Friday, 18 October 2013

The Positive Birth Movement at the Birthrights Dignity in Childbirth Forum

Yesterday I was honoured to be a part of the Birthrights Dignity in Childbirth Forum, held at the Royal College of Physicians in London.

I gave a short presentation about my organisation The Positive Birth Movement, which I'm reproducing here for those who were unable to attend and might be interested to read it.

Below the presentation I'm also sharing the 'submission' that was made to Birthrights about the Positive Birth Movement, which gives more detailed information about the organisation, including some fantastic feedback from those who facilitate and attend our groups.

Please come and join the PBM on Facebook, Twitter, or get in touch with me if you would like more information or want to be involved in any way. You can find your nearest Positive Birth group on our website: www.positivebirthmovement.org.

Presentation:

My name is Milli Hill, and a year ago this month I set up the Positive Birth Movement.

It all started with a very little idea – the thought that, as a newly trained doula, I might run a monthly birth discussion group in my area – a place for women to gather and share thoughts and feelings about birth, to challenge fear and negativity, and to empower each other with support and shared information.

When I had been pregnant with my first daughter five years previously, I had longed for this kind of antenatal group. I didn’t much want to look at plastic pelvises or learn about epidurals. I was more interested in what birth was really like, and I was very very afraid.

In the time since my own first birth experience, I had also noticed – and begun to write and blog about – what I saw as some pretty serious flaws in the current birth system – an imbalance of power, over-medicalisation, and a whole lot of fear. And I watched friend after friend finding their plans for a normal birth end with their feet in stirrups or on the operating table.

So I thought that maybe women needed to come together and talk about all this – just a small group – round my gaff – maybe with cake.

In late September 2012 I went to a screening of Freedom for Birth, the film about imprisoned midwife Agnes Gereb, and the wider issues of rights in childbirth. It called on women to ‘take back childbirth’. I very much heard this call, but felt at a loss – how could we do this?

I saw a world in which women were afraid, and were faced with difficult choices in childbirth – a world in which real ‘evidence’ was hard to come by, and medical opinion was often presented as fact. I felt that women’s freedom was truly being compromised by this situation – for how can a choice be truly free as long as it is based in fear or a lack of accurate information?

I started to wonder if my ‘little idea’ – to set up a local birth discussion group, could spread? If I were willing to give my time to this cause for free, perhaps others might do the same? And what if we could use the power of social media to connect all these little groups to one enormous ‘Mother Ship’?

There has never been a better time to have a ‘little idea’ than the 21st century.

Through my personal blog, and through facebook, I dropped my little idea out into the ocean of cyberspace – and the response was overwhelming – a tidal wave of offers, ideas and positivity.

In a year, we now have over a hundred Positive Birth groups in the UK

26 in the USA and Canada

5 in Australia and New Zealand

3 in Turkey

2 in Brazil

and 1 each in France, Germany, Malta and Qatar.

All of our groups are free to attend, and our Facilitators are not paid to run their groups.

Most groups are facilitated by doulas, midwives, or other birth workers, but one or two are run by women who are ‘just passionate’ about positive birth.

Most of them meet on a monthly basis, some more often.

Anyone can attend a Positive Birth group – they are open to all but aimed primarily at pregnant women. 

We welcome all backgrounds and ALL birth choices - we are not the 'natural birth movement', and very much believe that any birth can be positive, so long as a woman is free to make informed choices, and is treated with respect and dignity.

The groups are structured as peer to peer discussion – ‘teaching’ is discouraged, shared ideas and conversation are encouraged in its place.

All groups are connected via social media, and we have a very active facebook page with nearly 4000 ‘likes’. Our Facilitators have their own extremely active discussion group on facebook, and I also send out a monthly newsletter to keep people connected and announce the monthly discussion theme.

Groups are free to use our monthly discussion theme as a starting point, if they so wish. Some of our themes have included:

  • Planning a Positive Birth (thoughts, feelings and experiences of ‘birth planning’)
  • What is a Positive Birth?
  • Choices in Birth (the many and various choices pregnant women face)
  • The Language of Birth (the language we use about birth and why this matters)
  • Images of Birth (what images we have seen of birth in our lives and how these have affected our expectations and experiences)
  • Place of Birth (how can we have a positive birth in the various locations, what our options are etc)
  • The Hour after Birth...and Beyond (what we can choose to do to make this important time positive, too)
  • Oxytocin
  • Improving Birth (what needs to change about birth and what can we do about it?)

The Positive Birth Movement has grown far beyond my first imaginings.

