‘Midwives were “too busy” to tell me if my baby was alive’: Three mothers recount their birthing hells
The birth of a child should be one of a woman’s most joyful experiences but for Libby O’Rourke it left her mentally scarred for life.
‘I’ve never felt so worthless,’ she says. ‘I didn’t expect it to be candles and music but I did expect to feel happy and empowered – not traumatised and helpless. I felt like the least important person in the room.’
Libby is one of an increasing number of mothers speaking out with claims they’ve been bullied and mistreated by medics. In the most extreme cases, some allege they’ve had internal examinations so brutal that they felt like a form of rape.
Libby’s ordeal began on a Saturday in December 2010 when, two weeks overdue with her first baby, she was admitted to the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Doctors recommended she be induced, and she agreed to that.
But routine monitoring revealed the baby’s heart rate was dipping worryingly. In between dips it would slowly return to normal, so doctors insisted there was no cause for immediate alarm, and began the induction.
For Libby, now 26 and a full-time mum living with her partner Dave Hutchins, 31, and their two children in Reading, it was the start of a three-day nightmare. She recalls: ‘I had irregular contractions throughout the night and the next day, and the baby’s heart rate continued to be a worry.
‘Then, on Monday morning, I was seen by a male doctor, and a midwife expressed concerns. The doctor didn’t even look at me but flicked through my notes and just said to carry on with the induction.
‘By then I’d had no sleep for two nights and I was desperately worried about my baby, whose heart rate was dropping to ever lower levels before rising again. I told the doctor neither she or I could go on like this and I wanted a Caesarean. He flipped out, threw my notes on to my bed then got every printout showing my baby’s heart rate and shouted: “Healthy baby! Healthy baby! Healthy baby!”
‘His English wasn’t good – and his attitude put me in floods of tears.’
Libby spent another day and night having painful contractions every five minutes. She kept asking for a Caesarean but was refused. On Tuesday, the baby’s heart rate had decreased further and was not recovering so well. Libby recalls: ‘At 6am, the midwife said: “That’s enough, we need to get you to the delivery suite.”‘
By late afternoon, Libby was finally ready to push but was too exhausted. ‘I was so tired I was falling asleep between pushes,’ she says. ‘At one point, I fell asleep on my back and woke up to find a male doctor giving me a rough internal examination without my consent.
‘It was quite brutal and I was shocked. He should have woken me up. I believe the term used now is “birth rape”. It’s a vile term but it gives an idea of what it feels like.’
The examination revealed Libby’s baby was stuck and facing the wrong way. ‘They said they’d have to use forceps. I’d always said I didn’t want forceps because I think they’re barbaric. But by then they were the only option.’
Libby was taken to an operating theatre. At 7.20pm, baby Willow was born by a forceps delivery. Libby recalls tearfully: ‘They’d screened off my lower half so I couldn’t see anything, and there were no cries – just silence. When they quickly showed me my baby she wasn’t breathing and was bluey-grey. I thought she was dead.
‘She needed resuscitating and was rushed to the special care baby unit. It was horrific.
‘A consultant then came in and said: “So everything was a success then.” I was lying in agony and not knowing if my daughter was alive or dead. I just looked at him. But he wasn’t joking, he felt it was a successful outcome.’
Due to miscommunication and under-staffing, Libby wouldn’t find out for the next six hours if her baby was alive. She says: ‘I was poorly, having lost a lot of blood, so was confined to bed. Dave had been told to wait with me as we needed permission to go to the special baby-care ward. We repeatedly asked midwives to find out what was going on but nobody came back. They were too busy.
‘The first we knew was when a nurse came from baby-care to ask what formula she could give Willow.’
It was a further two hours before mum and baby were reunited. Libby and Dave later made a complaint to the hospital, and Libby says that at a meeting with a consultant, she was told many aspects of her treatment were unacceptable, especially the length of time she had to wait for news of her baby – which the consultant admitted was ‘appalling’. The hospital has now promised that no mother will ever again have to wait so long for news of her baby.
A spokesman for the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘Libby raised a number of issues with us. Over the past two years we have worked with her to thoroughly investigate each of her concerns.
‘Where we found our care or communication with her to be below the usual high standards we set ourselves, we apologised. In addition, Libby has met with senior clinical staff to discuss her care – again she received our apologies for those concerns where our standards fell short of what we expect.’
For Libby, the labour was so traumatic that for the birth of her son Chester last October, she had a planned Caesarean under the care of an NHS consultant specialising in traumatic births. She is currently taking anti-depressants and waiting for counselling for post-traumatic stress from Willow’s birth. ‘I was made to feel I was nothing more than a “host”, that it didn’t matter what happened to my body or what I went through,’ she says.
Campaigners argue that experiences like hers are increasingly common. A new film, Freedom For Birth, highlights what some feel has become a culture – dubbed ‘foetal supremacy’ – of putting a woman’s rights last in the delivery suite when they should come first.
It has been filmed by Toni Harman, 43, from Brighton who, with partner Alex Wakeford, 44, interviewed childbirth experts and mothers from around the world. The project originated with Toni’s own labour with their daughter, also called Willow, who is now five.
Toni’s pregnancy had gone well apart from the baby being in a breech position until the last few days. When Toni reached her due date, an examination showed the baby had turned, but the doctor automatically ordered an induction instead of giving her the option of waiting to go into labour naturally, which is common procedure.
She eventually gave birth by emergency Caesarean, and Willow needed resuscitating. ‘My body just wasn’t ready to give birth,’ she says. ‘It was only later, from talking to other people, that I realised I should have been given options, such as waiting to see if I went into labour naturally. I just assumed you agreed with the doctors. It didn’t occur to me I might have rights.’
