About 10 days ago, a 28-year old woman died giving birth to her baby by caesarean in France. It turns out that her anaesthetist had more than 2 grams of alcohol in her blood.
This is devastating for the little baby who doesn’t have a Mum any more, and for the rest of the family who should have been celebrating the arrival of this new member in the family.
When I heard about the story, I couldn’t help wondering if the caesarean was necessary. Indeed, around 30% of babies are born by caesarean in many areas of Western Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I think caesareans do save lives. Many lives. But they also have a cost (not just financial).
The World Health Organisation recommends a rate of caesarean of 10 to 15% (World Health Organization. Appropriate technology for birth. Lancet 1985; 2: 436-7). Up to that rate, the outcomes for mothers and babies are improved. In other words, we save lives, and we improve the health of mothers and babies. Past 15%, and the mortality and morbidity go up again. So the outcomes for mothers and babies are not as good, and some lose their life or their health is affected.
And France is a place where birth is often tampered with. For example, women are forced to book epidurals even before they have the first twinge. If they don’t, they are a lot less likely to be able to have one. Interventions are common. Unfortunately, interventions lead to the need for more. Birth relies on a delicate balance of hormones and processes and it is best left alone if everything is going fine.
Britain is slightly better with fewer initial interventions, but there is still progress to be made. Isn’t it time to view birth as a normal process that women have mastered over hundreds of thousands of years. Interventions should be used when needed, not used lightly, when they create the need for more interventions. Women should be accompanied during their pregnancy and helped to trust their body during the birth, and to learn how their behaviour in labour can help (or hinder) their baby’s birth.
So, back to what happened. The anaesthetist was working under the influence of alcohol. She gave herself up, later on, stating that she had a chronic alcohol problem. So, what is going on with our medics? It is well known that a fair proportion have an alcohol problem. Is the job so unbearable that they have to drown their problems with a bottle? I’m not trying to defend the anaesthetist. She was responsible for the life of a young new mother. And she didn’t take it seriously. But what should be done to help the medical profession? Are we asking too much of them? Should their work setting be different?
I don’t have an answer to that but I feel a lot has been lost.
As a Cognitive Hypnotherapist, I often work both with women (and their partners) who prepare for the birth of their baby, and with people who have an alcohol problem and want to resolve it. Things can get better if people are prepared to get help and put effort into it.