervical opening and effacement which I agreed to. She found that I had effaced 80% but cervical opening was only 4cm. She advised to start me on Pitocin and I agreed to it. I had total confidence in her practice, therefore I did not hesitate to consent to her advices. She hooked up IV Pitocin on my right wrist (since my left was used by the hospital) which did not flow well because I was moving often to ease that intense labour pain. 

What intense pain!!! And how nice that my husband was there to massage my back, support me while I was squatting, or let me squeeze his arm when I was not able to tolerate the pain. He looked at me helplessly but looking at him gave me courage to bear through the pain. Yet, I was getting weaker with each contraction. At times Nurse Amala would remind me to do deep breathing which totally did not work with me. I must have practiced that during prenatal period but I did not have a midwife to inform me that then. I was almost on the verge of giving up after two and a half hours of intense labour when suddenly I had the urge to push the poop out. I told my husband to call nurse Amala who rushed in and found out that it was time. Suddenly, I had this rush of energy in my body. I got up into the bed, was on my hand and knees ready to push with all my might. After four pushes, I gave birth to my baby girl. They put her on my chest while they cut the cord and waited for placenta to come out. I had slight tear on labia minora but otherwise fine. They dried my baby, weighed her (turned out 3.5 kg), wrapped her in warm clothes and gave her to my husband. After they had cleaned me down there, my husband came and gave our daughter to me. 

I had thought, when I first see my baby, whom I had waited to meet for the last 9 months, I will have one of those emotional moments, you know, all teary or feeling super happy/wonderful, like in the movies. Nothing!! I thought she looked like a boy! And not cute at that too! I was not unhappy or anything but I had expected a little more emotion on the first meeting from my side. All I had was feeling of relaxation and relief that intense contractions were over. I took her in my arms and started breastfeeding her. I was advised to continue antibiotics for 5 days and was also counselled on breastfeeding, time for immunizations, Kegel exercises, and nutrition. Nurse Amala came to me and said, “You have a strong will. If you had not been confident and if your family members had not been supportive, we would not have been able to have a normal birth.” Deep down I knew it was true but also the fact that she had played the main role in helping me to stay strong throughout. 

In three hours post-delivery, I was back home with the whole family welcoming my baby. Nurse Amala and Mrs Rashmi Rajopadhyay, and Ms Laxmi Tamang (one of the founders of APS Kendra) kept following up on me and my baby’s condition through phone calls. They wanted to make house visit for follow-up but I did not want to waste their time for nothing. 

Today, my baby is 15 days old! She is doing fine eating, pooping and sleeping at her will while me and my husband have black eye from all those sleepless night which we understand is likely to continue for couple of months more. Oddly instead of being stressed, my husband and I are super happy. And now I find my baby girl to be the cutest of all!

The End

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Now were getting somewhere...

As always, for me, it’s best to let experiences settle in my mind before trying to put them into words. Today is the perfect day to make a start at sharing the events of April, and it’s been wonderful reminiscing over the photographs. They transport me straight back to the smells, tastes, hugs, and all the other ingredients that make up my world while I’m in Nepal. I feel so overdue a visit, I could jump on a plane tonight!

I’ve given myself a break from travelling during this autumn. Had Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine not come to the end of funding for their ‘Making it Happen’ programme, I’d have happily packed my case and helped with their overseas training. But the effort I’d need to find a similar project to support, I put elsewhere...into a project of my own.

I’ve been working on getting my independent business, Birthjourneys Midwifery, up and running again. Postnatal debriefing and birth planning after previous trauma are areas I don’t think are covered with enough depth in our National Health Service (NHS). Information makes for empowered women, which in turn makes for better births. This is true wherever women live in the world.
My immediate intention is to lessen the time I spend working for the NHS, and increase my satisfaction of being ‘with woman’ by using the whole bag of skills that I have. I hope to have more flexibility and time to train overseas, too. My trust does not give me time out to support developing countries.
Take a look at the website, and feel free to pass the contact details on.

As well as this work, I was pleased to be approached to join two longer term NGO projects overseas, but both were for at least three months duration. I had too many commitments here and wasn’t in a position to go, but it felt good to be asked. Another time, maybe...

So, it feels like a lot has happened since my return from Nepal in April. It was a brilliant trip, and Sarah, Stevie and I came back brimming with excitement about our achievements and how we might take them further.

We almost didn’t get out there. My original plan to take four of us out to the more remote areas to provide midwifery and emergency training to larger groups of nurses had to be re-thought. With the fuel crisis that Nepal was suffering very much still in evidence, we couldn’t expect the nurses to afford  black market prices for transport, AND come away from their workplaces for the two or three days we intended for training. 