Human-rights lawyer Elizabeth Prochaska feels so strongly about the subject she has just launched a charity called Birthrights to give women free legal support and advice about their rights in pregnancy and childbirth.
She says: ‘It’s very common to hear of women being bullied, emotionally blackmailed or pressured into things in childbirth. It’s really sad. No mother wants to harm their baby but the law is very clear that the mother has an absolute right to make decisions about her body. The baby, up until the moment of birth, is part of her body.’
Elizabeth believes the problem is exacerbated by a growing litigation culture that means hospitals are more likely to consult policies instead of mothers.
And she adds: ‘What’s worrying is an increasing tendency for healthcare practitioners to view the mother as simply a vessel for the production of her foetus, and to say “as long as you get a healthy baby and a live mother out of it that’s all that matters”.
‘But it’s not all that matters. Look at the cost to the healthcare system of women with serious disorders post-childbirth – for example, the impact of an assisted forceps delivery that leaves you incontinent for life.’ (According to the British Medical Journal, 83 per cent of women suffer incontinence problems after forceps delivery.)
‘The rise of post-traumatic stress disorder and post-natal depression are problems, too.’
A study at Tel Aviv University last year revealed that one in three women who have given birth now experience symptoms of PTSD.
Julie Hainsworth, 31, from Yorkshire, felt her voice counted for little when she gave birth to Toby, now one. She was sent to hospital to be induced three weeks early because of concerns he wasn’t growing properly. But the induction process wasn’t started for 24 hours, despite doctors telling Julie her baby’s condition was so serious he would probably need to go to the special care baby unit once he was born.
Julie, a part-time NHS clerical officer who has three older children with her partner Christopher, was shocked when a consultant told her late at night she was being sent to another hospital for a Caesarean. ‘There was no explanation. It scared the hell out of me,’ she says. Eventually, it was decided she would stay and be induced the next day. But still nothing happened. Unable to cope with the uncertainty, Julie wanted to discharge herself.
She recalls: ‘I find hospitals very stressful, and I told them that when they admitted me. I got to the point where I felt my baby couldn’t be in that much danger or they would have done something, so I might as well be at home where I’d be calmer.
‘But a junior doctor shouted that I was putting my baby at risk and being irrational. She should have reassured me – not shouted. Then a consultant told me that if I went home and didn’t come back in for monitoring twice a day she would contact social services as I was putting my unborn baby at risk, and it might have implications for my other children. It was shocking.’
Julie agreed to stay, and says: ‘Later, another doctor did talk about my options and worries. She listened to me. That’s what should have happened at the start.’
The next morning, Julie was finally induced – but two days later still hadn’t given birth. By then she felt desperate, and the baby’s heart rate was slowing, too. When doctors asked to take a blood sample from his head to give further indications of his distress level, Julie refused. ‘I’d let them do a sample a couple of hours earlier but I didn’t want them to do another. I remember begging them not to, and to do a C-section as I was in awful pain and the baby was obviously not coping.
‘They refused, then three or four doctors and midwives forced me on to my left side and put my right leg in a stirrup, held me and did the test anyway. My partner just held my hand and told me it would be OK. I remember saying “it’s not” and feeling like I was being raped.’
Shortly afterwards, Julie gave birth to Toby, who thankfully required no special care. Julie complained to the hospital about her experience and held a meeting with a consultant who, Julie says, admitted she wouldn’t have done the second test, and that communication should have been better.
But some medics feel women are often ill-informed and need to have more realistic expectations of labour. Dr Gedis Grudzinskas, a former professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at St Barts Hospital, London, says: ‘There’s a world of diminishing resources but increasing expectations from mothers-to-be. The fact is, because of budget issues, there’s much less flexibility and likelihood of a happy outcome to an agreed birth plan.’
He says women – often in extreme pain or affected by pain-relieving drugs – must also accept they may not always know what’s best. ‘Labour is an all-consuming process,’ he says. ‘And discussion can be very difficult because you might only have one-and-a-half minutes between contractions. So there may be a perception of doctors and midwives being too assertive – therefore bullying – but they have the patients’ best interests at heart.
‘Doctors don’t order tests to be done for the sake of it. They do it because there are good clinical reasons but there might not be the time to explain this. The advice that professionals give is based on many years of experience.
‘In the old days, women referred to doctors as experts. Now, many women think they’re well-read because they’ve done research on the internet. But much of that information isn’t correct.’
Whether or not mums should accept they might not have the birth they want, there’s no doubt it’s a profoundly defining experience. As Libby says: ‘I feel robbed of what should have been one of the happiest events in my life.’
Grandmother, who was just 63, was left to die when doctor marked her file with ‘do not resuscitate’ without consulting her family, inquest hears
A grandmother died alone after a doctor marked her file with ‘do not resuscitate’ despite not actually seeing her, an inquest heard.
Christine Shinwell, 63, was admitted to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, after falling at her home. Her condition deteriorated rapidly and the on-call consultant was contacted by phone. After a 15-minute conversation with a medical registrar, and without ever seeing Mrs Shinwell, he decided to put the notice on her records, Essex Coroner’s Court was told.
Her grieving husband, Colin Green, 50, told the coroner that her family was not consulted and the patient was not seen by the doctor.
He told an inquest into her death that Mrs Shinwell had a long history of medical problems but added that she always tried to pull through. Mr Green also said he made it clear he wanted staff at the hospital to do anything they could to keep her alive. He said: ‘My wife is a fighter and is a very strong-willed person. Because my wife has got a huge medical file it is easy to give up on her but in every other circumstance she was okay. ‘I told them “my wife is a fighter and we will take everything step-by-step. I would like you to keep us informed”.’
