Influencing the media – is it a midwife’s responsibility?
My interest in social media was sparked after I left the NHS in 2011, to embark on more academic learning, travelling and having quality time with my grandchildren. I’ve increasingly become more engaged with mainstream media because of social media, via links to topical maternity related pieces in magazines, newspapers and TV channels. Using social media has been a huge learning curve with enormous benefits to my life and career, though there have been some serious, darker moments. As well as connecting with positive like-minded individuals globally who support and nurture me, I’ve accessed hot-off-the-press articles and blog posts, and been able to share them widely. One of the most exciting opportunities social media has offered me, is an enhanced ability to communicate with women and families who use health services, especially maternity care. Whilst always considering professional accountability to myself and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, I find this is an essential part of my midwifery role – listening to a wider perspective, trying to appreciate the views and opinions of others. Social media enables this beyond face-to-face connections. It also gives me the chance to positively influence, to encourage and to share knowledge.
‘Undone by Fear’
For many years I have witnessed the destructive effect that fear has on maternity services, for both those receiving and those providing care. This fear is often manufactured by health professionals (Dahlen 2010), passed on to women using maternity services, and potentially contributes to defensive practice, and over treatment increasing the risk of iatrogenic harm. Fear perpetuates fear, and mainstream media does little to help, often wrongly interpreting and reporting research evidence (Coxon 2012). Negativity and shocking headlines attract attention, and are usually the tactics deployed by irresponsible journalism. It has been argued that midwives should be ‘media savvy’ to counteract this (Hundley et al. 2015) and whilst I agree that social media gives midwives and others a platform to respond, I feel that some journalists lack personal integrity, accountability, or perhaps they do not comprehend the potential harm they cause.
Why not join the childbirth revolution?
According to Ofcom (2015) the age range of the group most likely to use social media and apps is 16-34years, and more women than men (73%vs 63%) – Adults Media Use and Attitudes Report.
Childbearing women fall into this category, and they use online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as websites, to obtain information and opinions (Byrom and Byrom 2014). I am in contact with many mothers, fathers, birth activists and groups who are interested in maternity care, such as the Positive Birth Movement, and I see how social media is being used to counterbalance scaremongering, sensationalism, and fear. Milli Hill, journalist and founder of the PBM wrote about the fear invoking programme One Born Every Minute. Hill challenges the producers to ‘join the childbirth revolution’ and help women to see positive, undisturbed birth, so that they may then challenge maternity systems to provide that type of care. But will they pay attention? This type of programme is already has successful ratings, and horror stories, whilst scary, pull in audiences. Don’t they? Does the highly edited series reflect England’s maternity services? Most of the midwives I know cringe at the scenes in One Born Every Minute, and some write about the effects on childbearing women (Garrod 2012) Many midwife colleagues tell me that women come to their antenatal sessions articulating their increased fear of birth after watching the programme. So whilst imploring to midwives to engage positively with social media, to help to reduce fear, I am perplexed as to why maternity service managers agree to engage with the TV producers at all. Is it financial? Moment of fame? Or do they believe this is how birth is? I personally believe the birth room is NOT the place for entertainment.
‘No hierarchy, just people’
Other successful initiatives use social media and co-design to engage, empower and inform those involved or interested in maternity services. #MatExp is a social movement, led by parents, families and maternity workers, and involving an innovative programme WhoseShoes©, namely it’s wonderful founder Gill Phillips @WhoseShoes. Through various social media platforms and using the #MatExp hashtag, families, maternity care workers and activists, lawyers, academics, and anyone at all interested can join together to hear, inform, and lobby for change in maternity services. All on a level playing fiels. Indeed, I invited Gill to write about her work for our book, The Roar Behind the Silence: why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care. This book is packed with short easy-to-read chapters, and aims to address the fear that prevails, and offers ideas to support and empower those interested in improving maternity care. One of chapters is dedicated to the use of social media, to help with this.
So I do believe that midwives have a responsibility to understand the implications of negative media reporting, and how that potentially influences many aspects of maternity experience, and health outcomes for mothers and babies. This responsibility includes being mindful of the part we play in counteracting negativity through our actions when working, and when using social media. Whilst doing this, we must remember to care for ourselves, to listen to those we serve, and to responsibly lobby for improvements as much as we can. Remember, social media can help!
If you would like to follow Sheena on Twitter she is available here: https://twitter.com/SagefemmeSB
Website and blog: http://www.sheenabyrom.com/
Dahlen H (2010) Undone by fear? Deluded by trust? Midwifery Vol 26, (2) Pp 156–162.
Garrod D (2012) Birth as entertainment: What are the wider effects? Debbie Garrod British Journal of Midwifery 20(2) p81