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My pregnancy, my choice — reviewed

Gloria O’Flaherty and Lucy Virgo, from Mencap, the leading UK charity for people with learning disabilities and their families, review the publication, My Pregnancy my choice, from CHANGE.

Valuing people now highlights the right of people with learning disabilities to become parents, with the government pledging to make sure parents get good support to sustain the family unit, a commitment confirmed in Putting people first.

It is therefore good timing that CHANGE has recently launched its practical handbook My pregnancy, my choice. Funded by the Department of Health the book has been written entirely for people with learning disabilities with accessible information throughout, supported by excellent illustrations. CHANGE developed the handbook with contributions from parents with learning disabilities and the professionals who support them through pregnancy and birth.

The handbook covers every aspect from knowing if you are pregnant, the developing baby, looking after oneself, problems that may arise, labour and birth, and the first weeks with the new baby. The book concludes with a word bank and a useful contacts list. Inevitably with so much information, the book is large and covers 436 pages. As such, it is a book to work through one section at a time. Parents could obtain a copy through their support worker, health professional, or local children’s centres including Sure Start. However, at a cost of £38, availability will depend on funding.

The book provides some excellent information backed up by supportive quotes from other parents, yet also deals sensitively with the issue of an absent partner. An accessible 40-week progress chart is included and awareness on aspects such as healthy eating, smoking and alcohol are addressed.

Where the book doesn’t work is in the occasional confused messages it gives, the title My pregnancy, my choice being a case in point. The book, while clearly demonstrating the right of parents with a learning disability to have a family, doesn’t cover a parent’s choice not to go ahead with the pregnancy in the early stages and possible reasons behind the decision. On occasions there is a lack of consistency in the way in which words are used, e.g. ‘lower part of the body’ and ‘abdomen in the same body of text, with no explanation of their meaning. The use of the word ‘stuff’ again causes confusion and lacks the clarity of the rest of the text, and the postnatal check is referenced at both six and eight weeks. The odd black and white photograph failed to make an impression because the illustrations themselves are so accurate.

Supporting parents with learning disabilities is long term and costly. It takes time to develop the skills to provide the proper support needed, and as local authorities continue to cut their costs, parents’ ‘rights’ to a family life become less of a reality. Without essential resources, parents will not cope, yet will take the blame for being bad parents and not capable while their children are put up for adoption.

Ultimately this handbook will not fail to inspire and shows how appropriate information can successfully support this minority group and those who work with them.

References

Department of Health. 2009.Valuing people now: a new three-year strategy for people with learning disabilities. London: Department of Health.

Department of Health et al. 2007. Putting people first: a shared vision and commitment to the transformation of adult social care. London: Department of Health.

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