However, just as I was considering targeting a potential birth centre at Kirtipur and closer to Kathmandu, Dr Peru Pradhan, an obstetrician at that same centre, was also asking her colleagues and managers for fresh input.

It was all systems go from this point. Studies, plans, purchase of equipment, flight tickets, long distance communication, and accommodation were all sorted with little time to spare.

Kirtipur Birth Centre and 3day training programme.

Kirtipur Hospital had already built a birth centre. When I visited several years ago, they were seeking advice about equipment, amount of beds, staffing, admission criteria etc. Sadly funding and staffing have been an issue, and then there was the small matter of an earthquake bringing absolute devastation to the country. The unofficial fuel embargo from India in response to Nepal’s government actions didn’t help either.  Long story shortened, it meant that another area of the hospital had been prepared for the birth centre.

Our hopes were to deliver training in the first week, and the second week we would provide practical training for staff alongside birthing women. But the centre wasn’t ready, and we are still waiting for it, but we DID manage some training of nurse-midwives who intend to work there, or in a similar low risk birthing environment.

‘Promoting normal/physiological birth with respectful and compassionate care’.
Three groups of 8 or more participants, rotating around three work stations, over the three days, meant we could cover many topics. I, Sarah and Stevie provided the training, supported by two lovely Spanish midwives, Miguel and Marta, who were visiting Nepal at the time. With a good participant skill mix, we managed to get the group sharing dynamics perfect.
...Knitted.  Learnt. Listened. Taught. Discussed.
Chatted. Laughed. Reflected. Acted. Knitted. Ate. Shared. Researched.... Brainstormed...Hugged......... Knitted.

And these were the topics we covered....

Admission criteria, uptake of eligible women, respectful and compassionate care, slow progress, staying mobile in labour, hydration and bladder care, partograph, perineal care and third stage, early breastfeeding and skin to skin, breech, eclamptic fit, shoulder dystocia, postpartum haemorrhage, neonatal resus, antepartum haemorrhage, meconium, identifying small babies, documentation, teamwork and transfer, audit and records, debriefing and info sharing. Updating and moving forward, keeping our skills, managing criticism and challenging bad behaviour.

The common theme over all the workshops and three days was respectful, evidence based care. The workshops were open to obstetricians as well as nurses but, apart from the lovely Dr Peru who is central to the setting up of the Kirtipur Birth Centre, there were none. What a disappointment.

While the nurses listened and shared, they also knitted. Over lunch we knitted with them. It’s thought (and there’s research to prove it, indeed!) our listening skills are honed while our hands are busy with simple crafts. Ancient midwifery skills probably included the art of knitting, too. (One can quietly take in events of the birthing room, and will be less likely to interfere with normal progress). On a spiritual note, the connection, love, and support for birthing women that was shared during the training, is now knitted into every stitch of a beautiful patchwork blanket. We plan to sell the blanket to provide funds for the birth centre. Any takers??? Please message me below (you may need to be ‘anonymous’ to leave a comment, but you can send an email)

As our training came to a close, we put on a performance of ‘Bimala’s Story’...of two very different attitudes and practices in two labour rooms. This true and recent birth story brought lively and emotional discussion. Some could relate to the birthing woman, others bravely admitted they had witnessed or been part of the uncaring attitudes or practices from the healthcare staff.
(For the full written edition from Bimala, of her account in a hospital labour ward and then when she transferred herself to the small community APS Birth centre in Kalanki, please go to recent post, 'Bimala's Story'.

The nurses went home from the training course with their folders, certificates, and hopefully a bit more confidence to challenge unsafe and uncaring practices, and more confidence in their own ability to support normal birth.

Progress with midwifery.

We joined a health camp in the village of many pills. But the care was provided free by Midwifery Society of Nepal (MIDSON) and Direct Relief, an NGO, and it meant that women and children, who might not otherwise seek health advice, were able to leave their homes and workplaces to get checked out. 

During the consultations they received nutrition or contraceptive advice. It was really good to see the teenage girls...the next generation of mothers...having time spent on them. 

It was even better to see Laxmi Tamang (MIDSON) teaching the benefits of normal, upright birth. The main reason for the camp was to screen for cervical cancer. Colposcopy was offered the same day if samples tested positive.

With the births witnessed, I was SO PLEASED not to see routine episiotomies. I still, sadly, saw women lying on their backs to push babies out, and there was little evidence of skin to skin care. But generally, I felt a change in attitude from the care givers. They wanted to do their best and provide good care. As always, and in this country too, there is fear of comeback for NOT doing some procedures.

