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Reflecting on a personal journey into involving women in creating maternity care

3rd July 2019

To ensure health services are fit for purpose, it is important that the views of the people who use services are central to service planning and delivery – doing with and not for, or to, people – not just sometimes, but all the time. We have been linking with Lisa Ramsey, Service User Voice Policy Manager, NHS England, to learn from the experience of establishing Maternity Voice Partnerships (MVP) and are exploring how this could be applied to health visiting.

We are very grateful to Emma Taylor, who has written this guest blog for us, regarding her journey as a Maternity Voices chair. We know in some areas around the country health visiting services are well represented at their local MVPs but to find out more about MVPs and how you can be involved as a parent or as a health visitor follow the link at the end of Emma’s blog.

The iHV’s core purpose is to improve outcomes for children and families and reduce health inequalities through strengthened health visiting services. To achieve our mission and ensure that the products and resources that we produce are fit for purpose, in May 2019 we set an ambition to work more closely with the people who use our products by embedding co-production methods at every stage of our projects and within our core business.

Since the Institute was established in 2012 it has established good parent and health visitor participation in some elements of its work. We are launching a new strategy, reflecting on what we have learned and building upon this by drawing on co-production methods and a planned approach to ensure that people using our services, parents, health visitors and other relevant partners, have a key role in developing and shaping the services they access.

If you are interested in connecting with us to help us with co-production of Parent Tips and other resources please contact Sally Shillaker ([email protected]) and watch out for more details on our website and social media in the coming months.

This blog is linked with National Co-production week 1-5 July 2019 https://www.scie.org.uk/co-production/week


Emma Hawes Taylor
Chair, Reading Maternity Voices Partnership

I’m a planner. Someone once called me a strategic thinker, and that’s nicer than the way others have put it: Over-prepared. Over-thinking things. Taking it all too seriously.

When I was pregnant with what was to become my first liveborn child, having already experienced a first trimester loss, my propensity for planning and researching hit a peak. I read every book I could find, from the serious and heavy-going Childbirth Without  Fear, through Ina May Gaskin, to the deliberately comical Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. I read research papers, joined endless Facebook groups, and picked over everything that might happen, to the bemusement and sometimes frustration of my husband.

At that time, my overriding impression was that if I wanted to achieve the birth plans I had created, I would have to fight for them. At a routine check with my GP, he assumed I would birth at the local hospital. On hearing that I intended to birth at home, he said: “Oh no, don’t do that, especially not for your first baby.”

While my midwife was more supportive, as I entered the last few weeks of pregnancy I was subjected to what felt like a barrage of “well, we might not have the staff. You might have to come in. We can’t guarantee.” It was as if my plans were worthless and my experience less so.

I didn’t know it then, but at the same time as I was beginning a journey into parenthood, I was also taking my first steps on a journey into helping to transform maternity care.

That first experience, and the subsequent ones of a further four losses, followed by another (yes I did it!) home birth, paved my way into the world of Maternity Voice Partnerships (MVPs) where I found an outlet for my passion and determination for women’s voices to be listened to, properly heard, and, most importantly, acted upon.

My youngest was still in utero when I was recruited as a volunteer service user representative for Reading Maternity Voices Partnership, then a Maternity Services Liaison Committee. Now he is nearly five, and I am the Chair.

The work we do – that all MVPs do – has become my overriding passion. I have closed my sewing and alterations business, shaken off all other voluntary commitments, and shaped my life to make space for this most important work.

MVPs are independent NHS bodies, funded by Clinical Commissioning Groups, run by women and local families, and counting in their membership midwives, doctors, commissioners and other staff.

In my time on the MVP for Reading, Wokingham and West Berkshire, we have been instrumental in creating an incredible amount of change, working alongside the enthusiastic and willing staff who have seen first-hand how transformative it is when you truly listen to women and families and act on their feedback.

There is now a dedicated homebirth team, which celebrated its second birthday this year. Sadly, too late for me to experience personally the continuity of carer that it offers, but created because of the experiences of women like me, who found the uncertainty of not knowing where they would give birth unbearable and distressing.

There is an induction suite, created to prevent women feeling lost during the induction process. A room specifically for them, where they can feel safe as they prepare to meet their baby.

Women having Caesarean births (and yes, we changed the language used too; no sections here, all are births) can now make the same choices as if they were birthing vaginally – aromatherapy, music, optimal cord clamping, immediate skin-to-skin, breastfeeding, and more – barring medical emergencies of course.

It has been incredible to me to be part of a process that is so simple, yet so effective. We go out into the community and listen to people’s experiences, both good and bad. We ask them what was good, what was not so good, and what they’d like to see improved. Then we take that feedback and look at it alongside hospital staff, and together find a way forward that works for everyone.

Sometimes we disagree. We are a critical friend offering gentle challenge – telling staff that yes, their bum does look big in this – but there is no animosity, because the MVP, women and staff,  is a team, and we look always for the win-win scenario, seeing the bigger picture and yet not losing sight of the details either.

I have learnt so much by being part of this exciting team. I’ve come to understand the pressures maternity care is under, whether financially or otherwise. I’ve seen that staff also want change, that they care deeply for the women they look after and want each and every one to have the most excellent care possible. I’ve seen Better Births come into being, and begin to transform maternity care across the UK.

Personally, I’ve done things I never thought I was capable of. I’ve spoken at the NHS Health and Care Expo to a room of professionals including Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent and Baroness Julia Cumberlege; I’ve talked at a regional NHS safety event; helped deliver training to midwives studying their Professional Midwifery Advocacy qualification;  sat on interview panels at the hospital, and chaired meetings of over 20 people, including senior hospital staff and commissioners.

Emma Hawes Taylor
Chair, Reading Maternity Voices Partnership presenting at the NHS Health and Care Expo

And I’ve come to know that over-thinking, taking things seriously and being over-prepared are not flaws, but positive attributes I can and do use to effect change, and to inspire other women to discover their own unique skills as we work together to transform local maternity care.

Find your local MVP on the interactive map at nationalmaternityvoices.org.uk

Emma Hawes Taylor, Chair, Reading Maternity Voices Partnership