The birth of your child, whether they’re your first or the latest addition to the family, is one of the most important moments of your life. There’s so much excitement that comes with experiencing your new child’s firsts, starting from before they’re even born – the first time you hear their heartbeat, the first time you see their ultrasound, and finally holding them in your arms for the first time.
It’s also a time that can be fraught with worry, as giving birth isn’t without its risks.
Birthrights and Make Birth Better are UK based charities working to ensure women receive safe and respectful maternity care across the country and also provide invaluable support to their partners and family. They offer training to doctors and midwives, with the aim of reshaping the maternity system so all women can experience their journey into motherhood without trauma.
Of course, childbirth is going to be unique for every parent. This makes it all the more important that during this pivotal moment, each woman is met with understanding, compassion and experienced care.
Sign up to our virtual event
We’re extremely proud to support Birthrights and Make Birth Better. Both charities are going to feature in our maternity-focused webinar, Maternity Matters – Shared Decisions, Supportive Care, Safer Outcomes, which will take place next week.
We’ll be looking at how supportive care and sharing decisions between mothers and healthcare professionals through pregnancy and during labour can create positive changes and safer outcomes for all.
The session is free to attend and aimed at professionals working in maternity services. It will be recorded and sent to everyone who’s registered after the event too, in case you can’t make it on the day. Our legal experts,
Julianne Moore, Anne Kavanagh and Sarah Wealleans, will be hosting the session. A virtual catch up
Nikki Wilson, the CEO of Make Birth Better, and Maria Booker, the Programmes Director of Birthrights, have taken time out of their busy schedules to share with us the incredible work they’re doing during such challenging times.
Nikki Wilson and Maria Booker Hi Nikki and Maria, thank you for taking the time to virtually catch up with us today. Please can you tell us a little bit about your roles within the charities?
Maria: No problem at all, thanks for having me - and it's lovely to be featured alongside our friends at Make Birth Better. I’m the Programmes Director of Birthrights, which means that I lead a small team that runs our advice service and runs all our training. We use the intelligence we gather from both of those activities to inform our policy, campaigning and research work.
Nikki: It’s a pleasure to be able to speak with you and of course the lovely Maria. I'm the CEO of Make Birth Better. In a small organisation like ours, this means I balance a lot of day-to-day 'doing' whilst also keeping us focused on a clear strategy, goals and plan. We have to be very strict with ourselves about how we choose to focus our time. Maria, Birthrights’ main aim is to ensure women across the UK have access to safe maternity care, which is respectful of their dignity – how important is this to you?
Maria: Birthrights was founded by a human rights barrister, and a human rights campaigner to improve maternity care through a focus on human rights. When you provide personalised care, that respects each person giving birth as an individual, autonomous person that’s worthy of respect, then that care is safe care. Nikki, Make Birth Better’s mission is ‘to create a world where people no longer suffer from birth trauma’, how does the charity aim to do this?
Nikki: It's a great question. What stands us apart at Make Birth Better is that we believe in authentic systemic change. In order to move closer to a world where birth trauma is much more effectively prevented, as well as quickly diagnosed and treated, we have to look at how trauma is affecting the whole system around birth, as well as the road before and the path ahead.
This system includes society, professionals, families, partners, mums and birthing people, and the baby too. The main way in which we're driving systemic change is through campaigning and training. In our campaigning we share all of the voices around birth, place value on the needs of parents, as well as the child, disrupt cultural norms and increase awareness of both birth trauma and vicarious trauma. In our training we provide professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to make birth better.
What does Birthrights and Make Birth Better do to support women and their families day-to-day?
Maria: Birthrights’ main direct contact with women and their families is through our advice line. Any individual is welcome to contact us if they have any concerns about their maternity care for example, if they feel they’re not being listened to or having their choices respected, through to having experienced unconsented interventions during their birth.
The advice line is open to healthcare professionals too. We’ve been particularly busy during the pandemic - our advice enquiries went up by nearly 300% between March and September this year. COVID-19 is having a huge impact on pregnant women and their families, particularly visitor restrictions and other changes to maternity services.
When we’re not helping women and their families directly we’re working hard on their behalf. We work with with NHS England, the Royal Colleges and other organisations to try and ensure women's needs are being taken into account in the NHS’ response to coronavirus.
We’re also about to start an inquiry looking at the staggering inequalities in outcomes that exist in maternity care - Black women are sadly five times more likely to die in the period around giving birth than white women. On top of all of this we’re also revising our factsheets to make them more accessible, doing some collaborative work on the maternity experience of women who lack mental capacity alongside the NHS, and we’re part of a research team looking at best practice in open disclosure after a death or serious injury occurs in maternity care. It’s been a busy year for us.