Mrs Shinwell, who had diabetes and wore a pacemaker, died on December 4, 2009, nearly two weeks after falling at her home and fracturing her knee.
Days before she was due to be released she started having heart problems.
Dr Anser Qureshi, consultant physician at Broomfield Hospital, was on call on the night Mrs Shinwell died and made the decision to mark her file ‘do not resuscitate’ without consulting the family. The decision was made at 3am, from home, after a 15-minute phone call with the medical registrar at Broomfield Hospital despite no previous knowledge of her case.
Dr Qureshi told the inquest: ‘Generally we tend to discuss it with the family and patient. But at this point the patient was critically ill and did not have the capacity to respond. ‘She was dying and CPR was going to be futile. Due to her complex medical history the side effects of the CPR would be worse than the benefits.
‘I must say that it was an extremely complex case and a very hard decision. I thought it was in the best interest of the patient. We did not deny her other treatment such as antibiotics. ‘The patient was so unwell, I firmly believed it would do her harm rather than any benefit.’
Independent expert, Dr Clive Lewis, said she was given a 50 per cent chance of surviving for ‘one or two years’ after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 1998. He said: ‘It was clear Mrs Shinwell was a remarkable survivor as we had been told that her outlook had been bad in 1998. ‘To have survived over 10 years is remarkable but we have to note the prognosis at this point was very poor. She was always living on a knife edge.’
Pathologist Dr Martin Goddard, who conducted the post-mortem, told the inquest: ‘This is a woman who was at the end of her cardiac function. This is a heart that really had nothing left to give.’
Essex Coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray criticised Broomfield Hospital for failing to communicate with the family and failing to provide better care in the hours leading up to Mrs Shinwell’s death. She said: ‘Clearly communication has been an issue in this case. Two doctors have commented on the matter and I hope that new measures introduced since 2009 will prevent this happening in future.
She recorded a narrative verdict. She said: ‘The deceased had a long, complex medical history including end-stage cardiac failure. On December 1, 2009 she suffered cardiac problems and despite on-going treatment she died on December 4 of natural causes.’
A spokesman for Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, which runs Broomfield Hospital, said: ‘The trust had previously undertaken a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Mrs Shinwell’s death, and was confident in the care it had provided.
‘Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust always strives to ensure lessons are learnt from any deaths that occur at the hospital and is pleased that a thorough investigation and Inquest has taken place.
‘Mrs Shinwell received excellent state-of-the-art care from the NHS, in particular over the last 25 years of her life – including life-prolonging and life-saving treatment.
‘The trust is pleased that the independent expert instructed to report by the coroner was also satisfied that the care and treatment provided to Mrs Shinwell was appropriate and to a good standard.
‘The independent expert was also at pains to stress that Mrs Shinwell’s courageous battle had come to its natural and inevitable end and that there was no treatment that could have been provided by anyone at the trust or indeed by any other healthcare centre that would have altered the outcome.
‘The trust wishes Mrs Shinwell’s family its deepest sympathy and condolences at this sad time.’
Distraught daughter Heidi Coles, 42, from Chelmsford, fought back tears outside the coroners’ court as she slammed doctors for not doing enough to keep her mother alive.
The mother-of-two said: ‘If you’re dying then your family should be there with you. We wanted to be by her side but instead she died alone.
‘We know my mum had heart trouble, we know she’d had kidney trouble but she was stable. She was strong and she was a fighter – we miss her every day.’
Mr Green added: ‘We have been fighting this so no other family has to go through losing someone they love in this way.’
Leftist hypocrite: I’ll do what’s best for my son insists British Liberal leader as it emerges he hasn’t even visited local state secondary school
The overwhelming dominance of privately-educated schoolchildren in Britain is “corrosive” for society, Nick Clegg has warned. But it’s OK for his kid. Just another example of Leftists seeing themselves above the rules they try to impose on others
Nick Clegg yesterday defended the possibility he may send his children to private schools as it emerged he and his wife Miriam have not even visited their local state school.
He said the education of his 11-year-old son Antonio, who starts secondary school this year, should not be used as ‘a political football’ and that the couple would do ‘what’s best’ for their children although he was braced for criticism.
Last week the Liberal Democrat leader told listeners to his radio show he would send his son to a private school if he failed to find a place in a good comprehensive, saying he would use the state system ‘if it works out’, but that there is ‘huge competition’ for places in London.
But Mr Clegg, who attended Westminster public school, has apparently not looked around nearby Ark Putney academy in south-west London, it was revealed yesterday by its headmaster Mark Phillips.
Mr Phillips who has turned the school around since he was hired three years ago, said the school which was once in special measures but is now lauded by the Government for its improvements, could provide an ‘exceptional’ education for any child and that there was no need to pay fees for schooling.
Unless the Cleggs had visited ‘under cover’ he had not seen them, he said.’I am always very clear that all parents living locally are welcome to choose our school and it is important that every parent comes with their child and takes an objective look to see whether what we offer will meet the needs of their child’, he said.
‘It wouldn’t claim to be the answer to every child and every parent. But I hope that if a parent does come, and sees an environment their child will thrive in, they will pick us…I am confident they will do exceptionally well. I don’t believe you have to pay for it.’
If he chooses to educate his children privately, Mr Clegg is likely to be accused of hypocrisy after using a speech last year to attack ‘the great rift in our education system’ caused by many of the best schools being fee-paying and said it had a ‘corrosive’ effect on society and the economy.
In an interview on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: ‘I accept that it’s a dilemma for anyone in public life, particularly in politics, how do you balance that with the fact Miriam and I have small children, and the approach Miriam and I took right from the outset was to keep our children completely out of politics.
‘We never put them in front of the camera or to make them or their education a political football.
‘I totally accept that when we make a decision that’ll be subject to public commentary, criticism and so on, but in the meantime we want to protect the privacy of an 11-year-old boy and make the decision that we as parents think is best for our son.’
The deadline for applying for entry to Ark Putney for 2013-14 was last October. The school is part of the Ark academy chain, set up in 2004, whose chairman is Paul Marshall, one of the Liberal Democrats’ biggest donors.
Last year 62 per cent of pupils gained at least five good GCSEs, prompting schools minister Nick Gibb to write to Mr Phillips to congratulate him on the ‘excellent results’ saying the school was in the top 100 best-performing, based on sustained improvements every year since 2008.
However Michael Gove last year approved the sale of five acres of playing fields at the school including six tennis courts, a football pitch and a playground, to developers to fund refurbishments, after a £40million revamp under the Building Schools for the Future programme was cancelled.
Alumni of Ark Putney, which used to be Elliott School, include actor Pierce Brosnan, and 1960s England bowler Geoff Arnold. Former Welsh secretary Peter Hain sent his children to the school, which was the scene of the Christmas play in the film Love, Actually.
David Cameron has said his children will attend state school, but George Osborne has been criticised for sending his to the fee-paying preparatory school in Kensington that he attended.
“I’ve been likened to a Holocaust denier”
American academic Joan Wolf tells spiked why the militant lactivists of the breastfeeding lobby found her book Is Breast Best? so hard to swallow
In a classic displacement activity, before writing this article I asked the computer to define breastfeeding. In the top results, one free online medical dictionary defined it as ‘the method of feeding a baby with milk directly from the mother’s breast’, while the World Health Organisation defined it like this: ‘Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the healthcare system and society at large.’
That pretty much sums up the breastfeeding issue, as it appears in Britain and America in 2013. On one hand, you have the practice of breastfeeding – one way in which mothers feed their new babies. On the other, you have the politics of breastfeeding – the way in which mothers are supposed to feed their new babies.
In the first definition, there are alternatives to breastfeeding; mothers (or indeed, any adults) can feed babies with expressed breastmilk or formula milk. In the second definition, alternatives to breastfeeding are de-normalised and deviant; mothers who choose alternative methods are failing to meet the basic standard set by what ‘virtually all mothers’ can do, and harming their infant’s chances of ‘healthy growth and development’.
Mothers of new babies are only too aware of the politics of breastfeeding. As in many other areas of women’s reproductive lives, the shift from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ has been played out with a vengeance: because science tells us that breastfeeding is better for your infant than formula feeding, new parents are told, then to be a good mother you ought to breastfeed. Research from the University of Kent in 2005 revealed the degree to which this exhortation can make new mothers feel guilty, upset and angry when they ‘fail’ to breastfeed for any length of time – and as the vast majority of mothers stop breastfeeding after six weeks, that’s a lot of guilt.
But it’s not only the effect of breastfeeding promotion on new mothers that should concern us. In 2011, the American academic Joan Wolf, associate professor of women’s studies at Texas A&M University, caused a storm with her book Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood. And on 13 February, Wolf will expand on her arguments in an open lecture at the University of Kent on ‘Breastfeeding, motherhood, and the politics of care’. I talked to her about the reaction to her critique of breastfeeding, and how this has led her to think about the politics of care more broadly.
You can’t say that!
‘I didn’t set out to write this book’, Wolf tells me. ‘In fact, I assumed breast was best. What I was interested in was how feminists had thought about breastfeeding, a practice that, for all intents and purposes, really can’t be shared with the baby’s father.’ But this quickly led to an awareness that there was more to the story than simply the acceptance of a scientific truth. Drawn into an investigation of the numerous scientific studies cited by those who make the claim that ‘breast is best’, Wolf found that, in fact, the evidence is far less clear cut than it is presented to be.
As she explains in the preface to her book: ‘When studies find an association between breastfeeding and reduced risks [to infant health]… it is not at all clear that one causes the other, and the conclusion that breastfeeding confers health benefits is far less certain than its proponents contend. Indeed, a great deal of evidence suggests that the difference between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding has little impact on the overwhelming majority of infants in the developed world.’
One might think that Wolf’s research would be greeted both as a good news story, and as something not particularly surprising. After all, given the decades of research and millions of dollars that have gone into developing formula milk as a suitable alternative to breastmilk, the fact that in developed societies – where women can afford to buy enough formula, and have the means to sterilise the bottles – the majority of women are not harming their babies’ health by bottle-feeding is a good thing, right? If the issue here is public health, surely what counts is that babies (and their mothers) are healthy?
Er, no. Because what Wolf found, along with others who have dared to research the claims made about breastfeeding, is that You Can’t Say That. The feedback to her book has, she says, ‘been copious and mostly negative’: ‘I’ve been placed in the same camp as Holocaust deniers and advocates of cold fusion. I’ve been accused of hating mothers and children. I’ve also been called a lesbian (gasp) and a feminist (double gasp). One person called me a gender-confused cow.’
This reaction has not just come from advocacy groups and hotheads in the media and policy worlds. Academics – whose role in life is to debate and search for the truth – have, Wolf says, been ‘less churlish but equally unequivocal’: ‘Those who consider themselves scientists accuse me, sometimes with bemusement, of being completely unqualified to judge breastfeeding research… even though, as a PhD in political science, I have been trained in the very methods breastfeeding studies use. Those who write from the humanities dismiss me as part of a broad feminist conspiracy against motherhood. Mostly critics think I’m just plain daft.’
Daft she certainly is not. Wolf is a fiercely intelligent mother-of-two, and a thoroughly nice person to boot. But as she has found, those who attempt to clarify ‘The Science’ around breastfeeding are often met with the furious riposte that they cannot understand this complex information: a classic way in which the ‘evidence-based’ policy and advocacy so in vogue today attempts to clamp down on debate. Those who challenge the orthodoxy of breastfeeding promotion are also met with the eye-rolling assumption that they are alone in their peculiar view that the truth is more complex than a narrow set of correlations, and deliberate attempts to isolate them from mainstream acceptable opinion.
Yet Wolf is not the only person to have found the science on breastfeeding more equivocal than the headlines and public-health advice imply. In just one recent example, an article by the British science journalist Linda Geddes, author of Bumpology, noted that while breastmilk is indeed ‘better than formula milk’ in terms of protecting babies against infections in the short term, ‘when it comes to the much-touted long-term benefits of breastfeeding, such as protection against obesity, diabetes or allergy, the research is less convincing’. Geddes concluded: ‘Certainly women who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason, and who live in countries with a decent standard of healthcare, shouldn’t waste too much time worrying that they are causing long-term damage to their baby’s health.’
More importantly, for all the flak Wolf has received from those attached to the ‘breast is best’ advocacy message, the correspondence she has received from mothers in Britain and the US has confirmed the correctness of her analysis of some of the problems caused by the exhortation to breastfeed. Many of these women, she says, ‘tell nightmarish stories of early parenthood involving unsuccessful breastfeeding, zealous and often callous breastfeeding advocates, and the fear that their bottle-fed infants would be permanently disadvantaged’. She has also heard from ‘lactation consultants’, people who want to help women breastfeed but have been appalled at the coercive aspect of current breastfeeding promotion, and tell of ‘new mothers consumed by guilt, and they question the moral and practical wisdom of pushing all mothers to breastfeed’.
A rational approach to public-health policy would accept that breastfeeding has health benefits relative to formula feeding, but that these are specific and limited, and cannot justify the effort that the health service puts into exhorting new mothers to breastfeed at all costs – particularly when the consequence seems to be a great deal of misery and anxiety on the part of mothers. So why has this policy push been so one-sided? ‘From a public-health perspective, breastfeeding is healthier than bottle-feeding, and promoting it is a no-brainer because it’s “natural” and “free”’, Wolf explains. ‘Who wouldn’t advocate something that enhances the short and long-term physical and mental health of babies and mothers, requires no public or medical intervention, is good for the environment, and doesn’t cost anything for government, employers, and families?’
Wolf goes on to counter this justification with ‘the rub’: that ‘most of the putative health benefits of breastfeeding are dubious, and breastfeeding is neither natural nor free’. It is not natural, in that women have always found alternative or supplementary ways of feeding their infants, and the idea of what is ‘natural’ today is constructed by a whole number of social, ideological and cultural factors. As she writes in her book, ‘In American public discourse, breastfeeding is a trope in causes resonating from environmental progressivism to religious fundamentalism’; and the amount of effort and public money that goes into encouraging women to breastfeed and ‘supporting’ them in doing so indicates that it is far from being something that women ‘just do’.
The notion that breastfeeding is ‘free’ ignores the fact that breastfeeding women need extra nutrition to produce their milk, and – more importantly, in modern Western societies – there are direct costs associated with exclusive breastfeeding for a long period of time, such as when it delays women’s return to their paid jobs. Hence the importance of her critique of the overblown scientific claims made about breastfeeding, and her recognition of the need to look at the cultural and social context in which women have fed their babies over the years, which reveal these practices to be anything but ‘natural’.
In her book, Wolf discusses a deeper rationale for why breastfeeding promotion has continued apace, despite all the problems with the ‘breast is best’ message, which she describes as an ideology of ‘total motherhood’, framed within a wider ‘risk culture’. Total motherhood, writes Wolf, ‘stipulates that mothers’ primary occupation is to predict and prevent all less-than-optimal social, emotional, cognitive, and physical outcomes; that mothers are responsible for anticipating and eradicating every imaginable risk to their children, regardless of the degree or severity of the risk or what the trade-offs might be; and that any potential diminution in harm to children trumps all other considerations in risk analysis as long as mothers can achieve the reduction’. In short, it is a ‘moral code in which individual mothers are ultimately held responsible for any harm that befalls their children’.
Like Frank Furedi’s analysis of ‘paranoid parenting’, Wolf’s theory of ‘total motherhood’ shows how our current society’s obsession with risk and uncertainty has resulted in a highly deterministic approach to parental behaviour, in which a parent’s behaviour and identity is constructed around the goal of keeping children safe from all manner of hypothetical harms. This goal is, of course, unachievable (all kids will have accidents and health problems at some point in their lives, no matter what we do); yet in striving to achieve the goal we diminish our ambitions and narrow our vision. Wolf notes that ‘total motherhood is rooted in the traditions of domesticity and “scientific motherhood”’, where women’s primary focus is on the private responsibilities of child-rearing, which she is instructed to do under expert advice.
One important difference between now and the era of scientific motherhood, however, is the extent to which the project of ‘risk management’ has become deeply ingrained into parents’ own identity, in a context where we are in thrall to an avalanche of scientific advice but less trusting of professionals to interpret this (often conflicting) advice for us. ‘Never before has information been so comprehensive and widely available and reached so far into individual lives, holding out the promise of manipulating increasingly narrower details of existence’, Wolf writes. This leads to a situation that ‘sets women, future mothers, and then mothers the impossible task of gathering, evaluating, and acting on information about an infinite number of risks that might interfere with not just normal but optimal fetal and child development’.
