Last week my partner gave birth to our daughter in our living room - the culmination of a pregnancy that was extraordinary only because we received the highest quality of personalised care - all from the NHS.
The quality of our care was determined by its location. Our choice of a home birth gave us access to a dedicated team of home birth midwives from Homerton Hospital in Hackney. But just up the road in a neighbouring part of East London, women are starting to receive personalised maternity services wherever they choose to have their babies - whether at home or in hospital - through an NHS pilot.
My partner and I knew we wanted a home birth from the outset. That was largely down to my sister, who campaigns for women's rights in childbirth through the charity Birthrights, and who has shared with us the amazing benefits of home birth over the years. Wow - we're glad we listened.
The midwives in the Homerton Home Birth team are extraordinary women, and they're free to react to the needs of their clients at all times (quite literally), resulting in fantastic quality care. From week 12 our midwife started to come to our home for all our appointments. We built a relationship with her, and her colleagues, which meant that we knew and trusted the people who would help with the birth before it happened. This maximised the chance that my partner would have a calm birth that proceeded smoothly, and minimised the chances of the need for medical interventions.
Post-birth the team have visited us seven times in 10 days to support us with breastfeeding and keep an eye on my partner and our baby. The impact on us has been profound. We feel positive about the birth experience and the care surrounding it. A personalised, woman-centred, NHS maternity service such as this is surely the safest, most effective way to look after women and babies, and it should be championed.
But the continuity of care that we received isn't the norm in maternity care in the UK. Women who choose to have their babies in hospitals may see a different midwife at each of their appointments, are unlikely to have met the midwife helping them deliver their babies, who may leave in the middle of labour due to hospital shifts.
This is all about to change in 7 "pioneer sites" chosen by the Maternity Transformation Programme Board, which was set up after the National Maternity Review last year. One of the sites is Waltham Forest in East London where an employee owned mutual called Neighbourhood Midwives are delivering the 2-year pilot contract to deliver continuity of care to women wherever they choose to give birth.
I should declare a particular interest in Neighbourhood Midwive as my business, Baxendale, has supported them through social investment and executive support to secure their contract and ultimately deliver the highest quality of care. Given my recent experience of continuity of care and high-quality midwifery, I couldn't be prouder of our association with them.
The early results of Neighbourhood Midwives' work are terrific, which will hopefully see the roll out of this type of maternity care across the UK. I urge those performing the review to consider how the Homerton Home Birth team functions too. In the meantime, there's surely no better place to have a baby than East London. We're not going anywhere...