Bodily autonomy and informed consent – for kids?

In my Wise Hippo classes we discuss informed consent a lot. As the law stands, we all have the right to bodily autonomy – we have control over what happens to our bodies, and no medical procedure can be done to us without our consent. Consent must also be ‘informed’ – it must be clearly explained to us what the reasons are for the procedure offered, and the benefits and risks must be outlined to us before being asked to consent.

That’s all pretty sensible, right?

The legal age for giving consent to medical treatment is 16 under English law. Before that age, whoever holds parental responsibility must give consent for any treatment.

That is also pretty sensible.

Now, on the other hand as a parent, there is a strong argument for involving children in any decisions around medical care they receive in an age-appropriate way. It fits in with teaching about bodily autonomy and consent in a much wider sense. Of course as adults, my children’s father and I will be the ones who legally decide on any treatment that may be necessary for our children but certainly aged 7 and 9 I would involve them in any discussions.

And yet, I so nearly over rode what my son wanted, just because in that situation I didn’t want to cause a fuss. I had the instinctive reaction to be a ‘compliant patient’ that hits even the most assertive of us when we are confronted with a medical uniform telling us what we want, need or should have.

My son fractured his wrist at the weekend. I didn’t know it was fractured immediately; he fell off a small plastic table in a friend’s garden and landed on his wrist. My mummy sense kicked in to alert me something wasn’t right, but there was no reason to suppose it was urgent enough to drag him off to A&E right then, just before bedtime. In the morning, seeing his continued discomfort, that old mummy sense prompted me to take him along to get checked out.

Now, I am certainly not knocking the NHS here. I am so grateful that we have this amazing health service that is free at the point of contact so that I can get prompt medical attention without any worry. We were soon called into triage, where the nurse was lovely and efficient. She checked over all the important stuff, assessed the injury and then asked that old question. ‘How much does it hurt on a scale of 0 to 10?’

It’s a big question. I totally get why they ask it. It gets asked in labour too, where it is even more problematic. In this situation, my son has only ever experienced the usual cuts, bruises, scrapes and bumps. He doesn’t really have any concept of pain that is a 10. It was clearly causing him a fair degree of discomfort so he said it was an 8.

The nurse, being a caring sort of individual, immediately offered him some paracetomol to help with the pain. I say ‘offered’. Yes, it was asked as a question but it was one of those rhetorical questions where the only answer expected is ‘Yes’.

He said, ‘No thank you’. (He’s a polite boy, a real sweetie).

There was a silence. A bewildered one. ‘Oh’, the nurse said, recovering herself, ‘You know, that sweet syrupy pink stuff? Like Calpol?’

He didn’t say anything. And nor did I. The nurse started discussing with the student the dosage he should be given based on his age and weight. I looked at my son sitting there, still considering the question. I realised he hadn’t given his consent. And nor had I.

It was just a moment. I wanted it to pass, not to have to cause a scene. Just take the paracetomol, it’s not going to cause any harm.

But he hasn’t consented. And nor have I.

‘Honey’, I said. ‘Do you actually want any paracetomol? It’s okay to say No if you don’t want it.’

‘No thanks’, he said.

Right. I’ve checked in with him, now I have my answer I need to assert myself. Why is it so hard? I can do assertive in any situation – except here, in the submissive role of patient with this nice nurse who is only caring and doing her job. The nurse and student were both looking expectantly at me. ‘Is it okay if he doesn’t have any then?’ I asked nervously. I did a silly giggle and said, ‘You see, we kind of listen to our kids…..’

Yeah. I could have handled that so much more assertively, but ultimately he didn’t have the paracetomol, we got great care and attention, he has a splint which he thought was cool for all of 5 minutes until he realised he has 3 weeks over the summer holidays of not being able to do fun stuff.

And more importantly, we got to have a great chat about how I nearly hadn’t listened to him. I apologised, and said I had realised he didn’t really want it but had almost let it happen anyway. Then I had checked in with him, and stuck up for him to defend his choice. This is a small and unimportant issue – it really wouldn’t have made any difference to him if he had been given a small dose of paracetomol. But there are far wider consequences of what happened. He knows that it is okay to say No. He doesn’t have to do things, or allow things to happen to his body, just because an adult told him to.