Within the confines of total motherhood, good mothers don’t drink alcohol or eat cheese in pregnancy; they breastfeed their babies and read obsessively to their toddlers; they supervise their older children’s every social interaction and hover over their schoolwork in fear of a tiny fall in grades. Good mothers don’t just worry about health risks but all risks – for even the most mundane aspects of social life, such as falling out with friends, have now been reconfigured as events that can damage irrevocably a child’s future chances of success and happiness.
This obsessive monitoring and worrying makes us very stressed and often quite miserable. And yet, we buy it! In the casual conversations of everyday life, mothers (and fathers) joke about the impossibility of living up to the standards of total motherhood, and implicitly resist the desirability of organising your whole life around the minutiae of what your child ate for lunch and whether he is playing with the right number of the right friends. But in wider discourse, it is very rare to hear parents say that they don’t actually care whether their child eats five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day, or that they want bossy officials to leave them alone and let them worry about something more important instead. Rather, strategies of resistance to the ideology of total motherhood tend to be evasive and apologetic, couched less in the language of ‘I won’t’ than in the language of ‘I can’t’.
This is particularly clear when it comes to breastfeeding – for as Wolf explains, ‘these days it is virtually impossible to make a real choice about how to feed your baby’, as ‘the options are so skewed toward breastfeeding, the discourse so laden with moral freight, that breastfeeding appears to be the only legitimate option.’
She continues: ‘Of course, most women do end up using formula, and what I find interesting is that those who explain themselves publicly, on blogs and in books and articles, tend to stress either that they had no choice (for example, they couldn’t produce enough milk, the baby wouldn’t latch on) or that formula feeding was better for the baby in their particular circumstances. In other words, mothers have internalised and accepted that they should breastfeed, and when they don’t, they look for ways to convey that the decision was made for the baby’s benefit. Few mothers will say, “I didn’t breastfeed because I didn’t want to”, and leave it at that.’
The morally fraught character of what is, essentially, a practical choice about how best to feed your baby is not confined to breastfeeding. The way that people now worry about and apologise for their everyday behaviours and choices has to do, Wolf explains, with ‘how people justify seemingly irresponsible behaviour in a neoliberal culture, where choice is completely bound up with moral responsibility and every choice says something about your integrity as a person’. For Wolf, this explains the policy turn towards ‘nudging’ people towards better behaviours: a strategy that is, in her view, ‘even more objectionable than bans because it masquerades as “choice”, a word that invariably conceals the social structures that stratify compliance’.
The politics of care
I ask Wolf to elaborate on her thoughts about the politics of care, which she will be discussing in her February lecture. ‘The first questions I had after writing Is Breast Best? and confronting its reception had to do directly with mothers and children’, she explains. ‘How do we reject total motherhood without abandoning children? How can we agitate for the needs of families without conflating mothers’ and children’s wellbeing or pitting mothers and children against each other?
‘But the more I reflected, the more I realised that total motherhood has to do with far more than mothers and children. It’s about women and caring, the reality that women do the lion’s share of all care work. I want to look more at the relationship between what I call total motherhood and caring more broadly defined. It seems to me that breastfeeding is only one example of a much more comprehensive narrative in which women are constructed as the natural and optimal providers of virtually all forms of care, and in a society where caretaking is unsupported, this kind of thinking puts women at serious disadvantage.’
There is an important body of sociological work in the US, by Arlie Russell Hochschild and others, which grapples with the problem of ‘care’ in late modern societies. As women’s participation in the workforce has become accepted and expected, and as women are assumed to have ambitions beyond the confines of home and family, the taken-for-granted nature of care has become complicated and challenged – particularly in relation to young children or the elderly, where care involves very practical commitments of time and money.
Some approaches to this question – like Wolf’s – emphasise the impact upon women. ‘I think we need to unpack the reflexive coupling of mothers and children in political discourse as part of a broader effort to rearticulate what it means to be a society that actually cares about people’, she explains. ‘The truth is that the more we advocate for “mothers and children”, the more we cement the notion that women are uniquely responsible for caretaking, and this has far-reaching consequences for virtually everyone: children; mothers and fathers who are married or single, straight or gay; men and women without children; elderly parents; extended families; and communities.’
In attempting to unpack this problem, Wolf has been drawn again to a critique of science. ‘Because we tend these days to look to science to tell us how to do everything, I think it’s critical to investigate the role that different sciences play in constructing women as caretakers’, she says. ‘At the moment I’m immersed in analysing a 20-year-long government-funded study on childcare, and what I’m finding is that the social-science research, not unlike the epidemiological research on breastfeeding, is fraught with all kinds of undemonstrated assumptions about mothers. My hope is that if we can continue to deconstruct the scientific narrative about total motherhood, we can begin to recast, and think more equitably about, all kinds of caring.’
The debate about care is a huge one, which raises questions about everything from the role of the family to the current status of women. But I am already convinced that Wolf is right on one thing: the answer to this social question is not going to be found in the pages of scientific studies.
Polish is Britain’s second language and nearly one in five people in London only speak English as a second tongue
The second most commonly spoken language in the country is now Polish, according to official figures yesterday.
A breakdown from the 2011 national census showed that there are 546,174 people in England and Wales who say Polish is their main language and that Welsh – long the second language in the UK – is spoken by 562,000 people.
When Scotland and Northern Ireland publish their census findings, their newcomers from Poland are bound to push the total for the whole of the UK above the number of Welsh speakers.
Polish was virtually unheard on the streets of Britain a decade ago but its use has soared since the country joined the EU in May 2004.
The Labour government of that period estimated that only 13,000 Poles a year would come to the UK, but between December 2003 and December 2010 the number living in the UK increased from 75,000 to 532,000.