If I’m honest, the organisation is entirely built on good will, passion, and trust – which I sometime worry might be its weakness as well as its strength! We don’t have much formal structure underpinning all this fantastic positive energy – and this is something I plan to work on over our second year – as this seems to be a way that we might grow stronger, and also gain funding.

However, I very much want us to keep the passion to change and improve childbirth at our core – this very ‘little idea’ of women talking to women. By coming together to ‘just talk’ – as women have done for millennia - challenging fears and sharing wisdom and positivity - I very much hope that we can ‘take back birth’.

I would really welcome all of your ideas and input – so please do get in touch with me if there is any way that you can help me or would like to be involved.

Thank you very much!


Submission:

We are a grass roots movement, spreading positivity about childbirth via a global network of free Positive Birth groups, linked up by social media. We aim to challenge the current epidemic of negativity around childbirth by bringing women together to -

Meet Up, Link Up, and Shake Up Birth.

Since our ‘birth’ in October 2012, Positive Birth groups have spread to all corners of the globe. We now have over 100 groups in the UK, nearly 30 in the USA and Canada, and a further 20 in the rest of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Brazil, France, Germany, Malta and Qatar.

Our core beliefs: 

The Positive Birth Movement believes that every woman deserves a positive birth. 

By positive birth we mean a birth in which a woman feels she has freedom of choice, access to accurate information, and that she is in control, powerful and respected. A birth that she approaches, perhaps with some trepidation, but without fear or dread, and that she then goes on to enjoy, and later remember with warmth and pride.

A positive birth does not have to be ‘natural’ or ‘drug free’ – it simply has to be informed from a place of positivity as opposed to fear. The Positive Birth Movement is woman-centred and as such respects a woman’s human right to choose where and how she has her baby.

You can birth with positivity in hospital or at home, with or without medical intervention. You can have a positive caesarean, or a positive home water birth. Positive Birth is about approaching birth realistically, having genuine choice, and feeling empowered by your experience.

The Positive Birth Movement believes that communication is the key to shaking up birth. By coming together, in real life and online, and sharing experiences, feelings, knowledge and wisdom, women can take back childbirth.


What we are and what we do:

All of our groups are completely free to attend, and most run at least once a month. They are mostly facilitated by doulas, midwives, and birth workers, and some are led by women who are ‘just’ passionate about positive birth. They are mainly aimed at pregnant women, but are open to anyone who would like to either gain or share some information and wisdom about birth.

Our groups are not ‘antenatal classes’ – nobody present is an ‘expert’ or ‘teacher’. They are discussion groups, a place where everyone is equal and where all views and approaches are valid. Each month the Positive Birth Movement sets a discussion topic, which the groups are free to use as a starting point for their meetings. Groups can then feed back thoughts or issues that arise to the main Positive Birth Movement facebook page, which also takes that discussion topic as its monthly theme. Past discussion topics have included:

  • Planning a Positive Birth (thoughts, feelings and experiences of ‘birth planning’ 
  • What is a Positive Birth? 
  • Choices in Birth (the many and various choices pregnant women face) 
  • The Language of Birth (the language we use about birth and why this matters) 
  • Images of Birth (what images we have seen of birth in our lives and how these have affected our expectations and experiences) 
  • Place of Birth (how can we have a positive birth in the various locations, what our options are etc) 
  • The Hour after Birth...and Beyond (what we can choose to do to make this important time positive, too) 
  • Oxytocin 
  • Improving Birth (what needs to change about birth and what can we do about it?) 

Positive Birth Groups aim to be a helpful part of pregnancy; a warm and welcoming place for women to hear stories and ideas, to consider what they really want from their childbirth experience, and to challenge any fears or negative expectations they might have.

We believe that if women are empowered to approach birth differently, birth will be different.

How I got to thinking about Positive Birth… 
As a creative arts psychotherapist, trainee doula, writer and blogger about birth, and most importantly, mum – a few things slowly collided for me, and led to the setting up of the Positive Birth Movement in October 2012. Not only do I sometimes feel angry when I hear a ‘typical’ UK birth story, I also feel that the importance of the experience of birth is often completely underestimated – for the mother, and of course for the baby too, and the family unit which is just beginning.

In western society, there is evidence of disordered and disrupted attachment everywhere – and I saw a lot of this in my working life before motherhood - in drug and alcohol rehabs, with children in foster care, and with people experiencing all kinds of mental health issues.

In the search to heal this, or even prevent it, we often look to parenting, and to the way that the parents were parented. However, birth itself is often completely ignored.