Do you see where I’m going with this? This is about consent in all its forms. I’m teaching him to check in with people around him, to notice their body language and see if they are okay with what is happening. I’m teaching him to check in with himself, and how to speak up and say ‘No’ when necessary. I’m teaching him he doesn’t have to go along with peer pressure, or pressure from adults. I’m teaching him to speak up for others if he notices they haven’t consented to something.

We will continue to have these real life conversations throughout his childhood, and hopefully teenage and adult years. By talking, discussing, modelling, I want him to grow up knowing that no means no in whatever situation he finds himself in. I want him to have respectful, consensual physical relationships with others. I want to give him tools to protect himself if he did find himself in an uncomfortable or abusive situation.

I want him to know that in a medical situation he can ask for information, risks and benefits and then make an informed choice. I want him to support any partner he has who is pregnant and giving birth to also be aware of that too, and I want him to have the skills to support that imaginary future partner.

It starts in childhood. If we don’t assert ourselves and teach our children to assert themselves, then they will never be able to learn how to make good, informed choices about their bodies.

We carried on having that chat over the next day or so. We talked a lot about what paracetomol is, how it works and when it is good to choose to take it. We talked about how if you need to go to sleep and something is hurting it can help you get some rest. We talked about how if you take it and cover the pain up a bit then you might end up not resting the damaged bit as much and it might take longer to heal. So much learning about bodies and medicines and choice, because I listened to my instinct and allowed myself to feel slightly uncomfortable in the process. We talked about the nurse and the doctor he saw, and how great they are at their jobs, and how important it is that we are able to communicate clearly with them so they can help us.

Now, we’re going to enjoy the next couple of weeks of the summer holiday avoiding riding bikes, climbing and other fun stuff like that. But I know my boy is healthy, healing, and has learnt something important – also that he knows I’ve got his back. He is heard.


Induction – What are my choices?

Many women don’t realise that all decisions about your care in pregnancy and childbirth are your choice.


NHS trusts are STILL promoting natural births to mothers despite series of baby deaths being linked to the delivery method

….according to this article that appeared this week.

WARNING: This article discusses maternal and infant death rates.

But is that true? Is it an accurate representation of the choices and decisions facing both mothers and their maternity care providers?

Firstly, let me make it clear that I am not actually an advocate for natural birth. I am an advocate for informed choice in birth. When mothers feel in control and listened to, they come away from their births with higher levels of satisfaction, no matter what the outcome.

So, has a ‘series of baby deaths been linked to the (natural) delivery method’? Well, in times gone by, all baby deaths would have been linked to the ‘method’ of natural delivery because there wasn’t much choice. Let’s look at the situation now, though. Put bluntly, do more babies die when they are born by a ‘natural method’ than when they are born by c-section?


Babies born by vaginal delivery are quite substantially less likely to be admitted to neonatal intensive care at 6.3% compared with 13.9%. But this does not take into account that most caesareans are carried out for medical reasons, and therefore the likelihood of needing neonatal intensive care is high. There is also some evidence that a vaginal birth may have benefits for the baby. Longer term, it is thought that babies born by c-section may be at greater risk of developing asthma and be obese as adults.

Actually, maternal and infant death rates in the UK nowadays are very, very low. No-one can pinpoint all the factors, but this is likely to be due to improved diet and general health; improved medical care; improved education and awareness and improved antenatal monitoring among other things.

However, that is very little comfort to anyone who is one of the few who have suffered loss of their baby or partner through neonatal complications. Of course, their grief is going to take over; if they felt uncertain, out of control, or not listened to, then their trauma is very real and amplified.

