Deaf women more likely to face ‘serious complications’ during childbirth says award-winning midwife

Posted on March 18, 2014

A midwfery student who won a prestigious national award for her work on a project to assist deaf women in pregnancy and childbirth has spoken out about the potential life-threatening risks they may face.

Pauline Sporek, who studies in Salford but is originally from Poland, has just won an award from The Royal College of Midwives for the work on her project that aims to improve the care provided to pregnant deaf women. The project, called Deaf Nest, aims to increase knowledge of potentially serious communication and information problems and assist maternity units in giving equal care to deaf women. She is concerned that problems in maternity care could have potentially catastrophic consequences.

“There are reports that look into the safety of women in childbirth” said Pauline.

“And they highlight that women from more vulnerable groups are more at risk. They stress that the women from vulnerable groups are more likely to have issues or serious complications. If you thought about deaf women, they are in that category of being a vulnerable group.”

“It is really important because it might compromise the entire pregnancy if deaf women are not given basic information about the care. There is nothing there that is accessible or evidence based at the moment. The book that pregnant women receive from the NHS is not designed for deaf women as it is mainly text with a few images.”

“Deaf women, because of the lack of access to information, are not making informed decisions or choices most of the time. They have no idea what is going on. It is very unequal care provided to deaf parents compared to hearing parents.

“Some of the women I spoke to were completely unaware about pregnancy or childbirth latest issues. They couldn’t just go and talk to the midwife like hearing people do.”

Pauline says Deaf Nest was created as a response to a complete dearth of research or analysis on the subject of pregnancy and deafness. A kind of healthcare backwater that had been ignored for years with potentially serious consequences.

“I started researching about deafness and pregnancy in the UK and realised there is nothing for deaf parents at all and the latest statistics about how many deaf women are accessing maternity care from the NHS was done 22-years-ago. There were 700 then but the numbers of people with hearing loss is rising every year.”

“There is no new evidence base or guidance for midwives or healthcare processionals to show how to work with deaf parents or what services they should access how they should be working together.”

“I found a book on the subject that was also 22-years-old but now midwifery practice is very evidence based and there is nothing available with updated information that is current.”

Recent examples in the media have highlighted how deaf parents have suffered at the hands of the NHS during maternity care. Recently, a couple from London complained after they weren’t kept informed about the health of their baby soon after birth and in Hull, a deaf man was refused an interpreter for the birth of his child.

Pauline knows of  many more examples. One in particular stood out of a new mother that had problems feeding her child.

“With one lady, her husband could only stay in the post-natal ward and support her until 8pm until he was sent home.” she said.

“She was then left on her own. She did not have a clue what she was doing. She couldn’t sleep because she was afraid in case something bad happened to the baby and she couldn’t hear it.”

“They put her in a single room so she was on her own. She had no way of telling anyone if there was something wrong with the baby or asking for advice so she ended up looking at pictures on Google to find out what to do.”

Deaf Nest is holding a conference in June to get the views of more deaf parents and to share information with healthcare professionals. The Deaf Nest project is not guaranteed to continue unless funding can be found and Pauline sincerely hopes she can find backing for her award-winning project.

Eventually, she hopes Deaf Nest will lead to proper research being undertaken with equality and safety the eventual outcome for deaf mothers-to-be and their newborn babies.

You can follow updates from Pauline and Deaf Nest on Twitter. Read Laura’s pregnancy diary or check out our other shocking deaf health stories.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP Check out what our supporters provide: 


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Posted in: Andy Palmer