The Essence of Dignity and Respect

Excellent maternity care has a unique ability to dignify.

It can make women feel valued, respected, honoured and seen.

Dignified care and environments are those in which both the woman’s values and vulnerability are acknowledged and accommodated simultaneously, where she is recognised, understood, treated with safety, fairness and accountability.

The care that a childbearing woman receives sends subconscious messages about how to feel and what to expect. The maternity care received is often completely misaligned with the moment that the woman is experiencing – welcoming a human being – a child – into this world.  Despite the immense joy of a child’s birth, the messages of maternity care stay with women. Those messages are:

“You are not at home, you are in a hospital – we are in charge.”

“You are not in control of anything, not even your position or companion.”

“Your comfort, simply, not important.”

“We need to you to fit in with our policies”

At best, the maternity care experience might just be described as uninspiring. At worst, it is undignifying.

Maternity care is about providing services for women to live their best lives. And yet what women often experience is maternity services and professionals largely disconnected from the women directly impacted.   Maternity care professionals can appear seemingly unconcerned with the relatively simple needs of an expectant mother. They justify their care by claiming that the baby is OK, rather than considering the impact of that care.

All maternity care must be premised on the belief that every woman deserves well designed, personalised maternity care.

In order to do this, we must simultaneously and significantly diversify our models of maternity care. The good news is that maternity professionals can change how they care.  They can do this by committing to the health, safety and welfare of all childbearing women. This will pay dividends, because once you see what excellent maternity care can achieve, it cannot be unseen.

All women deserve excellent maternity care. Because well-designed maternity care is not just a matter of provider preference or a question of procedure. It literally shapes women’s ideas about who they are in the world and what they deserve.

That is the essence of dignity.  Dignity is both the opportunity and the responsibility of maternity care for good and for all women.