Niamh Ní Mhurchú is Joint Managing Partner at Callan Tansey Solicitors, an experienced Medical Neglignece specialist and a mother of four children. Here she discusses the importance of listening to new mothers, hearing about their birth experience, and learning from their stories to help improve outcomes.

In my work as a Medical Negligence solicitor I meet many mothers who come to me seeking answers to their questions about the labour and delivery of their babies. For some there is a niggling feeling that something is not quite right. For others, they need a greater understanding of events that occurred around the birth, why certain decisions were taken and the implications of those decisions on their life.

Many of the women I meet feel they have not had the opportunity to raise these concerns while in the hospital. In other cases it is only with the passage of time, and discussing their experience with family and friends that they realise they have unresolved issues. It can be difficult to get access to their birth notes, to speak with the team who attended at the birth and to get answers to questions about what happened and why.

For this reason it is wonderful to see Sligo University Hospital Maternity Department hosting a patient engagement forum. The hospital is inviting women who recently attended its Maternity Department, or who are currently accessing maternity services to meet with them at The Glasshouse Hotel, on Tuesday July 19th from 12pm to 2pm. The goal of the forum is for hospital staff to meet with women, listen to their birth experiences and learn from those experiences.

This initiataive follows the Birth Reflections service launched at the Rotunda Hospital last year. This midwife led service offers patients of The Rotunda a one-to-one appointment to listen to any concerns, reflect on the birth experience and talk it through with a dedicated midwife.

This service, and forums like that being hosted by Sligo University Hospital are initiatives I would love to see rolled out across all of our Maternity units.

Giving birth is a life-changing event, and new motherhood can be exhausting and at times overwhelming. Women can feel their concerns are not heard and often experience an inability to advocate for themselves and their babies. As a mother of four children, I understand that each birth experience is different. Over the years I have heard stories of women whose lives have been completely altered by experiences of birth.

These include 3rd and 4th degree tears, bladder, uterine and bowel prolapse. These injuries can have a significant impact on their day-to-day lives and their ability to care for their babies often as first time mothers. These injuries are more likely to occur during the first vaginal birth.

New mothers often suffer in silence due to the social stigma surrounding their symptoms which are often hidden in society. Urinary incontinence, anal incontinence, the inability to control flatulence are deeply distressing symptoms, so many young women find themselves isolated (long before the COVID Pandemic) for fear of social stigma. Women have also confided that they are no longer able to tolerate intercourse as they have been left with significant pain and fear of making matters worse. As it’s not spoken about, these young women are completely unaware of how common these symptoms are and I have no doubt it can lead to social isolation, anxiety and depression.

For many, the opportunity to have their concerns addressed, to be listened to and understood would have been invaluable. For others an early intervention to address traumas, injuries and life-impacting outcomes would have been transformative. It is vital that we give women the opportunity to voice their concerns around their child-birth experience. To ensure that they are listened to, heard and fully supported. To recognise the areas of our maternity services that are serving mothers and their babies well and to highlight the areas where there is room to improve.

If you have questions on any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Niamh Ni Mhurchu, Joint Managing Partner, Callan Tansey Solicitors LLP