Nikki: Make Birth Better supports families through the provision of evidence-based information on our website. We cover all of the vital topics including: ‘What is birth trauma?’, ‘How do I find help?’, ‘Support for Partners’ and ‘Birth After Trauma’.
Through our social media and blog, we play an active role in helping women, birthing people, partners and their families in feeling more validated and less alone in their experience, making sure we’re always signposting them to ways to find help.
Maria, can you tell us a little bit more about the #ButNotMaternity campaign?
Maria: The campaign was started by our friends at Birth Bliss Academy, to highlight that during the COVID-19 pandemic, before the second national lockdown began, individuals could still go to a pub or a restaurant, visit the hairdresser, and go to a wedding but a partner couldn’t be with their other half and their new baby at really significant moments in their maternity journey. We feel that things need to change and are campaigning for those changes on a regular basis, especially now we’re back in a national lockdown.
Nikki, Make Birth Better is a run by a collection of people all with different backgrounds, experiences and professional knowledge, can you tell us a little more about how you all contribute and come together to offer vital support?
Nikki: Of course. We grew very quickly and organically at the start of our work. Both parents and professionals reached out and said they wanted more to be done.
We now run a Champions Programme where people volunteer their time and share their voice so we can make birth better for all. We have Organisation Partners who collaborate with us and advocate for trauma-informed ways of working. We’re also currently shaping our new Expert Voices Group who will share their insights and advice on trauma and hold us to account.
Has the pandemic had an effect on the service and support you’re able to offer?
Maria: When the pandemic first hit, we had to totally re-orientate our work to deal with the vastly increased amounts of advice enquiries we were getting. It was a matter of all hands on deck! We’ve also done a lot more media work than normal over this period, which has been really good for our profile and is great if it means that we reach more women and birthing people who might need our help.
Nikki: We were really lucky because our website had just been re-launched, offering even better support online than we were able to before. What’s changed for us is the focus of our campaigning work. In April we released a report and took questions to parliament, highlighting our fears that birth trauma rates would sky-rocket using the campaign #ThinkTraumaNow.
We've now formed a campaigning collective with our friends at Birthrights, AIMS, But Not Maternity, Birth Bliss Academy, Birth Trauma Association, Pregnant Then Screwed and The Fatherhood Institute under the campaign #ButNotMaternity. As Nikki mentioned earlier, together we’re campaigning for the NHS restriction on partners to be lifted.
Progress is being made and the promise of more rapid testing will undoubtedly help but sadly, since the latest lockdown announcements, some Trusts have put stricter measures back in place. In some cases partners aren’t allowed to attend any scans, can’t be present for the duration of labour or even access the postnatal ward. We believe the harm this is causing to mental health is significantly greater than the risks around infection control.
Have you been able to change any of your service offerings to the public and healthcare professionals by using digital technology?
Nikki: Yes that’s the main major change we’ve made. Moving everything online; this has been really good for us because it’s enabled us to move faster and reach a lot more people across the UK and overseas.
Maria: We’ve also moved our training online in recent months. It was a baptism of fire and a steep learning curve, but this presented exciting opportunities for us to reach healthcare professionals and peer supporters who might not have been able to come to one of our face-to-face sessions. Are there any key messages – the ones you’re constantly trying to share far and wide?
Maria: All our work is anchored around the key message that pregnant women, as much as anyone else, have the right to decide what happens to their body. Just yesterday, colleagues from your public law team helped us with a case that saw a woman reported to social services, because she decided to give birth at home. This was against her paediatrician’s recommendation that she should give birth in hospital, despite her having very rational reasons for her choice. And of course, providing people with respectful care in the first place is the best way to reduce the amount of birth trauma we're currently witnessing.
Nikki: We're constantly raising awareness of the fact that at least one in four women in the UK feel in some way traumatised by their birth and that in many cases, this trauma is preventable. We also talk a lot about the circle of trauma within our systems and the sad reality that traumatised professionals can unintentionally create traumatised parents. This is why we also campaign for meaningful wellness provision for professionals so that birthing professionals have greater opportunities to rest, reflect and restore. Maria, Nikki, what’s the one thing you’d like people to do as a result of reading this article?
Maria: Take a look at our website, follow us on social media, donate or if you fancy a running, swimming, sky-diving or similar challenge - do think of us when choosing a charity to fundraise for. If you want to get in touch, you can reach us at email@example.com.
Nikki: I'd love you all to visit our website and get to know more about who we are and what we do. Also follow us on social media. We're most active on Instagram @birthbetter. If there's anything further we could do to help you, feel free to get in touch with us firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to find out more about Birthrights and Make Birth Better be sure to visit their websites and also tune into our webinar.
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