To talk or not to talk to the tabloid press about women’s issues

Such a conundrum. Talking may get your story ‘out there’ but you have little control over the context. Some tabloid press, notably the Daily Mail, are known to be serial offenders in messing with source material. They too frequently take someone’s experience or considered view and blow up bits of it out of context to tell their own – often divisive – yarn. Or they use a case study as a springboard for their own rant.

The media loves a black and white plot line with goodies and baddies; parties in conflict. Measured discussion about what might be going on and why, or what could be done to address a problem, isn’t tabloid fare.

Social media – limited reach unless you’re famous

Should we just use social media instead? Or does that only reach the already converted? Unless a Facebook group or Tweeter has a huge following they may not reach a big enough, diverse enough, audience.

There are always really interesting stories and questions on the #MatExp Facebook support group, which also campaigns.  #MatExp has over 1,500 followers. It’s a big group. In comparison however, according to Wikipedia, the Daily Mail (the only newspaper with over 50% of female readers) has an average daily circulation of over 1.5 million and is read online by 100 million unique visitors per month.  That’s a huge number of readers. So, if you want to get a message out, it is tempting.

#MatExp

#MatExp aims to provide a safe place for women to share their ‘experiences of maternity care, and what really makes a difference to that experience’; to ‘get health care professionals (in and beyond the NHS) and local communities to listen and work in partnership with women and families to improve maternity experiences’; and to empower women, partners and community groups, and enable professionals, to ‘to take action to improve maternity experiences’.

You could easily spend all day in Facebook and Twitter following unfolding conversations and putting in your two-penny worth. I was engaged this morning by a #MatExp story from Laura Wood.

Laura’s story, Laura’s experience

Laura decided to talk to the Daily Mail about her traumatic birth because she feels birth trauma isn’t recognised or understood well enough. The Mail used Laura’s story as the hook for a much longer piece published under the provocative headline: Turf war on the maternity ward: As doctors and midwives clash over the best way to give birth, how babies are being put at risk.

Laura felt the journalist was ‘lovely, and worked with me on the sections about myself, throughout’. In contrast the photographer was straightforwardly unreconstructed. He told Laura to “put on a nice pair of heels”. She both resisted, knowing that the issue she wanted to get across wasn’t about how she looked, but also got a bit caught up in the Mail machine. She says ‘I was shocked to be treated like it was the fashion section …we compromised and I look a bit like I’m going to a wedding.’  She felt it had to be give and take in order to get her story into the public domain, something she was willing to do to raise public awareness on an important, often unrecognised, issue for women.

I have sympathy with Laura’s decision and I don’t know what the answer is.

Beware of midwife-bashing 

There is a battle royal being fought about how much midwifery-led services should be developed. And some dirty-play going on. I think it is important not to engage in midwife-bashing or be used in mis-information. So beware.

Midwives are not perfect as a profession. They make mistakes. They may be naive at times. They may be idealistic or they may be lacking in confidence and vision. They are human and subject to limitations like any of us. (They are also well led and their practice is regulated, so poor performance should be picked up.) But midwifery care is special and important and there is huge potential for women to benefit from it. See for example the Lancet journal’s Midwifery care series. Most obstetricians recognise this and work closely with their midwifery colleagues. Most midwives and obstetricians understand that mutual respect and team working is vital in order to ensure that women receive high quality care.

It doesn’t help women service users, or midwives (mainly women) and obstetricians (increasingly women), to have silly stories about turf wars. It perpetuates conflict, resentment and fear.

Feminism and getting your voice heard

We need to focus on growing respect, openness and joint multi-disciplinary training; on  improving communication, especially listening, and learning from practice and experience.

The complaints process, Maternity Services Liaison Committees (MSLCs), and local clinical networks should help women (in all of those groups mentioned above) address individual cases and/or ‘care pathways’ where quality has not been good enough.

I think women’s voices are heard more now than in the 1970s when my first babies were born. I feel very proud to have been part of ‘Changing Childbirth’ in the 1990s and in all of the networking, reviewing of evidence and the consciousness and confidence raising that led to it. Feminism was important then and it is now, and so is the Sociology of Childbirth, which Ann Oakley has contributed so much towards (http://bit.ly/OakleyA and http://bit.ly/SocChdbrth) Now we have had another major maternity services review and we must use it to ensure that we get more progressive, more woman-centred services.

I say, ‘Well done’ to Laura for making your voice heard. If you feel that you had to compromise, or feel hurt by some of the reactions to the article. Use the experience to inform your next action. But don’t give up.

Laura’s blog

I can see from Laura’s blog that that’s unlikely. Despite being a PhD student, the mother of a toddler and someone who struggles with past trauma and PND, she finds time to write and network and articulate what needs to change.

It’s so important that people do not suffer in silence but tell their stories and find constructive ways of making sure they lead to improvements in knowledge, understanding and care.

We can all use our powerful feelings, personal knowledge and broader insights to make a positive difference for ourselves and for other women.

Would I trust a journalist?

Would I trust a journalist? Probably only one whose track record I had been able to check out online.

Would I take my story to the Daily Mail or other tabloid? I’d want to have a firm commitment that they were not out to bash midwives or midwifery care.

o00o

I would like to thank Laura Wood for reading this blog in draft form and agreeing to its publication.

For more on #MatExp you can visit the website http://matexp.org.uk/ and follow #MatExp on Twitter.

Do visit Laura’s blog: http://www.keepingiteclectic.co.uk/  including http://www.keepingiteclectic.co.uk/2016/02/it-wasnt-my-fault.html where she says:

‘We cannot tell traumatised women that it would have been okay if only they were cleverer or better-prepared or more resourceful or more determined or more Zen. We cannot tell new mothers that they have already failed. The cost is too high.

I cannot help but note the comparison here with blaming victims of sexual assault. Is this just what we do to women? In some ways, being a birth trauma survivor is not dissimilar to being a survivor of sexual assault. … We need a cultural shift in how we think about women’s experiences. And we need to be more mindful of our language.’

 

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