Experiencing a positive birth is not ‘just’ a ‘feminist issue’, or even ‘just’ a ‘human rights issue’ – it is an issue for all humanity. Birth as a gentle experience, in which all concerned are treated with dignity and respect, maximises the chances of a great start to the mother infant bond, and a confident beginning to parenting. The power of this cannot be underestimated!

Gentler and more positive births could lead to stronger attachments, to better mental health, to better relationships – both personal and societal. To gentler and more positive people – and a gentler and more positive world.

So – looking at the current situation for birthing women in the UK, I felt that change was needed, but felt pretty overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to change ‘the system’. I wondered if, instead of focusing on the system and what was ‘wrong’ with it, we could instead change the way that women entered the system.

In psychotherapy, you learn that you can’t change the way other people behave, and that you can only change yourself. However, if you change yourself, other people are usually forced to change to accommodate the ‘new you’. For example, a bully can’t be a bully without a victim.

So my hope is that by becoming more empowered, informed and knowing their rights, women will enter the system differently, and that the system will be forced to change to accommodate them.


The birth of a Movement…!

At first, I was thinking about these ideas on a small scale. I had the idea of setting up my own birth discussion group, in which people could share ideas and information. Once I had begun to set this up, I wondered – if a birth enthusiast like me is willing to do this once a month for free, maybe others out there would be willing to do the same. Very quickly, I had the idea of a ‘Positive Birth Movement’, the plus sign logo popped into my head, and I set up a facebook page and blogged about it, never anticipating the scale of the response! Perhaps if I had known how big it was going to get, I might have thought more carefully about starting it in the first place!

The response was immediate, and I began to be flooded with emails from people who wished to set up a group. The Facebook page was also popular, and in a year has gained over 3000 ‘likes’.

And with nearly 150 groups worldwide, clearly the idea has caught on!

It seems there are many many people who are equally passionate about changing childbirth for the better, and who are willing to give up their time for free to do so.


How it is run
Quite ‘loosely’, would be the short answer to that!

Because it was set up on the spur of the moment without much planning, the Positive Birth Movement has developed quite organically as it has gone along, and has evolved in its own way according to the input of all those involved.

I try to hold some cohesion by running a Facilitators group on Facebook and sending out monthly newsletters to all our groups. Everyone involved is ‘linked up’ by social media and often Facilitators will support and advise each other independently of me.

There is a lot of trust involved. Our ‘logo’ and ‘brand’ is out there in the world, and there is no heavy ‘vetting’ procedure for anyone who wishes to be involved. To some, this might seem risky, but it actually works wonderfully well. Our organisation is all about empowering women and giving them back their autonomy – and this requires trust and respect.

Everyone involved has a great enthusiasm for improving birth, and together we have created what feels like a very non-judgemental and positive space, which I very much hope is reflected in our groups.

As I have said, all of our groups are free, and Facilitators are careful not to use their real life or virtual groups for self promotion or money making activities. So far, the PBM has raised a small amount of money from holding screenings of Face of Birth, but otherwise, no money has changed hands.


Feedback from our Facilitators

Samantha Waldron – Positive Birth Hillingdon, London

When women come together to explore positively new ideas, stories and information, the room becomes fuelled with oxytocin and power. There truly is a feeling of love and connection between us all and we all go away feeling “high” on the possibilities that can be achieved.

Guinevere Webster – Positive Birth Oxford, UK 

We were really excited to add our existing home birth discussion group to the Positive Birth network. Although we felt it was important to keep the focus on home birth because there is no other local forum for this kind of support, being part of the PBM allows us to make it clearer that we are about positive birth wherever it takes place, and people don't have to be considering a home birth to come along or gain from the group.

Ann Charles - Positive Birth Central London 

We started in August 2013. I deliberately wanted a venue that wasn't traditionally 'mothery' and would attract people after work. I plumped for the Fifth View bar at the top of Waterstone's Piccadilly. It does nice food and mocktails, you can bring books up from the pregnancy section of the bookshop for discussion and is the sort of place people can drop in and out without feeling like they've entered a parallel universe of church halls, squash and biscuits. So far we've only had two meetings. The first one - only one person came. Second meeting - a different pregnant lady came. Both were planning a homebirth. The struggle at the moment is getting people to come.

Melissa Thomas – Positive Birth Derby, UK 

I think that the Positive Birth Movement Derby was the right place at the right time. In an area lacking any resources for supporting mums and pregnant women it is a refreshing and new outlook. The group really has gone from strength to strength slowly but surely. I truly believe it could become a great network, challenging the fear and outdated attitudes that still pervade most maternity services and practices.

