The recent edition of ‘Kenguru’, which translates as Kangaroo, published a feature about Milli and the Positive Birth Movement. Here’s the English language version of the interview, with the magazine pages in Bulgarian.
Milli, how ‘s the idea of The Positive Birth Movement born?
The Positive Birth Movement (PBM) started as just a small idea to run a monthly group in my own home where women could come together and just talk to each other about birth! I was tired of hearing so many birth stories where women did not get what they hoped for or worse still, ended up feeling traumatised. I thought that if women talked to each other they could maybe break this cycle and go into birth feeling more confident and knowlegable about their choices and their rights. I put the idea out onto social media and suddenly my inbox was full of people wanting to run similar groups. We decided to use the wonders of social media to create this huge network of shared power and positivity, and here we are, over 5 years on, with around 500 groups around the world! And we soon become a charity.
What do you think the international success of the initiative is due to?
I think that, although the policies and practices in birth are different around the world, the issues facing women are often the same globally and they are all connected to a lack of autonomy in the birth experience. For whatever reason – and some people believe it is because birth is a container of women’s power – a dynamic has developed at a global level where women have become the ‘permission seekers’ in birth, rather than the ‘permission givers’. The PBM also allows women to connect with other women at a time when we have (again globally) become quite fragmented from our communities because of the nature of our working lives. We are often living in quite isolated ways and I think that the PBM idea of coming together in ‘real life’ and sharing womanly wisdom, although it’s a very old idea, is something many people are hungry for in the modern world!
The subtitle of your “Positive Birth Book” is “A New Approach to Pregnancy, Birth and Early Weeks”. What is this new approach?
I think it’s ‘new’ because it is about two things mainly: challenging fear, and taking charge of your birth. There is a lot of fear about birth and a lot of dread. Women have been taught that they must ‘leave their dignity at the door’ and that birth is something that they probably won’t be able to cope with. Even that it’s exactly like ‘passing’ a watermelon (it isn’t, by the way!). The book challenges fear with facts. It says, “Take your head out of the sand, it’s actually not going to be that bad, and there’s actually a lot that you can do to make it better!”. So I think it’s a new approach in that sense really, because it upends a lot of these widely held cultural beliefs, another one being that ‘a healthy baby is all that matters’. This book says, actually, women matter too! I wish that idea wasn’t quite so new or revolutionary but sadly it is. And yes, it encourages women to take charge of their birth, to become knowledgeable about their choices and options, to make a plan and not apologise for that, etc. These are all new attitudes after a few decades of women being quite passive in the birth room.
You are an author in The Telegraph and The Guardian, in which you defend the right of women to choose their own way of birth. How can it be changed the opinion that this process has to be conducted by doctors without taking into account the individual characteristics of the mothers?
That’s a difficult question, and it’s a difficult, slow process of change. We have been slowly moving, in many places around the world, to a very depersonalised model of maternity care, where women have stopped being treated as individuals, and birth is treated as a problem to be solved. There is a huge lack of confidence in the birth process by everyone involved from women themselves to doctors and midwives. There is often not as much respect for our mammalian physiology as there should be – women are expected to labour under bright lights, with strangers attending them, often on their backs, and sometimes even with their movement restrained. It is very difficult to give birth in this way but women often feel they have failed when they do not manage to! So I think we need to somehow restore everyone’s confidence in birth, and allow everyone to realise that it is not an ‘either / or’ situation – we need respect for and confidence in women’s natural ability to give birth AND we need respect for the medical back-up when things don’t go as they should. Then we need to try and make birth more personalised. Listen to women, ask them what they want, and trust them to make the right choices for themselves and their babies. Build models of care that allow for human relationships, with time for kindness, warmth and connection between women and the people who will help them in labour. And create birth spaces that are more suited to our mammalian nature: quiet, calm, dimly lit, uninterrupted. That would be a great start!
You are a mother of two little girls and a boy. Tell us how you spend your time together?
Well it’s usually pretty chaotic! They are 10, 7 and 4 years old so there is never a quiet moment! We live in the countryside so we try to spend time outside, but if it’s cold and wet as it often is in England, they love to play inside, make things and of course like all 21st century children they adore screens and limiting that is a constant battle! But I absolutely love spending time with them whether it’s dancing in the kitchen, playing lego, reading to them aloud, running in the woods or jumping in the sea, it is an absolute joy and I love them just being around with their fantastic, crazy energy!
What would you wish for the future mothers and readers of the Kangaroo magazine who are about to give birth?
I would wish that they would feel really cherished in their birth experience, really cared for, listened to and respected by those attending them. I would wish that this fabulous care continues after they have had their baby into the difficult early days of new motherhood. If they want a ‘natural’ birth I would wish for them to be given the absolute best chance of this and not have any barriers put in their way. And I would wish for them to get the birth they really want, and for it to be a positive experience for them, no matter what kind of birth they choose.