On Wednesday 27 September, at the stroke of midnight, BBC News in Suffolk posted its next story online (BBC News, 2017). Hardly ideal timing, one might think, except that this was a story about a maternity ward and, as readers will know, babies being born will wait for no-one, least of all BBC reporters. Thus began #BBCMaternitylive: 24 hours of reporting from a single maternity ward in Ipswich to mark the busiest time of year for midwives.
For the majority of the day, the headlines were far from ground-breaking—‘Shift change coming up’, or ‘Another woman in labour’—but drama was, presumably, never the main goal. By the time the last update appeared online at midnight, the maternity ward at Ipswich Hospital had recorded ten births, including three planned caesarean sections, and one baby born at home. Filling the unpredictable amounts of time between births, reporters interviewed staff, talked to new parents, and answered questions from the many following the proceedings on Twitter.
Although this was hardly Channel 4’s observational documentary, One Born Every Minute, the lack of drama was arguably the message that came through the strongest from the BBC's coverage. Despite the 27th September having the potential to be one of the busiest for the ward, the day unfolded calmly: women arrived, gave birth, and left, just as they did every day.
These routine updates would, however, not have been possible without the constants in the ward: the midwives, obstetricians and maternity support workers who supported women to give birth. The reporters also shed light on the less obvious roles connected with maternity, chatting with the chaplain, and joining the breakfast round to deliver tea and toast. The specialisms and job titles were many and varied: fertility consultant, ward clerk, neonatal nurse, consultant midwife, and bereavement midwife, to name but a few.
For the readers of British Journal of Midwifery, these reports will hardly have been classed as ‘news’, but it would be wrong to dismiss this experiment as unimportant. Birth is, undoubtedly, the most natural thing in the world, but it can also be frightening, or even dangerous, and it requires a diverse range of personalities and skills to ensure that women are—and feel—both safe and prepared. For the public, BBC Maternity Live demonstrated that, although the woman may be star of the show, there are many, many people working behind the scenes, performing roles that members of the public may not even have imagined were needed.
Yet exposure of this kind also has benefits for midwives. Not only those who were interviewed and photographed on the day, but for those who perform similar roles and who often go unnoticed or underappreciated. The midwifery stories that make the headlines are so often negative—staff shortages, bursary cuts, low pay—that this was a welcome change. There was very little drama, and no great heroics, but the fascination, curiosity (and indeed slight awe) with which the events of the day were reported by the BBC was perhaps a rather understated way of saying thank you.