But is ‘natural birth’ as unsafe as this article would have us believe? Let’s compare maternal death rates in different countries. The UK ranks 23rd globally, with a death rate of 8.2 per 100,000 live births; that rate has actually fallen significantly over the past 15 years. Compare that with the US; a country where childbirth is highly medicalised (A c-section rate of 32% compared to the UK rate of around 25%). They have a much-increased maternal death rate of 16.7 per 100,000 live births, which gives them a global rank of 39. An increased c-section rate does not improve outcomes for mothers.

My heart goes out to the mothers featured in this article; they clearly feel that they weren’t listened to, they weren’t involved in the decisions regarding their care, and they have suffered as a result. Standards in maternity care still have a long way to go; there are improvements that can and should be made.

The biggest improvement should be in the way that mothers are informed, supported and listened to.

This article does nothing to further that improvement for women; scaremongering simply makes it harder for women to get the information they need and make the choices that are right for them.


Setting yourself up for disappointment?

There has been a lot of media attention recently on the idea that women are ‘setting themselves up for disappointment by focussing on a positive birth’.

Let’s just stop and think about that for a minute, shall we? Women who expected a positive birth and had a rubbish time brought at least some of the emotional upset on themselves by not going into labour expecting the worst. It is partly their own fault they are upset by their birth because their expectations were too high.

Even women themselves are joining in with this insidious woman-blaming. What on earth is so wrong with society that we can’t show women who have had a negative birth experience a little more respect and empathy? How about we start respecting women and their decisions to prepare for birth in whatever way they choose, and supporting them if things don’t go to plan?

Imagine if we spoke about our Olympic athletes in the same way…

“Well, he went into that race expecting to get gold, but he didn’t make it. I’m sure he’s feeling disappointed but after all, his expectations were just too high. These athletes really need to prepare themselves for the worst as so often they just won’t win.”

It doesn’t really make that much sense does it? If you focus on all the possible negative outcomes, it actually lowers your chances of success; this is basic NLP known by sportspeople the world over. Prepare for success; learn the skills to develop your resilience if you don’t succeed in your goal.

In a race, all the competitors bar one will not win. Yet they all still focus on achieving success.

With regard to birth, 73.8% of women will not have a c-section (2013-14 figures, https://www.nct.org.uk/professional/research/maternity%20statistics/maternity-statistics-england). For women who prepare using the Wise Hippo techniques, up to 84% of them won’t have a c-section (http://www.thewisehippo.com/instructors/announcing-our-births-stats-on-our-birthday).

Those are pretty good odds. Why on earth would a woman not focus on absolutely having the best experience possible? Of course life sometimes throws you a curve ball; your circumstances might change; unexpected medical issues might arise; you might not receive the care you deserve – midwives are wonderful but we all know how much pressure they are under. You might not fully be aware of your options, or not know the right questions to ask in order to feel in control of your decisions.

Preparing for the best possible birth by learning about how birth works, and also learning those important questioning and decision-making tools along the way, allows couples to focus on a positive outcome – which they are statistically likely to achieve – as well as helping to prepare their resilience in case life does throw them a curve ball on the day. This is about empowering women to take control of their births, by teaching them the skills they need to ensure they have the right birth on the day, no matter what actually happens.

How on earth is that setting someone up for disappointment?


Birth Affirmations – What are they? Do they help?

Do you ever notice thoughts whizzing through your head – not very helpful ones, at that?

Many of us, especially if you have ever struggled with stress or anxiety, have an almost constant stream of negative chatter going through our minds. It gets so you don’t even notice it is happening – unless you make a conscious effort to notice and do something about it!

Change can only happen if you make it happen – change what you do. As the cheesy old NLP saying goes, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll aways get what you’ve always got’.

These old negative thoughts are simply a habit, and often take you into an imagined future world – and of course, you tend to only imagine the worst case scenarios, right? This is particularly true of birth: What if I panic? What if everything goes wrong? What if it is so painful I can’t cope? What if… what if.. what if…?

Birth Affirmations are simply a way of learning to speak to yourself more positively about birth. The more you learn about how your body works in labour and birth, and learn to trust your body and your baby, the more confident you will feel about labour and birth. Making a habit of using Birth Affirmations, ether by listening to them, reading them or writing them – it is lovely to write out your favourite ones and stick them up around you – helps your subconscious to learn that your body is perfectly capable of birthing your baby. 

