Change Alley

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Safety In Childbirth

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Indian toilet baby

The comedian Robin Williams once famously described childbirth as “like passing a fucking bowling ball!”. Not from personal experience, presumably. Small wonder, though, that one pregnant passenger on an Indian train lost consciousness during a visit to the toilet. On coming round, she found to her horror that she had given birth and the baby had fallen down through the toilet onto the track beneath the train. The baby girl, born two months premature, was eventually found lying uninjured on pebbles close to the track, with the umbilical cord hanging at her side. She is now recovering in intensive care after suffering from exposure.

Express India ‘Pregnant Indian uses train toilet, baby slips out’

Meanwhile, with impeccable timing, The King’s Fund, an independent charitable foundation working for better health, has published a report on the safety of maternity services in England (‘Safe Births: Everybody’s business’) Mothers and babies in England could be facing unnecessary risks in some maternity wards. Most births are safe, but improvements are still needed. The review does not cover the quality or efficiency of maternity services, but simply their safety during birth, the time at which the risks are highest for mother and baby.

I’m sure the lady on the train would agree with that last part. When I last checked, UK childbirth guidelines didn’t include dropping newborns from a moving train down a filthy toilet. However, that incident shows that we humans are made of pretty tough stuff. I’m not suggesting that we go back to the days of squatting down behind a bush to give birth, then carrying on as if nothing had happened, although that is still commonplace in the developing world today. However, we do seem to be getting a little precious about safety, not just in childbirth but in health issues generally and in wider social matters such as children’s upbringing. A little bit of dirt and a few germs shouldn’t hurt anyone. Sadly, our obsession with sterile hospitals has backfired on us, to the point where a healthy adult going into hospital for a routine operation can come out feet first after contracting one of the exotically-named superbugs.

NHS operating theatre, or latrine number 3 on the 10:46 to Mumbai? There’s a choice.


Written by Pete Smith

February 29, 2008 at 2:47 pm

One Response

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  1. Well said Pete. You are so right. We have become neurotic about cleanliness. The obsession with cleanliness can be counterproductive because a) the bugs just get cleverer and b) our own defences become weaker with lack of use.

    Amazing story about the toilet birth in India!


    March 2, 2008 at 1:33 pm

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