Having a baby is always a massive event and one which, for almost every woman in the UK, involves many encounters with the NHS. It certainly provides an insight into the current state of care for pregnant women and new parents.
Both my pregnancies took place after the Tory-LibDem coalition came to power, my first son was born in September 2010, and my second in November 2012.
During this time I felt thoroughly supported by a team of friendly and knowledgeable midwives. The quality of NHS antenatal classes around the UK is currently patchy, but my team in Bishopston couldn't be faulted. After the six sessions my partner and I advanced from knowing almost nothing about caring for a baby, to thinking we could navigate parenthood pretty well (little did we know!). However, they did mention their concern over budget cuts, and their fear that funding for the routine first at-home visit would be withdrawn.
I felt we were in safe hands at all the routine appointments and scans, and we were invited to view the hospital's maternity department in advance of "the big day". Things were looking good, and when my contractions started I knew I'd be well looked after. However, on arrival at the maternity wards we were told there was no room available, and the midwives were all busy.
Being a polite person, even in pain, I did what I was told and waited patiently on a trolley in an open ward. Every so often someone would come along and check my blood pressure, so I wasn't totally ignored. Nearly 24 hours later we were finally taken to our own room, and the unspoken message was "now get on with it". But my labour hadn't progressed since arriving at hospital.
Various methods were used to try to move things along (I'll spare you the details), but it became clear I was going to need an artificial hormone drip. This then necessitated an epidural, which then meant I needed a midwife with me continuously. Eventually I managed to deliver naturally although an emergency caesarean was almost on the cards.
After all this I was relieved, exhausted and rather emotional. In the middle of the night, after my celebratory tea and toast, my baby and I were taken to the postnatal ward. Now I understand it would be impossible to put each woman in their own room, but there was barely a moment's silence. The ward was packed to the rafters and clearly short-staffed, although the two midwives looking after all of us were doing a tremendous job. Desperate for sleep, I discharged myself the next evening, making the poor staff write up my notes in-between their constant running around.
I can't know for sure whether the birth would have progressed normally if I'd had a room and midwife assigned to me immediately. But if it had, the costs incurred by extra staffing and drugs would have been much lower.
My second birth was a planned caesarean as my son was breech (the wrong way up), and went like clockwork. I had total faith in all the staff, who made me very comfortable. Although again, the postnatal ward was overstretched and clearly struggling with a shortage of staff.
My overriding impression on both occasions was of fantastic and dedicated midwives, but simply not enough of them to provide the level of care that could and should be available for women at this crucial time. The Labour party is pledging to fund 3,000 more NHS midwives, and that's why I'm supporting Thangam Debbonaire as parliamentary candidate for Bristol West.