THE LABOUR WARD

You are here

“I want my Mum, Nanna, my boyfriend, my Aunty Julie, my sister or my friend Cindy."

Keeping them separate from any close person during labour was the usual tactic to prevent sudden support to keep the baby. The other was to avoid scrutiny.

To a sick person or a woman in labour their close people are, at the surface, comfort, succour, attachment - but at a deeper level they are protection. The baby takers were worried about the ‘agency’ factor, particularly an agency with power, even a solicitor. The mother’s problem wasn’t the law itself: it was that it had no power, no policepersons. The hospital staff would follow the BFA on the file (or UB –ve) ie baby for adoption; unmarried: baby subtract (looks like a blood group).

Hundreds of women have related to me directly that the staff called her ‘Dear’, but remained emotionally distant knowing the events that would happen. It was mostly all anonymous.This isolation from protection, amplifies the fear/trauma/shock factors many times. What might be tolerable to a woman whose husband, friends and relatives take turns to comfort her during labour, might terrify a woman on her own having ‘artificial rupture of the membranes’, or a PV or PR examination to determine the status of the baby’s head.

The immediate perception of trauma is what sets off the brain’s basal nuclei to leave permanent changes to their hippocampus and amygdala with their connections. It is enhanced and fixed by the humiliation factor. There were many facets to humiliation.“How can I let them do this to me? To have myself exposed to others like this is unthinkable.Nobody cares a jot.Is there a real world out there? Do any of my family or friends know what they are doing to me?"

In many smaller hospitals, particularly in the country, there were often personal acts of kindness, such as sneaking them to look at the baby in the next couple of days or one nurse staying with her until the end of her shift. What is being described above and below was exemplified by The Crown St Women’s Hospital Sydney.

Mothers were thus in this state, highly influenced by the work up they have been getting from the Agency (institution – mother’s home) who is managing them. The irony is that this is all happening to them while numerous breaches of ‘acting without informed consent’, contrary to common-law, or even assault, such as injecting them with milk-suppressing synthetic hormones immediately after birth are being done to them; they are even using ‘The Wellfare threat’ against her –“You don’t know how to look after a baby. You have no money to look after a baby; you couldn’t be capable of coping with a baby. We will just bring in The Welfare if you try to keep the baby.” I can remember cringing with irony when I heard that was used in South Australia on an unwed mother who was employed as a neonatal intensive care nurse. This threat of Child Protection Acts was common, particularly if they had been primed in this way during pregnancy.

 

Dr Geoff Rickarby Consultant Psychiatrist
November 2014