This habit also helps you to feel more positive generally, and helps you to really develop that wonderful bond with your baby, even before they are born. 

The Wise Hippo programme includes some lovely Birth Affirmations, both written and as an MP3. You can also download these beautiful words and images from We The Parents.



A Beautiful Birth Story – The Right Birth on the Day

I love to get your birth stories! And it is so inspiring for other mums and dads to hear how positive things can be when you feel empowered to make the right decisions for you, no mater what happens on the day. It is so wonderful to hear how midwives support labouring women so well – the meaning of ‘midwife’ is actually from the German meaning ‘with woman’. Also, a common fear if you are planning a home birth is, ‘What if things don’t go to plan?’ Well, that is what the midwives are there for, to protect and care for the mother and baby, and to ensure they receive the care they need.

“I had my son in 2013 at Chesterfield hospital. I’d arrived 10cm dilated and still had to be checked over in triage which, in hindsight, was a really un-welcoming and stressful thing to go through. I then proceeded to go into a pool and found myself pushing for hours to no avail and ended up out of pool with my baby being helped out by a kiwi (mini ventouse suction). I felt like I’d climbed Mount Everest but somehow I’d done it without pain relief.

When I fell pregnant again, this time with a girl, due to much worse morning sickness I didn’t start thinking/worrying about labour again until late on (33 weeks approx). From the birth preparation I/we had done first time around I loved the idea of Homebirth but when I first broached the subject with my husband he wasn’t too keen. I think partly due to the fact that, in his view, labour first time had gone ok and I had that experience to draw on going into hospital. But this was the scary bit for me- labour starting, and having to make the trip to hospital not knowing if I would be turned away or met with a cool reception from midwives. To try and allay my/our fears and refresh our existing knowledge I contacted Lucy. She was so positive over that first phone call and said tactfully although we didn’t have time for the full hypno birthing course, she could offer a tailor-made one off refresher session for us.

We went for this at 35 weeks. During our session I recalled our son’s birth story and afterwards Lucy asked ‘why not homebirth?’. Just by asking this question, in the presence of my husband, allowed us to start thinking about it seriously and as Lucy suggested; plan for a homebirth and have a plan b if on the day it wasn’t right. So this is what we did and I felt more confident and in control than I had in the preceding weeks.

Prior to going into full labour, my body had started to do the work- I had a few days where I thought contractions were starting, only to stop again. On the day our daughter was born, mild contractions started in the early hours so we called a midwife. Because I was down for homebirth, she came to me, checked me out. I was actually only in latent labour, which admittedly was disheartening, however the fact that the midwife had come to me was brilliant and gave me the confidence that when it started properly someone would be coming again.

By mid- late afternoon contractions had started again but I was quite calm (probably in the knowledge that someone was coming to me rather than me having to make that difficult decision about when to go to hospital). My husband called Jessops at 7pm and the midwife arrived at 7 45pm. After checking me out I was 6cm dilated and she felt a baby wasn’t far away! I was now having very strong contractions with hardly a break in between. My midwife put her hands on my shoulders and spoke very quietly about how to breathe through. By 8 45pm approx I was ready to push – I was leaning over a birthing ball with my husband on one side and midwife on another. After some very hard pushing- not being sure if I could carry on- our daughter was born at 9 11pm- I could hardly believe she came so quickly!

I had an injection to expel my placenta. Unfortunately from then I was still bleeding quite a lot. The midwives identified a tear quite high up which explained why they couldn’t see at first. I heard the midwives call the paramedics. They were like green angels and got me safely to Jessops in an ambulance. Although this wasn’t the perfect scenario that I had planned, this is not what I will remember about our daugther’s birth. I will remember that I took control in the weeks before her birth and was looked after by amazing midwives who fully supported me.

Thank you Lucy!”


Best Day Ever!

We were promised snow last night. BBC Weather assured us that there would be heavy snowfall overnight continuing through the day.

