What will it take for people to realise that childbirth is not a game, unless it’s a game of chance? It can all go wonderfully to plan, or it can be random and potentially lethal. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is the safety of the mother and child.
An independent investigation into Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS (SaTH) trust, led by senior midwife Donna Ockenden, was courageously fought for by the families of two babies who died, Kate Stanton-Davies and Pippa Griffiths. It has since expanded, finding 1,862 serious incidents mostly between 2000 and 2019, including the deaths of hundreds of babies, abnormally high maternal deaths and a catalogue of incompetence, neglect and cruelty. Failure to handle high-risk cases correctly. Reluctance to perform caesarean sections in the overzealous pursuit of “natural” (vaginal) births. Inadequate consultant supervision. Adversarial attitudes between midwives and doctors. Mocking of struggling mothers as “lazy”, and blaming of mothers for their babies’ deaths.
This is nauseating. Anybody who has had a child, particularly if the birth was hazardous, will know how helpless you feel. This (interim) report makes essential recommendations – such as greater risk assessment, extra staffing and focus on maternal safety – that are supposedly already being acted upon. Let’s hope so; we’ve been here before, notably with the Morecambe Bay maternity scandal.
The Ockenden report shows how women were pressured, even hounded, into giving birth “naturally”, sometimes with lethal consequences. This ideology is by no means confined to SaTH. The “natural birth at all costs” culture has become a cosh with which to beat expectant mothers. Women who don’t have natural births are made to feel like failures. There’s a quasi-macho pride attached to going without pain relief. Why are high risk and lack of pain management deemed normal and laudable in maternity, but not in other branches of medicine? For hospitals, there are financial incentives for avoiding caesarean sections, but elsewhere it borders on cultdom. In times gone by, women and babies died at alarming rates during childbirth (in parts of the world, they still do). The human body hasn’t changed, medicine has.
This isn’t about forcing women to have drugs/interventions they don’t need. Nobody wants midwives vilified, or women back with their feet up in stirrups being treated like annoying cattle by haughty medics. It’s a plea to acknowledge that not all women are fortunate enough to have straightforward births.
The stark truth is that women have never received enough respect for the risks they take during childbirth, and making them suffer for some warped “natural birth” ideology is as much part of that as overmedicalisation. While there’s much else to address with Shrewsbury and Telford, let’s hope it calls a halt to the increasingly troubling systemic ideological obsession with “natural” birth.
It stinks that Johnny Depp is still peddling Dior’s wares
Why is Dior still using the actor Johnny Depp to advertise its bestselling aftershave, Dior Sauvage? Domestic violence charities are horrified that the fashion house continues to use Depp even after he lost his libel case against the Sun, which labelled him a “wife beater” for his treatment of Amber Heard. While film companies are thought to be backing away (he has been dropped from the Fantastic Beasts franchise), he remains the face of Dior’s unfortunately titled fragrance, and can be seen smouldering in a poncho (“Sauvage… wild at heart”) by a campfire in the adverts.
One theory is that it would have been too late for Dior to change the Christmas campaign, but it would have been aware of the trial and could have made decisions earlier. Perhaps more salient is the fact that sales of Sauvage went up after Depp lost the libel case. Clearly, many fans think he’s innocent.
Or is this beyond Depp: evidence of widespread toxic masculinity unbowed, or a reminder that some people don’t consider domestic violence to be all that important? Some may even think it adds to Depp’s rock’n’roll allure, because nothing screams “sexy!” more than an actor in his late 50s joking by text about setting his wife on fire.
Similar scenes played out recently with the death of Sean Connery, when, in the rush to eulogise him, many appeared to conveniently forget his opinions on violence towards women.
Dior is silent about using Depp, but the question remains: whatever you might think of Heard, why is that guy deemed appropriate to advertise a product designed to enhance sex appeal? Personally, I’m with the domestic violence charities, not to mention the court’s judgment.
What on earth is wrong with seeing the Vicar of Dibley take the knee?
Is anyone out there panicking and fretting because the Vicar of Dibley took the knee? Can you all just about cope? Recently, Millwall FC were booed by some spectators for taking the knee.
Now, the TV series The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown is to feature short monologues on the major events of 2020, including Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd, with the vicar, played by Dawn French, taking the knee. Cue more than 100 complaints to the BBC, before it has even aired.
In this latest round of the culture wars, admittedly the issue does look rather shoehorned into a mainstream sitcom with a decidedly middle-England premise. Then again, French’s first husband, Lenny Henry, is a person of colour, as is their adopted child, so she could be forgiven for having a passing interest. Similarly, isn’t the creator, Richard Curtis, allowed to use major news events of 2020 in a series based on… major news events of 2020?
The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown is set to cover a variety of topics, but I wonder, will there be complaints to the BBC about the segments on clapping for carers or school exams being cancelled? If not, why not? Maybe it’s just that some things are more likely to create a furore than others.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist