EVERY woman should feel supported and have their voice heard about the maternity care they’re receiving, especially pregnant military spouses and partners who might be new to an area, have their soldier away, or struggling to access information. National Maternity Voices is the group of Maternity Voices Partnerships (MVP) in England – an independent group of women, families, commissioners, midwives and doctors reviewing the development of local maternity care. We spoke to two army spouses offering maternity care support…
Military spouse Francesca Seed is a mum-of-three, qualified doula and co-chair for MVP Central Lancashire. She believes that access to information, support and continuity in care is key: “Families move regularly and many women are pregnant in this transition.
“Our feedback shows that 73 per cent of those moving were not supported by the military or NHS in transferring their maternity care – this needs to change.”
Francesca led research, gathering feedback from families, with fellow military spouse and mum-of-three Katy McGarry, who covers the Catterick Garrison area.
Utilising her training as a midwife, Katy also provides hypnobirthing, antenatal guidance and relaxation through her business.
She said: “I have a passion to make sure new mums are empowered through support and information. Having the opportunity to feel you are not alone and to gain the knowledge that can assist you in having a positive start in being a mum.”
Katy feels this is by far the biggest problem for military families: “I’ve lost count of the number of women who have told me about their partner going on deployments or being sent on courses while they are in their third trimester or near their due date.
“These women then feel that they have little support because they don’t have their partner there or family and friends close by. This can make them feel anxious about their pregnancy, birth and becoming a mum.
“I want to give women support and information so that when they’re making choices for their labour and birth, they are doing so informed.”
Francesca agreed and suggested that a single port of call for service families within either the armed forces or the NHS would help. “It would act as the family’s advocate between the health provider they depart from to where they’re posted to,” she explained. “Preventing delays in the transfer of birth plans, pregnancy care and other NHS services that a family requires.”
Katy would like to see more acknowledgment from the military for pregnant women.
“I would love to see soldiers not sent on courses or on deployment while their partners are in their third trimester and up to 12 weeks postnatally,” she said. “It’s so important for these couples to go through this together. Having served myself, I appreciate it won’t happen for everyone, but I also know that some courses could be done at a more convenient time for a couple. Becoming parents is life-changing.”
Feedback from the research was presented to the Armed Forces Commissioner for NHS England, and it is formulating a plan to improve the provision of maternity services, initially in the north ahead of a nationwide rollout.
In the meantime, there are lots of ways you can help yourself – especially by ensuring you’re armed with as much knowledge as possible.
“Some mums don’t go to prenatal classes, either because their partner is away and they don’t want to go without them, or they don’t know where classes are because they’re new to an area,” explained Katy. “Going to a class allows you to meet others, form a friendship group and gain support.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your midwife, health visitor or welfare team. “It’s absolutely normal to feel completely overwhelmed in pregnancy, birth or postnatally,” said Francesca. “Your life is turned upside down, you’ll have good days and bad days, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
“Cherish the times you are a complete family unit. We had no visitors for the first two weeks after my youngest two were born; we wanted to make the most of paternity leave and the fact that daddy was ‘home’.
“Ask visitors to do something other than simply have a hold of your baby – like making a cooked meal or fetching your favourite drink from a coffee shop.”
If you’re accessing maternity services in your area, talk to your local MVP, feedback your experiences or use it as a safe place to find out information on your birth choices. While helping yourself, you could help other military families too.
- Go on a prenatal course
- Take control of your pregnancy journey by seeking out the information you need to make informed choices
- For the serving partner, consider when you will be able to do courses during this time
- If it looks likely that you’re going to be alone in your pregnancy, birth or postnatally, and you don’t want to be, considering hiring a doula – some charge, but others are volunteers
- Even if you have a challenging pregnancy, try to maintain a positive attitude which will help you to have a positive birth experience
- Approach your MVP – an independent NHS advisory body reviewing and co-producing maternity services with women and their families
- Everything is your choice. If you’re unhappy, question it; want to know more? Ask
- Don’t feel pressured to make a decision. You know you, your body, your baby, your children and your family