It’s really important to ask, “what went well?”
This question is crucially important in a culture of maternity services that so often seems focused on looking at what went badly. A culture focused on where blame can be apportioned and on what measures can be brought in to ensure that the same (often complex, unpredictable and unpreventable) chain of events that occurred before a poor outcome cannot happen again.
It is not just a case of needing to move beyond the blame culture, within which it has somehow become acceptable for people to justify systemic problems or their own fumbling, failings or inappropriate actions by blaming others. Sometimes those with the least power to effect systemic change. We do need to take responsibility for our own responsibilities, actions and decisions, but we also need to consider what went well and how we can learn from this. Perhaps we could acknowledge when others do things well, rather than focusing on mistakes and making generalisations about groups when we encounter a specific problem created by an individual. And maybe we can also recognise that individuals are complex, and things aren’t always straightforward or easily pigeonholed.
If wellness — in every sense of the word — became our focus, then we might live, work, practice and give birth in a rather different world.
In order to reach that world, we may have to stretch our imaginations and exercise other little-used parts of ourselves, because this is the less tangible path. It is far easier to define, judge, label, lump and focus on the abnormal, the symptom picture, the potentially risky or the allegedly erroneous than it is to put in the work that it takes to contemplate the less quantifiable state that is wellness.
Maybe this is because wellness is a relative, individual, shifting concept, involving the need to adapt or balance. For some people, it involves linking
with other concepts that are difficult to talk about and quantify: authenticity, heart-centredness, realness. These are some of the touchstones that I try to bring to my work, because these very intangible concepts are also the pathways that women journey along and the very mysteries with which midwives have always worked, day and night. But it’s a journey and a process, not an end point that can be ticked off as having been achieved.
We mustn’t be afraid to face the intangible, tolerate the chaos, live with paradox or explore the pathways less travelled. And we certainly shouldn’t shy away from taking care of ourselves, contemplating what is authentic or taking time to focus on what causes things to go well.