Our biggest success has been gaining the interest of two academics from the University of Derby. Jenny Hallam and Chris Howard approached myself about developing a collaborative research project, investigating the birth experiences of women who use the Positive Birth Movement meetings. I view the study as being a genuine opportunity to open doors with the NHS, taking women’s experiences to the fore and getting policy makers and support services to really listen. Time will tell what the outcome may be but I’m thrilled to have been invited on board as a research assistant and thoroughly look forward to growing and nurturing the PBM Derby.

Mathilde Mazau – Positive Birth Glasgow

I co-facilitate Positive Birth Glasgow which my friend and I launched last November. We started our monthly meetings in January this year and our group has since gone from strength to strength. We have over 150 members of our facebook group including mothers, pregnant women, doulas, midwives, an obstetrician, a shiatsu practitioner, trainee midwives and other birth workers. The ‘real life’ group is a wonderful and safe space for women to share, listen and learn during this amazing time that is pregnancy and birth. The Positive Birth Movement as a whole is an amazing and much needed grass roots movement and we are very proud to be an active part of it.



Feedback from women who have attended our groups

Michelle Levy, Positive Birth Larchmont, New York 

I was thrilled to find a positive birth group near my home during my second pregnancy. Our hostess, Joyce Havinga in Larchmont, chose focus topics such as Postpartum Care, Addressing Fears, or The Role of Oxytocin. This helped steer the group but free conversation and questions were also welcome. Nothing beats a sense of sisterhood when you need it most. Sometimes we received literature. This group is invaluable because more free services need to be available to new mothers. We were all motivated by the good intention to give and receive support.

Sarah Dauncey, Positive Birth Portsmouth, UK

What I love about the Positive Birth Movement meetings is that they are about mums / parents / families empowering themselves and encouraging each other, the ‘professionals’ who support the group provide information but the emphasis is on each family taking the information and making their own decisions to have what makes a positive birth for them, no one tells anyone else what they should want or do.

Susan Last, Positive Birth Derby, UK

I became involved with the Positive Birth Movement primarily because, having had three amazing home water births myself, I wanted to spread the word about what might be possible for others. My birth stories are definitely an antidote to the horror stories so many women hear, even if my choices aren't for everyone! I'm also deeply committed to the sharing of accurate information and know that the research I do can be helpful for others, if only to point them down research paths of their own.

Kristina McGuinness, Positive Birth Glasgow 

It's amazing to have positive support and encouragement in an area often shrouded not only by negativity but also mystery. It has been an amazing support for me and helped me realise I'm not crazy for wanting a natural home birth.

Veronica Hunter, Positive Birth Larchmont, New York 

I recently had a wonderful home birth (VBAC after twin c-section two years ago) of a lovely 9lb 4oz baby girl at exactly 41 weeks. Had I not attended the birth group I would probably have stayed with the Ob I saw up until 30 weeks who would probably not have permitted VBAC of a 9lb 41 week baby. Not having another c-section was very important to me because I truly believe the c-section I had previously got my twins and I off to a difficult start. The ease of breastfeeding this baby girl and her calm nature (perhaps in part due to her smooth entry into the world) have been wonderful and very different from the twins. So many thanks for making me aware of the choices out there and the beautiful way nature designed the process to work.

Nicola Zoumidou, Positive Birth Glasgow


Fantastically supportive group of amazing women. I came away from the Glasgow meeting feeling empowered.



The Positive Birth Movement - Where Next? 

Over the next year I would very much like to strengthen and further promote the Positive Birth Movement, whilst maintaining the integrity and spirit which seems to be so appreciated by all involved.

I have taken some advice on gaining charitable status and hope to look into this further in 2014.

Our main aim for the coming year is to increase awareness of our groups among pregnant women – this is a free resource and although some groups are over-subscribed, there are others which are struggling to fill places. I would love any offers of help to connect pregnant women and the midwives who work with them to our groups.

Funding would certainly help us to raise our profile, too, with good quality printed material and a better website at the top of our wish list.

However, even without financial help, I feel sure that the Positive Birth Movement will continue to grow and spread, simply because there are so many women out there who are so passionate about improving birth that they are willing to run our groups at their own expense. Whatsmore, there seems to a be a growing sense among ‘mothers-to-be’ that the current ‘average’ birth experience, is not really good enough, and a desire amongst them to explore their options and choices. The Positive Birth Movement meets this need perfectly.


Dignity in Childbirth – Respect, Autonomy, Choice

We very much hope to contribute to dignity in childbirth, by encouraging women to become informed decision makers in their birth experience, by spreading more awareness of birth choices, and by encouraging both self-respect and the demand for respectful treatment from all pregnant and birthing women, and all those who work with them.

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