Nepali nurses are trained for speed. Their labour wards are incredibly busy. They also do much of their learning of surgical procedures on models. This doesn’t naturally teach compassion during placental removal or perineal suturing. I’m hoping that midwifery teaching will teach this. It is needed.

We managed to take lots of equipment out this time, including sonicaids and TENS machines (a first). It was distributed between the centres that we have come to support regularly (APS, TUTH, Kirtupur). In fact, all of our cases were crammed full with equipment, wool, journals... every square inch and ounce. Thank you so much for all you wonderful people who donated and enabled us to take this equipment out.

APS Birth Centre, Kalanki

Of course, I couldn’t go to Kathmandu and not visit my lovely second home. Sadly, the original building isn’t safe since the quake, and the staff are rattling around in a rather large alternative building along the road. It’s a splendid place, but probably too big. The ethos, and care the staff give there, is second to none, as explained so well by Bimala.

Meeting to support midwifery curriculum

We met Pramila Dewan, nursing campus chief of the Bir Hospital. A curriculum had been prepared for submission to the nursing council. Three training hospitals are at similar stages of progress, and it feels like they are not communicating the shortcuts and pitfalls they could all be learning from. The curriculum we viewed was still quite nursing focused, and possibly not in line with International Confederation of Midwives criteria. I have yet to find out if it was accepted by the council, and if teaching has indeed commenced. However, lots of work has been achieved so far, and we’re so close now to having midwifery HAS to happen.
(In recent communication with Pramila, the curriculum has been accepted, and there has been increased contact between the three universities preparing for the midwifery training. The nursing Council is supporting the training, too. Result!!! Well done Pramila and co-workers. They hope to start the training very soon)

Mangla Devi Birthing Centre

We visited the Mangla Devi Birthing Centre at the Tribuvan University Teaching Hospital again, and were invited to review the admission and transfer criteria for the centre. Their figures for the past year are great....
24% transfer to labour ward. Only 14% intact perineum, but only 9% episiotomy too, and only 0.5% third degree tears. The only postpartum haemorrhage needing transfer was a cervical tear. A most worrying figure, though, and not at all reflective of care at the centre, was that only 42% of the babies born were girls!!

A ‘strengthening’meeting, to review and increase support for the centre, was arranged with us. It was decided that women’s low choice for using the birth centre impacted on low figures, as did the lack of staffing ability to have the centre open through the night. The deputy director of TUTH was present and promised to review the necessary changes. Having the Birth Centre nurse-midwives also providing care in antenatal clinic might increase uptake by the women. Sadly, there were no doctors present at the meeting. The head of the obstetric department was called away at the beginning of the meeting, and no others from the obstetrics team could join us. This is a common and unhelpful theme throughout Kathmandu hospitals. I wonder why doctors don’t see themselves as part of this push towards midwifery care and normality in childbirth.

Doctors, midwifery care decreases maternal and neonatal mortality. Your support is crucial. As midwives must use best evidence to provide care, so must you. Not to do so could be viewed as breaking your Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm’.

And for the tourists and Kathmandu lovers....

A few snippets to tease the mind, body, and soul....

All the cracks in the buildings! How heartbreaking. I stood on the top of Swayambhu temple, overlooking the Kathmandu valley, and imagined how it would be to feel the whole of the earth rumbling below me.

The Boudhanath bells were closed for business, and scaffolding adorned the central all-seeing eyes. 

There were long, long queues for petrol. Gas bottles were left unattended in rows, waiting for the next filling day. 

Burns units were filled with families fallen after improvising with cooking fuels.

One delightful evening was spent with Rashmi Rajopadhyaya (Midwife through and through!) and her family. Since the earthquake, she has been cooking on the ground floor. Her house, joining four others, is patiently waiting for building work to replace the huge cracks in the joining walls. While her house stands, she says, there is no hurry. Other houses around Patan Durbar Square are minimally supported by planks of wood trussed between tiny red brick houses in the tiny streets.

For this trip, as there were the three of us, Sarah managed to book a lovely AirB&B apartment in Bhainsipati. It was, admittedly, a twenty minute walk to catch the ring road bus each morning, but we were within a most enchanting community mixture of larger houses and tiny smallholdings. On our way home, we could buy fresh vegetables to cook with. Finding tonic, and worse still lemons, for our gin was a bit of an issue, and we gave up completely on the ice.  

Our apartment was comfy, and run by the most wonderful couple. Hot water, lights that need to be switched off when already off, washing machine, kitchen, and flushing toilet were all things that improved with understanding. For three grown women (and midwives at that!), Sarah, Stevie and I got on amazingly well. In fact, I think I could go anywhere in the world with those two wonderful women (I love you both).