We woke up; the kids excitedly peered out of the window to find… sleet. Cold, wet, slushy, sleet.

Undeterred, we told the kids it was forecast to keep snowing, there would be so much more snow later. We drove into town to do the supermarket shop with Small Boy (aged 6) excitedly talking about the sledging we had promised. “It’s the Best Day Ever”, he announced. My husband started mildly teasing him, as he has proclaimed many days to be the Best Day Ever. He gave it some thought and then stuck to his guns. “It is the Best Day Ever. We’re going sledging”.

He continued his excited, never ending stream of chatter. “It’s like the Arctic”, he declared, eyes wide as saucers. I looked at the hills barely covered with snow and found with a bit of squinting I could see an Arctic-ness about the landscape.

It started snowing more heavily as we finished the shopping and the excitement mounted. Driving back there was more snow covering the ground, but when we got home it was still disappointingly muddy rather than the magic white-covered ground we had hoped for.

Nonetheless, we set out with the sledge. We were all wrapped up in full snow gear; the kids even had their ski goggles on, as we knew how windy it would be up on the hill. We trudged up the start of Lose Hill through mud knee deep in places. As we climbed higher and it got colder, we were disappointed to find that the bitter wind had blown much of the snow away. That same, bitter wind blew needle sharp sleet into our faces and we huddled down into our snoods to keep the worst off.

We pushed on upwards, until finally deciding we had gone high enough – the wind was even icier, and strong enough to blow us almost off our feet. We took it in turns to sledge down a thinly snow-covered section of the path, giggling wildly as we bounced and jolted down. Big Girl (aged 8) and I stood watching Small Boy and Husband as they took their turn, the wind blasting the sleet into our faces, turning them bright red and sore even through our snoods. I stood between her and the wind, cuddling her tight and declaring I would always be her windshield.

A few more turns and we were ready to traipse back down the hill, back to our warm and welcoming home. Big Girl told me she had had so much fun; her best bits were us cuddling with me being her windshield, and when Daddy had crashed into a gorse bush and shouted ‘Ow! Get off me, Gorse Bush!”

Small Boy was bubbling over with the excitement of it all. And you know what? He was right. It was the Best Day Ever. We all lived it with the very best of our ability; our ability to love, laugh, play, enjoy the moment, right there and then.

Imagine if you could prepare to have the best birth ever. Feeling confident that you have the tools and techniques you need, confident that your partner can support you to the best of their ability. No matter what happens on the day, no matter what twists and turns life throws at you, you know you have the right tools and can make the best decisions so that you have the right birth on the day.

That is the true value of The Wise Hippo Birthing Programme. I will always be grateful that hypnobirthing allowed me to have the right births on the day; and will always be grateful for those two wonderful children who remind me to always be the best I can be, enjoying all the best of life.


Thank you, Midwives! In honour of the ‘International Day of the Midwife’

Giving birth is a time of intensity, and high emotion. It can be exhilarating, exhausting, and many things in between. For many women, this is a time of incredible joy and empowerment.

Sadly, for some, it can be a frightening experience; one that leaves the mother feeling powerless and out of control; leaving her not really sure what happened and why. In such cases, most Trusts in the UK offer a Birth Afterthoughts service.

This is an opportunity for the mother – and her partner if required – to talk through her notes with an experienced midwife. The midwife listens, explains, takes action if required – just another of the many faceted role that midwives play in supporting women through pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond. This can be incredibly helpful for mothers to come to terms with what happened. This service is available to all, although many women aren’t aware of it. In the aftermath of birth, with emotions and hormones running high, it is something that can be forgotten or overlooked. If you feel this service would be helpful to you, you can contact the Jessop Wing here.

In contrast, where mothers have had wonderful births, where they have felt supported and cared for by their midwives, they often don’t get the chance to give their thanks to those midwives who were there for them. In the aftermath of birth, with emotions and hormones running high, plus shift changes and the general ‘busyness’ of maternity hospitals, it can be hard to find that moment to say ‘Thank you’.

