Historic Home Birth Consensus Summit releases statements

In late October, sixty-eight national and international experts gathered to discuss home birth at the Home Birth Consensus Summit, held in Warrenton, Virginia, an hour outside of Washington, D.C. Yesterday, the group released nine “statements of common ground around home birth and other controversies in maternity care.” The statements are available in full at http://homebirthsummit.org/.

In addition to various health care professionals and home birth consumers, stakeholders at the summit included lawyers, policy makers, researchers and ethicists. Chair of the summit’s steering committee is Professor Saraswathi Vedam, CNM, director of the Division of Midwifery at the University of British Columbia and chair of the Homebirth Section of the Division of Standards and Practices for the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).

Vedam characterized the summit as a resounding success whose central theme was collaboration. “Everyone in the room wanted to accept responsibility for caring for moms and babies,” Vedam said. The summit was a rare opportunity for people who “often operate in silos” to get to connect on a human level and understand each other’s context.

The statements are just the beginning, Vedam offered, noting that it is the willingness to get together in multi-stakeholder groups and to understand one another’s priorities that will help move things toward “solutions that ultimately serve mothers and babies.”

The event utilized the Future Search Network to facilitate the discussion at the summit, which was made up entirely of conversations and no presentations. The process “allows everyone to be heard and part of the solution. It’s about finding common goals,” Vedam explained.

Vedam explained that this was the beginning of a “multi-year process to achieve the goals we’ve laid out.” Some participants planned to take the consensus-building process back to their home groups, offices, and organizations, and there were also many connections made between people from different fields working toward the same goal from different perspectives and with different bases of knowledge.

When asked what kind of future she’d like to see if the summit’s work is successful, Vedam said that women would be assured, regardless of their choice of birth site, that they have a high quality provider wherever they start and wherever they end up. Women deserve “respectful and comprehensive care, even if their plan has to change.” She would like to see all maternity care providers have exposure to and knowledge about evidence-based care.

Additionally, racial and economic disparities must be addressed, Vedam emphasized, echoing Statement Three’s call for equitable systems of care. “I think about transport and access, and education,” Vedam shared. These issues spoke to the concerns of Sheryl Hotlen Rivett, co-founder of Birth Matters Virginia one of the organizers of the organization’s April 2011 Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Summit in Leesburg, Virginia. A mother of four and the author of Mothers and Midwives, Rivett attended the Home Birth Consensus Summit as a consumer and as an advocate for social justice having worked with at-risk mothers. “It was amazing,” Rivett said of the October summit, where she said delegates from disparate backgrounds were genuinely interested in listening to and learning from one another.

Rivett noted the importance of funding to further all efforts like these. Funding for the Home Birth Consensus Summit came from the Transforming Birth Fund and the Foundation for the Advancement of Midwifery, but additional funding will need to be obtained for a follow-up meeting, which will likely take place in 12-18 months, and to maintain the summit website.

Donations to the project can be made through the summit website through Groundworks and also through the American College of Nurse-Midwives Foundation, both non-profit organizations.

Photos courtesy of Home Birth Consensus Summit.

A new contributor to All Things Mothering, Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor living in Northern Virginia. A former high school English teacher and now mother of two, Jessica writes about birth, VBACtivism, breastfeeding, Real Food nutrition, holistic health, mindful parenting, and green living on her blog, Crunchy-Chewy Mama, in her Family Today column at the Washington Times Communities, and at TheDCMoms.com. Find her at CrunchyChewyMama.com and JessicaClaireHaney.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @crunchychewy.

Jessica Claire Haney

About Jessica Claire Haney

Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor living in Northern Virginia. A former high school English teacher and now mother of two, Jessica writes about birth, VBACtivism, breastfeeding, Real Food nutrition, holistic health, mindful parenting, and green living on her blog, Crunchy-Chewy Mama, in her Family Today column at the Washington Times Communities, and at TheDCMoms.com, where she is Green section editor. Find her at CrunchyChewyMama.com and JessicaClaireHaney.com.