Obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Marilla Druitt asked the couple to come into the consulting room. She knew how this scenario would unfold: the woman would be engaged, nervous before a scan and ready for a plan in her first pregnancy. The woman would take notes and ask questions from the list on her phone. The partner would often look a little uncomfortable.
As her time in practice went on, Marilla felt increasingly uncomfortable herself telling her patients about all the things they should look out for during their pregnancy while their partners just sat beside them, seeming often not part of the conversation. She knew partners’ habits and activities have important effects on women’s health outcomes. For instance, if a pregnant woman’s partner has mental health issues, smokes or quite simply has not had the flu shot, this can influence the health of both mother and child. Even if both are healthy, things can go wrong, and they need to be ready if they do.
An idea started to develop. One night, when Marilla was an O&G trainee, she spent three hours running up and down the stairs from the blood bank to the operating theatre helping with a woman’s resuscitation who was at risk of bleeding to death. ‘It gradually occurred to me I could give these people something – a way to support their partner.’
The number of pregnant women requiring a blood transfusion in Australia is increasing – from 1.2 per cent in 2001 to 1.6 per cent in 2010. This means that one in 63 women will need a blood transfusion during childbirth. In fact, pregnant women, new mothers and young children receive four per cent of all blood donations in Australia – double the amount needed by road trauma victims. Last year, Marilla had a bright idea: what if she got her patients’ partners to donate blood?
When Marilla called the Australian Red Cross to tell them about her idea, she found out that they already had a campaign in the making: ‘She gives birth, you give blood’. The campaign targeted both prospective parents and medical practitioners, encouraging partners to show their support by making regular blood donations – as finding donors in the first place is a difficult business for the Blood Bank. Marilla quickly jumped on board and put up flyers at her consulting room, in public clinics and in hospitals.
‘A doctor is a teacher. We need to teach our patients; to teach about evidence based care, and the scientific method about looking for the truth; especially in a world where there is lots of misinformation. We need to attend to the social determinants of health. If we change what people around our patients are doing, we can change their outcomes. If we intervene in pregnancy, we can change not only that woman’s, but that family’s life. I am keen to involve the whole family in the process and pregnancy is a good time to act from a public health point of view.’
Today, after a year of engaging with the ‘She gives birth, you give blood’ campaign, Marilla is not yet sure about the tangible impact of the initiative. However, she has had people tell her they have ‘got their mates together to go and donate’ and that they have ‘got back into the habit of donating regularly through this initiative’.
‘It’s free to donate blood. It’s something to be proud of with our amazing national treasure which is the Australian Red Cross Blood Service’, she says. Giving blood is a simple and powerful way to support women during pregnancy, with every donation saving up to three lives. If you want to get involved, visit www.donateblood.com.au/she-gives-birth to learn more.