Coincidentally, there are currently two opportunities to offer your thanks to the midwives in Sheffield.

Rachel Gardner, Chair of the Maternity Services Liaison Committee here in Sheffield, recently made this beautiful film to send to the midwives at Jessops and in the community. If you are currently pregnant, had a baby in the last 2 years or interested in improving maternity services then you can join the ‘Forging Families’ group here so that you can feedback to the maternity and young children front-line services in the area. Let your voice be heard!

Parents in Sheffield are also being urged to send in their photos for a special book to be presented to Jessops. You can find out more here. Please do take some time to send your thanks and a photo.

Today, on the ‘International Day of the Midwife’, we remember and give our thanks for all the midwives the world over; midwives, we thank you for working hard every day to ensure women and newborns receive the quality care that they deserve.

Personally, I would like to thank Helen at Jessops. She was a permanently friendly and cheery face in the days I spent on the HDU. She put up with my bad jokes, supported me, cared for me and brought me photos of my beautiful daughter where she lay in the SCBU. She encouraged me to express milk for my newborn daughter, and I’m sure is the reason I went on to successfully breastfeed my girl. Thank you!


Positivity in the Media!

We know that what you hear, read and see regarding birth is so important in influencing how you think and feel about birth, right through your whole life. This has such an impact on you, and your birth; so often in the past this has been full of negative views that perpetuate the idea that birth is painful, dangerous and medical.

Things are changing! We are seeing and hearing so many more positive views of birth in the media, it feels like we are moving towards a much healthier state of accepting and embracing birth in all its wonderful, exciting glory.

I was so pleased to have such a lovely interview with The Star, and to read this wonderfully positive view of hypnobirthing:

Lucy turns positive birth into a business

Thanks, Nik at the Sheffield Star 🙂


Daydreaming of the Perfect Birth

Daydreaming of the Perfect Birth…

When you attend a Wise Hippo Birthing class, we ask you to daydream about your perfect birth, as if it has already happened. Everything happening just the way you want it to, you being so calm and in control, your body opening with ease and that final wonderful moment when you meet your baby for the first time.

Sometimes, Mums worry about this; ‘What if it doesn’t happen the way I have imagined it?’ they ask.

Well, most people when asked to daydream about being on a perfect tropical beach can imagine this quite easily; it seems so easy to tap into that feeling of ease and peace, to enjoy taking a few moments to imagine it as if you are there, to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and hear the gentle sound of the waves lapping at the shore….

People don’t normally waste time and energy worrying about the ‘what ifs’: What if the plane is delayed? Or we encounter turbulence? Or there is a loud party of drunken football supporters on the flight and I don’t get any sleep? What if I get food poisoning? Sunburnt? Stung by a jellyfish?

No, we tend to focus on the perfect imaginary moment, knowing that we would cope with any of these eventualities if they should happen to arise. We just spend time enjoying that wonderful visualisation and enjoying the benefits that we gain from this time spent in pleasant contemplation.

Imagining your perfect birth in this way will help you to achieve it; by calming your mind and looking forward to the event with positivity, reminding yourself of the joy of that moment, you will release endorphins and experience the wonderful sense of calm and positivity that they bring. When the time comes your body will remember this, and is more likely to birth with ease – with your mind ‘out of they way’ in a wonderful daydream, your body and your baby know exactly what to do.

I would love to give birth again, but I’m not going to. My family feels complete just the way it is so I content myself with helping mums to achieve their ‘perfect birth’ – and enjoying those lovely baby snuggles when I finally get to meet them!

If I did give birth again, my daydream of my perfect birth would include my husband and a doula there, both of them supporting and encouraging me. Her calming presence would be so important in achieving the birth I wanted, feeling supported and nurtured as my body worked so effectively to birth my baby. I can see this picture so clearly in my minds eye, and it is a beautiful one!

Take time to daydream about your perfect birth, and check out the options available to support you; a doula, hypnobirthing, independent midwife. It is worth doing all you can to make this the most wonderful day in your life, the day you meet your baby.