Book Review: Catching Babies by Sheena Byrom

"If we say ‘delivering babies’ it implies that them midwife made it happen. It’s a birth not a delivery. Midwives inadertantely take the power away from women if you claim to have done all the work. It is the mother who has all the sweat and toil of labour, pushing out her baby with amazing endurance, for us to ‘catch’ at the end.”

— p.311

By Sheena Byrom

Catching Babies is the story of the career and life of Sheena Byrom who has worked as a midwife in the UK for almost 35 years. It is an easy book to read, very light and upbeat for the most part. Byrom does deal with some of the darker aspects of being a midwife such as the loss of babies, being involved in a litigation case and the bullying that can be experienced in the profession as the book progresses so it is not all sweet and pleasant. She also touches on birth trauma and how it affects women, as well as social issues such as poverty and drug addiction. These topics for me, while sometimes hard to read,  made the book even more interesting. Overall, the book and her story is a very positive book to read and I would like to meet her in real life as I loved her attitude towards birth and admired how she pushed for change in the care women received. Interspersed throughout is the story of her personal life, including details of her own births (she has four children) and the struggles of trying to juggle her career while caring for her family which I also enjoyed reading and could relate to. The book also highlights what a huge difference one committed person can make. 

“I was to learn that the job satisfaction in midwifery came from doing less to individuals and more with them”

Sheena began her midwifery career when episiotomies were the norm, food and drink were not allowed during labour and women had to lie on their back (sadly many of these policies are still the norm with birth in Ireland but things are improving). She was at the forefront of many changes throughout her career and seems to have been very innovative, using evidence based research to improve the care women received.  She was involved in the first ever water birth in her area for example, as well as helping to set up specialist midwifery posts to support teenagers who became pregnant and women who were using drugs. These posts have been very effective in helping to reduce the number of babies going to NICU after their birth and the number who end up in care (wouldn't it be great to have such posts in Ireland - Minister for Health please take note!). She also worked in a variety of settings such as a maternity home, a busy maternity hospital, in the community, and as part of a midwifery team.

There are some amazing stories such a forceps delivery which is performed with the woman standing up, and another where a woman (her daughter) is induced at 43 weeks and then goes home to continue with her plans for a home birth after receiving a drug to kick start her labour. Women have choices in the UK that Irish women don't and reading this book from an Irish perspective it is so clear to see how the Eight Amendment in our legislation (dealing with the right to life of the unborn) impacts the choices women have around their birth. In the United Kingdom decisions around their birth '...ultimately belongs to the women in question.' (p. 203) This is not something that happens here where women have been taken to court using Eight Amendment Legislation to enforce medical procedures on them during their pregnancy. 

Thoughout the book Sheena's love of midwifery and supporting women shines through. Time and time again her passion is evident as she supports women as they birth their babies, or to achieve the birth they hope for. The book ends with her retiring as a midwife from the NHS (but not before winning a lifetime achievement award from the Trust she worked for). However Sheena is still very active as a midwife and now works as a Freelance Midwifery Consultant. She has also written another book: Roar Behind the Silence (which is on my To Buy List for 2016). You can follow her on Twitter under @SagefemmeSB 

I think for anyone like myself who is interested in birth or who works in the area of childbirth, this is worth a read. I would recommend it to any doula, midwife or childbirth educator interested in normalising birth. It shows what a difference just one person can make. 

Finally, Sheena is coming to Ireland, something that I am very excited about. She will be giving the keynote speech at the ROAR Conference in Dublin on Friday 23rd September organised by the Irish Midwives Association. I will be there and am really looking forward to hearing Sheena speak in person (and hopefully pick up of a copy of the book on the day). Afaik there are still some tickets left - so I might see you there.