Sunday lunchtime, Keith, Alfie and I travelled to London to gather in the shadow of the Imperial War Museum. It was a glorious sunny day, cold, and crisp and fittingly, full of promise that new shoots would soon be breaking the ground.
Our purpose was simple, to join in with the Reclaiming Birth Rally - organised by NCT, ARM, IMUK, AIMS and Albany Mums - walking to Whitehall and making as much noise as possible in support of better choice for every birthing mother. The walk had been sparked by the closure of the Albany Midwives, a group of midwives who contract to work for the NHS on a caseload basis. They work mostly on an estate with many socio-economic challenges, and they achieve excellent outcomes. They visit women at home in labour, and only ask women to decide on their place of birth while in labour. Their homebirth rate is over 50%.
From the moment we arrived at the meeting point there was a wonderful atmosphere. Children running everywhere with balloons and whistles and homemade banners. There was colour and noise and, most importantly, smiles: This was a celebration of everything that is good in midwifery.
Everywhere we looked there were children in pushchairs with flags saying “caught by The Albany” and “when I grow up I want to be an Albany Dad”. There were t-shirts and balloons proclaiming “100% Albany” and I’m not too proud to tell you that it brought a lump to my throat. Seeing that many people whose lives had been touched by this small group of women, and who felt so supportive of them as to bring their families out to march in support of them was very moving, and in stark contrast to the majority of maternity experiences in this country where the person at the business end of your birth remains a nameless, and often faceless person.
Soon after arriving we were marshalled into the road behind an open top bus decked out with NCT balloons and as many banners as our hands could hold. I was quite glad that my sister had joined us for the day because it meant we could each hold a banner and still have enough hands free to push Alfie Speaking of my son, can I just say what a miracle of stubbornness he is, managing as he did to sleep the entire march despite being surrounded by a couple playing an accordion and violin, and several dozen whistle blowing children!! The march set off slowly and more importantly, loudly, and we followed that bus, and the samba band, attracting no end of spectators who smiled and waved as we went past.
It felt good to be part of such a noble tradition as protesting. As Parliament came into sight and we skirted the corner of the square containing so many other protest banners we raised our voices just that little bit higher. The bus soon parked up outside the Department of Health and we heard from the great and the good of the organisations represented.
There was a sense of sadness, that some 28 years after the first rallies, we were still fighting for the same changes to maternity services, but more than that, there was a real sense of hope, of determination, that this would be the last. That people like us could make a difference by making improvements to maternity services high on the agenda of the upcoming election. After all, in the great scheme of things, what is more important than the everyday miracle of birth?
If you want to get involved in the Reclaiming Birth campaign, go to www.nct.org.uk/active
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