Sunday, 5 October 2014

Philomena Canning

Ok. Deep breath. I am going to tackle an issue that is so close to my heart I've been having trouble getting my head around it and it's implications for birth in Ireland.

Readers of this blog will know that I had two home births, and that for me, home is the only place I can conceive being comfortable enough to relax enough to give birth. I love pregnancy, but find labour scary as hell, and was on the verge of panic both times I gave birth. This was helped by my calm, confident midwife who restored my faith in my ability over and over as my sons were born. I was also helped hugely by my calm, confident husband who just KNEW I could do it, even when I thought I couldn't possibly go on. I was also helped by being in a quiet, darkened, familiar environment; my home. Giving birth to my second son I knew my first-born was in the next room, safely asleep and secure in our proximity. I can't imagine being in a loud, bright clinical environment surrounded by strangers, naked from the waist down and feeling unsure as to what might be "done to me" next. I'm aware not all hospital-birthing mothers feel like this, but this is how I would feel.

Hospital holds too many unquantifiables for me. I know a handful of women who have had positive births in hospital, but I know many more who have sworn off having any more children/are still upset/mad/guilty at the way their labours were managed. I'm explaining all this to show you that even if you don't think home is the best place to give birth, there are many of us who do, and we need to have that choice available. And right now, trying to arrange a home birth is like trying to win cash on a scratch card. Many attempt, but few are the lucky ones.

The day of my second home birth. Baba is about 12 hours old.

I joined the Home Birth Association, or HBA ( while pregnant with my first son, though I had known for a few years that I would have home births. I've spoken before about our culture of fear surrounding birth, which made my choice a very difficult one; having to defend it and attempt to educate family and friends about my decision. Most of my energies in my first pregnncy were spent arguing my side to concerned parties, and had I known that their opinion actually doesn't matter, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache. My own issues maybe, but many mothers who express an interest in home birth are talked out of it by people with no knowledge of how it works. Sure, the GP who confirmed my first pregnancy told me home birth was not a safe option. (It is as safe/safer than hospital birth - read any of the research here)

The shining lights in the dark pregnancy for me were the HBA support meetings,  meeting women who had had successful home births, who told me I could do it. But above all the antenatal visits by my midwife who took so much time to get to know us as a couple, then as a family of three. She would come and stay for up to 2 hours at a time, drinking coffee, chatting about anything and everything, examining me. She answered all my questions with kindness and compassion, and really took time to listen to me and my wishes. One of my favourite memories is my then 2 year old son holding the doppler to my expanding stomach to find his little brother's heartbeat. She was professional and medically on-the-ball, yet she didn't see me as just a vessel housing an infant. She fostered such a relationship of trust that I was able to cry and pour out all my hormonal fears to her, never rushing, and full of support and love for me. She took a great interest in my husband, including him in the visits, and preparing him for his role in the birthing process. Home birth is a true team effort, and all our preparation culminated in two amazing experiences that have shaped me as a person more than anything else in my life. Most home birthing mothers will happily have similar stories to tell. And to read a few stories about the current midwife in the media, Philomena Canning, just see here.

The photo that inspires awe or disgust, depending which side of the fence you are on.

Unfortunately the subject of home birth seems to act like the subject of breastfeeding among the mothers in society. Those who do and those who don't. Those who do are so delighted to have found a natural alternative to the medicalised model, they are evangelical about promoting it. Those who don't feel defensive about their reasons for choosing/being forced into the medicalised model of birthing/feeding. And rarely the twain meet. Formula and breastfeeding moms socialise in different circles, mostly, seeking out others who share their practises in order to feel more "normal".
But what does this all boil down to? At the end of the day we are talking about babies being born, babies being fed. And we deep down love and support every baby, regardless of how its mother chooses to birth and feed it. But on the surface, we are cast into different social circles, helped in no small part by our culture, the media's portrayal of the "mommy wars" and our own insecurities.

I've deviated so much from my original idea for this post. But my point is please don't dismiss Philomena's case if you are not a home birthing supporter. She is a scapegoat for the HSE (Irish Health Service) and her treatment is unlawful and contraindicates their own protocols. Irish hospitals are in the media this week due to maternal and infant deaths, see here about Portlaoise, I was googling for more links but I'm too upset to continue...
This blog has a lot of the up to date info on the current  issues, along with

Not one of the obstetricians or midwives, or hospital personnel involved in the maternal/infant deaths has been so much as suspended, they all continue to practise. While Philomena, a midwife of 31 years experience and 100% safety record has been forced to stop her practise pending an investigation on... what? Not even the HSE has told us what she is supposed to have done. They have nothing. My head is spinning at the injustice of it all, and there are 25 women now left without midwifery care. One who is full term and was planning a home birth with Philomena was told to go to her nearest maternity hospital when she starts labour. This is not good enough. If I was in that position I hate to think what I would do. Hospital not being an option, and not having the money for a private midwife I would be tempted to consider an unassisted birth, and I know there are growing numbers of women choosing/being forced into this option in similar circumstances.

All any of us want is to feel safe

For a full run-down on the witch-hunt that is Philomena Canning's case, I can write no better than this  fantastic article by Deb Hadley here.
Philomena's campaign website is Even if you just sign the petition here to our Health Minister Leo Varadkar, or send one or two emails to your local TDs (templates and TD email addresses on Philomena's campaign site), share on Facebook, or make one phone call, the collective effort could be enough to bring about change. We want Philomena reinstated so she can attend her clients, we want transparency in the HSE and justice for the grieving families. As with the Catholic Church and it's child abuse, the HSE are clearly abusing mothers and babies, and are unwilling to accept any responsibility. This has to change. One death is an accident, two is negligence, three is unacceptable, yet we have had five babies die in one Irish hospital with nobody held responsible. So why is a midwife, one of only 13 independent community midwives in Ireland unable to work? Why are 25 women stressed out and upset in their pregnancies? Maybe home birth was not for you, but it might be a choice your daughter/grand-daughter/niece feels strongly about. Please do something to help her. If we let this go the HSE win, and they can continue to bully and intimidate, do "surprise" episiotomies and shrug at dead babies under their care.

Please do anything you can to help, I will be at the protest at the Dail (Kildare Street, Dublin 2) at 10.45am this Wednesday hoping to make a difference, can you?

Nee x


  1. Great post Niamh and all excellent points. Let's hope the HSE cop on and do the right thing. I want to feel hopeful but after seeing all they've done in the last few years I can't help but feel lost. :(

    1. Thanks Deb, it's been brewing for a while! I'm really hopeful this time, if I was a mother I think I'd be bringing the HSE to court over this, I hope they realise the mess they've made and undo it.

  2. Brilliant, Niamh... so cogently argued... even though it's hard not to just be all angry and passionate, isn't it? see you at the Dáil on Wed. 8th Oct. x

  3. I dont know what to say or think any more. I think the HSE are out to get Philomena for whatever reason, perhaps because she is not afraid to take them on and argue her point. I had two homebirths with another midwife and was hoping for a third but sadly the midwife (who was like a mother figure to me) let me down so badly, went awol, didn't turn up for visits, etc., with a few weeks to go. It turned out I wasn't the only one in this predicament. In this instance the HSE were not a bit interested and as far as I know she is still on the scene and myself and the others have had no closure or follow up. But yet the HSE have targeted and hounded Philomena and are treating her and her clients in the most appalling wat. There was somebody in the HSE waiting in the long grass and with a vendetta - couldn't care less about the mothers involved. Women's rights (across the board) are being eroded in front of our very eyes

  4. Thank you. More coverage = more awareness = more pressure on "them" to do the right thing.


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