‘A healthy society starts in utero’
There are still inequities in maternity care in Ireland, says campaigner Krysia Lynch
Krysia Lynch is chairwoman of the Association for Improvement in Maternity Services, a voluntary group that provides pregnant women with information, support and advocacy. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Originally from London, Krysia Lynch worked as a lecturer for 10 years in the department of environmental sciences and geography in Trinity College Dublin. When she was pregnant with her first child in 2000, she found it very difficult to find out what choices in pregnancy and birth were available to her.
“My GP recommended an obstetrician in a private maternity hospital, but, in London, there was midwife-led care, water births, birth centres and home birth services. I found there were limited options here and it was very difficult to find out what was available,” she explains.
After a longer discussion with her GP, she discovered other options such as the community midwife scheme which was then a pilot scheme in the National Maternity Hospital. Following her second home-birth experience she responded to a call from the Association for Improvement in Maternity Services (AIMS), a newly-formed organisation, looking for people with expertise in research and public relations.
AIMS Ireland is a key stakeholder in the Perinatal Mental Health Strategy, the National Maternity Strategy and the National Advisory Group for Better Safer Maternity Care. The voluntary group provides information on maternity care and offers support and advocacy to couples during and after the birth of their baby. “We get a lot of calls from women who feel very distressed about their birth experience. They might just want someone to listen to them or they might need a referral to a birth reflections midwife or a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. We also run birth healing workshops and peer-to-peer support groups for women who’ve experienced trauma,” says Lynch. The organisation also carries out consumer surveys on maternity care every four years.
“There are still inequities in maternity care in Ireland. Many women don’t have access to midwifery-led care and in many parts of Ireland, home births are only available to those who can afford them.”
1) What is your proudest achievement?
Hard question! I’ve written theses, edited books, contributed to many peer reviewed journals, briefed prime ministers and cabinet members and presented [papers] in many contexts around the world. In recent years I have been involved in designing and implementing the National Maternity Strategy for Ireland and campaigning for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. However, I think my proudest achievement was listening to my heart and giving up my permanent tenured pensionable job as a lecturer in Trinity College to be a stay at home parent for my three children. It was the hardest but best decision I ever made.
2) What motivates you in your work and life?
Equity, community participation and a sense of social justice are important motivators for me in my work, but I am also motivated by a desire to change systems that are clearly not working and to speak out for those who may not have a voice. I am also motivated by the incredible process that makes us mothers and by the courage, determination and vulnerability of those I represent. In my daily life, I believe that the world is full of possibilities – even in dark moments. The trick is to stay open to them and be willing to respond.
3) What do you do to keep mind and body healthy and well?
I have always been interested in food and nutrition and since I was a teenager, I have followed a wholefood, sugar-free, dairy-free diet. I had to adapt my eating habits over time as my children grew, but we always try to eat fresh wholesome food with no additives or preservatives and organic where possible. After my first child was born, I trained as a classical homeopath. And despite our fair share of visits to accident and emergency departments, homeopathy has helped us stay very healthy as a family.
I have always practised yoga. I find it is a great exercise for body mind and soul and I recently trained as a pregnancy yoga teacher. My favourite exercise is swimming and I try to swim every day in the sea or in a salt-water pool. Your children often keep you healthy too and recently I have been persuaded back on to my bike by my nine-year-old daughter!
4) What are the most important factors to maintain a healthy society?
A healthy society starts in utero. A healthy diet and lifestyle before and during pregnancy are vital. The way we birth will affect our early mothering experiences which in turn affects the early years of our children’s lives. Breastfeeding is also a major issue. We are very shy as a society to acknowledge what breastfeeding can provide for our future health in addition to simple nourishment. Breastfeeding is a key area which we have a collective responsibility to support and improve. Diet, lifestyle and exercise are obvious factors but we also need to safeguard our mental and emotional health.
5) What needs to be done in Ireland to achieve this?
Firstly, pregnant women need more reliable and easily accessible information about pregnancy and childbirth. At the moment, pregnant women are bombarded with on line information – some of it good, but a lot of it given conditionally on the purchase of products or services. We need something neutral and free.
Secondly, pregnant women need to realise that they have choices and that their choice of caregiver very early on in pregnancy can hugely affect what happens afterwards. Again more information, more choice and more support is needed. Thirdly, the Government, the HSE and the Department of Health need to invest more in breastfeeding. We need more midwives, more support in the community, more information and less subservience to the formula lobby groups.
6) What do you think is the most pressing health issue in Ireland today?
Equity of access to services.
7) How do you think the Minister for Health needs to tackle this?
With respect to maternity care, Minister Harris has to ensure that all pregnant women (and their babies) have the same right of access to care irrespective of where they live, irrespective of their capacity to pay, irrespective of their ethnic or gender status and irrespective of their sexual orientation. This requires investment and more community based care. Our maternity service is under resourced. We need more human and capital investment. We need more community-based services. We need more midwives, more doctors and critically more perinatal mental health specialists both in centralised maternity services and in the community. And, of course, Minister Harris needs to ensure the speedy passage of legislation associated with the recent repeal of the Eighth Amendment through the Dáil to end the inequities associated with its presence in our society for so long.
8) What do you do to relax and unwind?
I like to go for walks by the sea and I enjoy nature activities, my children and taking photographs. I also love a good natter.
9) What makes you laugh?
10) Where would you like to live other than Ireland and why?
I’d love to live somewhere warmer with more blue-sky days. I enjoy Mediterranean cafe society where people are encouraged out of their houses more into communal spaces. I think it’s good for our individual health but also our social and community health to be more connected.
- Do you know a Health Hero? Every week, we will honour one of the people deserving of the hero tag. If you would like to nominate someone, go to irishtimes.com/healthheroes
Our Health Heroes
1 - Martin Nevin: Even unwashed and medicated up to my eyes, Martin makes me feel beautiful
2 - Maureen Durcan: That so many live on the poverty line in Ireland is incredibly sad
3 - John Burke: Managing mental health should not be like climbing a mountain
4 - Derek Devoy: The Kilkenny taxi man whose drive saves lives
5 - Sarah Fitzgibbon: Society has to stop treating the marginalised and disabled as charity cases
6 - Kathleen King: I wanted to make sure no one else would have to wait nine years for a diagnosis
7 - Caoimhe Bennett: The schoolgirl raising understanding about young carers
8 - Ann Norton: Our hospitals are a disgrace. We are letting down our doctors, nurses and whole society
9 - Una McNicholas: My proudest achievement is being able to help care for my sister
10 - Catherine Cox: Family carers are a hidden army of exceptional people fulfilling a role they did not ask for
11 - Prof Rose Anne Kenny: Good friendships make for a healthy life as much as regular exercise and healthy diet
12 - Dr Robert O’Connor: Within my lifetime we could eradicate cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine and screening
13 - Claire Cahill and Michelle Long: Scoliosis campaigners battling to reduce waiting times for children
14 - Prof Donal O’Shea: The shocking fact is that most ill-health now comes from our lifestyle
15 - Nuala Geraghty: Every time we place a dog, it’s like giving new life to each family
16 - Mavis Ubuntu: Cooking was a right that was taken away from us