Thursday, June 27, 2013

Save the Mercy Family Birth Centre

Dear Health Minister David Davis and CEO Mercy Health Stephen Cornelissen,

I am writing to call on you to stop the closure of the Family Birth Centre at the Mercy Hospital for Women.

I had three babies in the centre. My first was born in the hospital in 2003 when the hospital was still located in Fitzroy. I would walk to the hospital from my little house in North Fitzroy. My waters broke but my contractions didn't start. This could have been a dangerous situation, however I was able to transfer to the regular labour rooms to give birth. My only negative experience was a doctor who addressed all the medical information and argument for me to proceed with the induction to my husband. "If it was my wife, and my daughter..." I wrote a birth plan before I transferred, using the the education I had received at the FBC in both the prenatal classes and my appointments. With the support of the midwife who took me over and the lovely midwife from the regular labour room who attended the birth (the doctor popped in at the beginning and end), I was able to have the birth experience I wanted and was transferred back to the Family Birth Centre to recover. One particular midwife, Rose, taught me the art of breastfeeding (a suprisingly difficult skill).

My husband was able to sleep over. This was probably the best part for us. We started our life as a family together. He wasn't thrust out when visiting hours were over. There was no culture of "letting mum rest" as is he was somehow outside the mother baby bubble. In fact he allowed me to rest, by taking the baby into the sitting room so I could sleep soundly, knowing my newborn was cuddled in her other parent's arms rather than in a plastic crib somewhere. He was sitting beside me at three in the morning as Rose taught me to express my milk, and how to know if the baby was latched on. This was not secret women's business. This was our family coming into being.

When my second daughter was born, in the brand new FBC in Heidelberg in 2005, she was nearly two weeks late, we drove down the hauntingly deserted freeway from Mitcham at three in the morning. Though labour progressed naturally, she was big and posterior. The birth was difficult. My husband and two midwives supported me. She was born without intervention and for this I was grateful. I tore a little and was fixed up in theatre. Because of this I was transferred into the regular recovery ward. My experience there was so different. The room was lovely and there was only one other bed, however, I felt lonely. I had fainted a couple of times and was told not to get out of bed, but I received little support from the midwives. I was keen to go home but told to stay another night so they could continue to monitor the baby's temperature (which was fine). So I was furious overnight when nobody actually came in to check. A midwife wanted to put my healthy, alert, beautifully feeding baby onto formula. The room was not comfortable for my husband to spend long periods of time in, nor was it a pleasant place for my daughter (then two and a half) to be in. Honestly, my warmest connection with the hospital was when the midwives who had attended the birth in the FBC came up to visit.

When I got pregnant again in 2010 I was living in St Andrews, but I knew I would be making the journey back to the FBC. It was five years since my second daughter had been born, and obviously a lot of babies flow through the FBC, however, I was remembered and cared for. Knowing my history, they supported my decision to try Calmbirthing (Hypnobirthing - which I know sounds all crystals and patchouli but I assure you it is actually rigorous in its methodology) and they helped me monitor and control my gestational diabetes. I won't go into details except to say it was a great birth and the baby was exceptionally healthy, despite the doctor's doom and gloom predictions of blood transfusions, tearing and enormous babies. Even better, one of the midwives who attended my previous difficult birth was there, cheering me on.

The family birth centre is part of our family narrative. It offered for us over an eight year period: consistent, committed care with known midwives, a warm "homelike" environment, education on birth, breastfeeding and baby care that was practical but sympathetic to our philosophies, a different understanding of family relationships than traditional hospitals where the father's role has hardly evolved since the 70s when I was born, the opportunity to explore alternative (safe) methods of pain relief, all within easy reach of medical intervention should the need arise. To us it was a safe alternative to home-birthing.

I also wanted to add the reason I chose the FBC. I grew up with a mother who had untreated post natal depression. Both her births had been difficult, overly medicalised. Of course I had no idea how much this affected her experience of motherhood, but I made a decision early on to IMMUNISE myself against PND. I chose the birth centre model after a lot of research, and feel that in my experience, this has held true for me.

The FBC is more than the sum of its parts. Please intervene to stop the closure of the Family Birth Centre at the Mercy Hospital. If it closes, many women who seek the experience of a home birth, but in the safety of the hospital environment, will have nowhere to go.

Yours sincerely,
Penni Russon

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  1. Gosh the years fly by dont they! I always thought Fred was born in 2003, i hope the hospital stays!

  2. Oops! You're right Ailsa! I got pregnant in 2002 which was when I first visited the FBC.

  3. I hope all your girls are well!!