      My moans of delight on finding hot water spewing from the shower were totally equalled by their shrieks of joy at finding enough electricity for the Archers on Radio 2.

One lucky morning, we were blessed with the cries of a dying goat to accompany our breakfast banter. We watched with fascination (and respect) as every morsel was washed and shared between the families. If one has to eat meat, THIS is the way to do it!

Taxis were expensive, and we only used them when we had to arrive very specifically for meeting etc. (thank you, kind person, for specifically donating towards keeping our transport options safe and manageable)

We saw the busy street life stop momentarily when a bright green snake chose to cross the road in front of us. A passer-by mumbled with obvious concern that was venomous. Maybe it was. It was wonderful to see it cross safely to the other side.

Stop Press!!! Earthquake felt on Patan roof top!  Yes, my first felt tremor. There were two rumbles, one straight after the other, and both too big for comfort. We were halfway down a cool beer after a productive day, overlooking the Durbar Square, contemplating Nepali life and wondering if we should eat, when the geraniums started shaking. Now, we were several flights of very tiny stairs up, on the top of a Kathmandu style ancient building, without light (electricity loadsharing time). It took a second or two to sink in, and by the time it did, all of the other rooftop guests were clambering for the stairs. It made sense to stay put.

What really shook me was the reflex response to the tremor. On the surface, Nepali folk are cool, and getting on with their day to day lives. Underneath, they are still desperately fearful. I, dare I admit, felt that my life wasn’t at an end. I was born in England, where there is little need to fear earthquakes. How could my luck run out while I was teaching in Nepal? But earthquakes don’t care where you were born, and they take no prisoners. These guys face further (to April 2015) quakes on a regular basis, and the aftershock is far more than just physical.

As Rashmi’s son, Sagan, said to us after, ‘welcome to Nepal’.

Places we ate?

Roadhouse Cafe.  Vesper Cafe (thanks for the intro, Tina). Both on the same street in Jhamsikhel, Kathmandu. And both gently Nepali.
New Orleans Cafe, now only in Thamel (the Jhamsikhel cafe...otherwise known to Sarah and I as 'Rat Cafe'. Don’t ask....recently fell in the quake). 
We spent a wonderful hour or two chatting with Samjhana Phuyal and Smiti Sharma about women’s rights in India and Nepal.

Garden of Dreams, and Kaiser Cafe(just north of Thamel), is another lovely semi western eating place, although it’s expensive for the service you receive.

We had a fantastic meal with some old friends at Jheegu Bhwoychhen, Thamel (thank you, Laxmi). This is a very welcoming traditional Nepali eating house. I’ll look forward to eating here again.

The three of us are beginning to check out dates and some longer term funding. We have a training package that works, is country specific, and we have wonderful contacts to be able to get the training directly where it can be put to use. If you would like to sponsor us, or know a programme that could use us, please drop a comment below.

Every time I’ve been to Nepal, I’ve had different experiences and outcomes. April’s trip was by far the most productive one for utilizing all that previous experience, seeing very real progress with attitudes towards midwifery, and returning with expectation that midwifery WILL actually happen, and soon.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Meet Lisa, the voice behind much of my funding.

Here's a new release from Lisa Fitzgibbon. What do you think? I really like this. She is the face and voice behind a good amount of my trip funding ( ). With the Power Folk Quartet, and Duotone, amongst other lovely artists, she has played at gigs and raised money for me to take equipment over to Nepal.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

These are my hands.

I found this poem several years ago, and it is the inspiration behind my logo drawing. Hands are the tools of our midwifery trade. To have them simply poised for action is a tricky skill to learn. Unlike other pieces of equipment in our workspace, we don’t spend wasted minutes running around the corridors trying to find them. We cannot be made to share them around and they’re rarely sent for repair, to be missed for weeks on end. What’s more, they’re relatively inexpensive.
The joy is that our hands belong solely to us. They are attached and cannot be removed from us. In the remotest corners of the world, our hands can save lives, hold space, and nurture women, babies, and families. If we have absolutely nothing else, we can still do our work.
Admittedly hands, like any other tool, are only as good as the midwife using them. Hands are team players, and completely depend on our eyes, ears, head, heart, and soul. Maybe Aristotle knew back then that a midwife, who worked with the whole package, had the strongest essence for being with woman.
And so....
Our hands are our tools. Let’s honour them. Let’s keep our skills and practice them hard. There may be a time when we find ourselves with nothing else, but we will still be midwives.