Immigration from Poland was at its highest in 2007 when 96,000 entered the UK. Nearly a quarter of all Polish citizens in Britain live in London. Some 148,000 now live in the capital, two per cent of its population.
There are also high concentrations of Polish speakers in small towns across Britain, particularly those in Eastern England with agricultural industries.
Boston, the Lincolnshire town at the heart of a row over immigration on BBC1’s Question Time last week, had 3,006 people who speak Polish as a main language out of 62,243 residents, roughly one person in 20.
The census figures show that other Eastern European languages are now in the list of the most popular, including Lithuanian, spoken by 85,000 people, and Latvian, first language of 32,000.
The greatest number of languages is spoken in London, where more than 100 different ones are used in every borough but three.
The census also found that claims made of languages sometimes said to be widely spoken and culturally important were overblown.
Just 557 people said they spoke Cornish as a first language last year. Even more rare were Gaelic Scottish, which had 58 speakers, and Manx Gaelic, 33.
Last year a report by the Welsh Language Board said the number of fluent Welsh speakers is falling by around 3,000 people a year.
In all, four million people in England and Wales have a main language that is not English.
Among these, 726,000 said they do not speak English well and 138,000 speak no English at all. [Mostly Pakis?]
“Green” cars lose London concessions
So-called eco-friendly cars are facing a crackdown in London after a scheme to encourage motorists to switch to ‘greener’ alternatives has started to make air more toxic.
Transport for London is to remove the Congestion Charge exemption for diesels and some Hybrids because soaring sales has increased pollution and traffic.
Diesels now account for one in two sales, but emit 22 times more soot particulates than petrol cars.
The U-Turn has provoked an outcry from motoring organisations, who accused authorities of moving the ‘green goalposts’. And the move is also expected to cause anger among motorists who bought their cars to take advantage of the exemption.
Edmund King, AA president, told the Evening Standard: ‘We do have real concerns about “green goalposts” being moved after drivers and businesses have invested in low-emission hybrid and diesel vehicles. We need to encourage the take-up of a range of greener vehicles.’
More than 50 ‘green’ models, which includes the petrol/electric Toyota Prius — a favourite among environmentally conscious drivers – will no longer be exempt from the £10 charge.
The move will come into force in July if approved by Boris Johnson.
It is understood the changes to the pricing will generate up to an extra £2 million a year. The additional revenue will go some way to plugging the £60 million lost since the abandoning the Congestion Charge’s western extension.
About 70,000 motorists a day enter the congestion zone, with 2,500 qualifying for Transport for London’s Greener Vehicle Discount because they emit less than 100g/km of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. TfL wants to scrap this limit and replace it with a much tougher 75g/km maximum in a new scheme — which effectively rules out all hybrid and diesel vehicles now on the road.
David Bizley, the RAC’s technical director, said that only pure electric cars are likely to meet those new rigorous pollution restrictions.
Applications for the Greener Vehicle Discount would cease to be accepted from July. But drivers already registered would continue to qualify for the exemption until June 2015.
TfL, which made a £136.8 million net profit from the congestion charge in 2011/12, believes the existing system ‘creates an incentive’ for owners of hybrid and diesel cars to enter the zone.
It fears the number could more than double to 6,000 ‘free’ cars a day by the end of this year.
The new rules would sit alongside a £10 increase in penalty fines — taking them to £130 — and the closure of C-charge payment points in shops and petrol stations. These changes would generate a further £2.5 million a year.
BBC’s Paul Moss promotes politically motivated stereotypes of Israelis
Can you imagine the BBC publishing or broadcasting a facile report which tries too hard to be funny by tapping into jaded Benny Hill-style stereotypes about certain national characteristics such as Frenchmen who smell of garlic, women-chasing Italians or lazy, siesta-loving Spaniards?
No? Well then prepare to be surprised…or perhaps not.
On January 24th 2013 the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (also broadcast on the BBC World Service) featured an item by Paul Moss. The podcast can be downloaded here (listen from 22:34) or heard here. A very similar written version of the same report was featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th.
Moss’ piece is entitled “The Middle East conflict at 35,000 feet” and supposedly tells of his recent flight from Luton to Tel Aviv. But Moss decided to turn an account that flight into a contrived analogy for the Middle East conflict as a whole – or at least what he perceives as the Israeli contribution to it.
And so, despite admitting that he speaks neither Hebrew nor Russian, Paul Moss portrays Israeli passengers on the flight as argumentative and aggressive.
“The Israelis were arguing with the non-Israelis, and indeed with each other – over who was entitled to what territory.
Some were polite, but others more hostile. It was an ugly scene. At one point, I thought people might well come to blows.
And still they could not sort it out. Who was supposed to be in what seat? The plane had not even taken off yet, but already Flight 2085, from Luton to Tel Aviv, had become a microcosm of the Middle East.
Some argued from a point of legal entitlement. They held up their boarding passes, the seat number clearly visible.
“I have a right to be here,” they protested. But others simply pointed out that they had got there first. I felt I had heard this before somewhere.”
Predictably, Moss’ Israeli co-passengers are also pushy, rude and potentially dangerous into the bargain.
“Meanwhile, bolder passengers were simply shoving their luggage – and themselves – into the places they wanted. You might call it “establishing facts on the ground”.”
“Tensions rose and so did voices in English, in Hebrew and in Russian. I only speak one of those languages but I am quite sure I was being treated to a crash course in their finest insults and for the first time I found myself awfully glad that metal implements are no longer permitted in carry-on luggage.”
The laboured analogy and stereotypes continue, with Moss ditching all efforts to display any of that much-touted appreciation of diversity in which his countrymen take so much pride and exhibiting particular disdain for the religious passengers on the flight.
There is, of course, absolutely no point to this article whatsoever. It does not inform the reader about any particular news event and it certainly does nothing to increase audiences’ understanding of the world. All Moss achieves in his shallow, superficial piece is the promotion of stereotypes in order to advance a very clear political agenda.
However, simplistic agenda-driven reporting on Israel seems to be something of a pattern as far as Moss is concerned. In January 2009, at the time of Operation Cast Lead, he was also in Israel. In one article from the time he reported on Israeli Arabs in Haifa opposed to the operation, implying that they were representative of the whole Arab Israeli population and quoting Leah Tsemel and Ameer Makhoul without disclosing to his readers who they are or what they represent.
In another article (which does much to explain his attitudes towards Israelis) Moss showcased the opinions of the founder of ‘Zochrot‘, which he described as an “educational charity” and in a third piece Moss uses a visit to Masada to suggest that Israelis are unnecessarily militaristic.
If readers are wondering what happened once Moss’ flight landed in Tel Aviv, the answer to that is to be found in another radio broadcast from January 25th. The BBC Radio 4 programme “The World Tonight” featured Paul Moss (from 35:43 or as a podcast here from around 29:31) on the subject of “Israel’s view of its international image” in which he argued that Israelis – in contrast to citizens of other countries – should care more about how they are perceived abroad.
“MPs in most countries will insist it’s their people that [sic] should determine who forms their government and what is in their country’s interests. But Israel, of course, is not like most countries. For a start it gets huge amounts of financial aid from the United States.”
Of course Israel has not received economic aid from the US since 2008 and the vast majority of the military aid it does receive (around 1% of the Israeli economy) is spent in the United States, thus sustaining American jobs. As the Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department put it in 2011: “We don’t just support Israel because of a long-standing bond, we support Israel because it is in our national interests to do so”.
But does the fact that Israel receives US aid at all make it – as Moss claims – “not like most countries”? Hardly: not only is Israel not the biggest recipient of military aid from the US, but if we look at the subject of financial aid in general, we see that in fact, Israel is exactly like most countries.
But Paul Moss is obviously not one to allow mere facts to get in the way of the agenda he is trying to promote.
Moss is, of course, entitled to his own political opinions and prejudices. What he is not entitled to do as a BBC presenter is to allow those prejudices to spill over into his reports, thus compromising the BBC’s reputation for impartiality – even under the pretext of supposedly trying to be funny.
SOURCE (See the original for links & graphics)
BBC accused of ‘extraordinary’ censorship after cutting honour-killing references from radio drama for fear of offending Muslims
The BBC has been accused of ‘extraordinary’ censorship by a leading playwright after dialogue was cut from her hard-hitting drama in case it offended Muslims.
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, whose 2004 play Behzti was pulled from a Birmingham theatre after it sparked Sikh protests, says the Corporation tampered with her work because it involved an honour killing.
Ms Bhatti was commissioned by Radio 4 to write an episode of its police drama Stone.
Her episode, The Heart of Darkness, will be broadcast this Friday, but she says the BBC has caused an ‘awful situation’ which has led to a ‘betrayal’ of her work.
At the centre of her story is the honour killing of a 16-year-old Asian girl, and DCI Stone is told by his bosses to treat the case ‘sensitively’ because she is Muslim.
Although they have admitted removing dialogue from the afternoon drama, the BBC claims they did it to avoid ‘potentially misrepresenting majority British Muslim attitudes to honour killing’.
Describing the play’s final line, Ms Bhatti told The Independent: ‘At the end, a character says: “There is so much pressure in our community to look right and to behave right.” The compliance department came back and said, “We don’t want to suggest the entire Muslim community condones honour killings”.
‘It’s a crucial part of that story. I was very disappointed given my previous experience of censorship. If you take out the line, the whole thing changes, it’s a betrayal of the character and the truth of the unfolding story.
‘It’s an extraordinary and awful situation. They said the lines were offensive but they absolutely were not. We live in a fear-ridden culture.’
Bhatti, who also writes The Archers, was forced into hiding in 2004 after her play Behzti caused a storm. It included a scene in a Gurdwara, a Sikh temple, which involved rape, physical abuse and murder. But the play did win her awards.
That year she received death threats, including a Christmas card that read: ‘Seasons Greetings. This will be your last Christmas. You are a disgrace to the race. Sending you lots of hate.’
The BBC said today the radio drama to be played on Friday was treated no differently than any other.
‘This is a hard-hitting drama about the realities of honour killing in Britain. A single line in the script could be taken to infer that the pressure and motivation to commit such a crime in a family comes from the wider Muslim community, potentially misrepresenting majority British Muslim attitudes to honour killing,’ a Radio 4 spokesman said.
‘Gupreet Kaur Bhatti was asked to amend this line in the normal editorial process of script development.’
Murdoch sorry for Israel cartoon
RUPERT Murdoch has apologised for a “grotesque” cartoon carried in one of his British newspapers showing the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, building a wall with Palestinian bodies.
The acting editor of the Sunday Times, Martin Ivens, was due to meet members of the Jewish community in Britain on Tuesday to apologise after they made a formal complaint to media regulators.
The cartoon by Gerald Scarfe shows a scowling Mr Netanyahu waving a blood-covered trowel, laying bricks in a wall in which Palestinian men, women and children are trapped. Underneath are the words, ‘‘Israeli elections – will cementing peace continue?’’
Mr Murdoch said on Twitter Scarfe had “never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.”
In a statement, Ivens said: “The last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance would be insulting the memory of the Shoah or invoking the blood libel. The paper has long written strongly in defence of Israel and its security concerns, as have I as a columnist.