“These are my hands. Through these hands I have come to see the world. 
These hands have measured the growth of life and documented the stalling of time. 
They guide my ears to places where I hear the watch-like beat of tiny hearts. 
My hands have felt the hard bony framework of passages and the softness of muscles 
Which will bulge like petals of a rose. 
My hands have opened windows to the energy of the souls of those I have touched. 
They have held the frigid rigidity of steel instruments and the softness of a friend. 
There are stories in these hands, read from the pages of the work of women. 
With my hands I felt the power of the strength it takes to grow and release new spirit. 
My hands were born with the knowing of touch. 
The journey has added how and when and the time to ask for help. 

Teaching hands engulfed mine until they were ready to fly. 
My hands are joined in a circle which is unbroken through time. 
Sometimes my hands do nothing; Their most important work will be still with fingers laced 
and witness the 'art of doing nothing' has been passed from one generation to the next. 
Mine have been taught by some of the most powerful hands, to watch and wait. 
This is perhaps the hardest for hands born to touch. 
If I have nothing else to give you, let me teach you how to see with your hands. 
How to open the windows of life, and close the door softly when it is time. 
In the darkness, it is your hands that will light the way. 
These are my hands. 
These are the hands of a midwife.”

Hands- Jan Weingrad from the book 'The art and soul of midwifery (Davis, L)

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Letter to RCM: A sad day.

Dear Royal College of Midwives,

When I qualified as a midwife, I didn't feel that I needed a graduation ceremony. I was a mature student, with a grandmother born on Halloween 1900 and a midwife for her whole career, my training was always on the cards. It was only when invited to attend a meeting to discuss the up and coming 'Global Midwifery Twinning Project' (I was already involved in Nepal), and I stepped up towards the huge blue door of RCM head quarters, that I truly felt I'd 'earned my colours'.

I'm proactive and incredibly passionate about midwifery, both at home and overseas. Like you, I am keen for midwives to have a voice and a future. Being a member of RCM has been one way for me to support this.

However, I have found it necessary to secure more union support than you can offer..... for my overseas midwifery, my volunteering midwifery, and my independent consultancy midwifery. I'm sure you'll not have missed the fact that all of these ways of working are vital to keeping midwifery available to all, and help to protect what autonomy we have as midwives.

Please will you end my membership from today onwards, as I have had to start union cover with Royal College of Nursing. They will provide, and for a smaller fee, professional indemnity cover to include all of the above activities.

I'd like you to know that I have hated the thought of ending my membership. It feels so wrong, and I'm deeply saddened. I am also quite angry that Royal College of Midwives are unable to support me and protect me while I help to take midwifery 'out there'. It matters to me, it matters to our profession, and it matters to women. I don't doubt this isn't the first letter you've received on the issue, but I'd love it to be one of the last. I also appreciate there are likely to be numbers, funds, and other restrictions in place for RCM, and I'd love to know your reasons for not fully supporting midwifery. I'll be back, quick as a flash, if you change your provision of support and cover.

Mostly, I need you to know that I'm gutted. I feel strongly, and need you to appreciate that. And lastly, I want to thank you for support you have given me until now.


I received a standard formatted reply from RCM, rather than a personal one, which didn't explain why they couldn't support me.

I feel let down.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Penny for your thoughts....

I was just considering updating where I'm at with my midwifery and travelling. I'd hoped to get a more personal reflection of my findings and usefulness after the Dunkirk trip, but I've been thrown into preparations for another pending trip to Nepal. Hopefully, I'll spend some time with colleagues over the next two weeks, and we'll share experiences, challenges, high and low points of our midwifery volunteering in France, and where this might lead us.

Other events demanding my attention are International Women's Day on march 8th, International Day of the Midwife on May 5th and, as mentioned, a trip to Kirtipur, Kathmandu on 2nd April to support the opening of a Normal Birth Unit. Busy!

I'm writing right now because I'm intrigued to find out who is doing all the sharing of my blog. It's had over 2000 hits, from France alone, in the last few days. Who are you, and what are your thoughts? Midwives, legal, political, humanitarian always, as well as polite. I'd love for you to share in the comments, below. You might just have to add your name as 'anonymous' in order to post, but feel free to include your name when you comment. Thank you.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Another fun and messy evening.

Practical Crafts Evening.
Beginners welcome.

Tuesday 15th March, 7pm til 9.30pm. Kirtlington Village Hall.
Tickets £20.

Select from drop spindle spinning, basic knitting/crochet, woodcarving, pottery, and glass/wood/pebble painting. Ticket includes sessions at 2 work stations of your choice (First come first served), a glass of wine or a cuppa, and nibbles. All materials are included and you’ll have your own masterpiece to take home.
Proceeds will go towards

Midwifery needs in Dunkirk Refugee Camp.