I have been thinking a lot about birth advocacy lately. There is a national rally coming up this Labor Day- The National Rally for Change (go here to find a location near you.) A friend of mine is hosting one near me- THANKS RUTHIE! And I bet there is one near you too.
Change in birth is in the air — all that needs to happen is WOMEN need to get things rolling. This will have to be a grass roots movement, driven by the consumer.
Ladies- that consumer is you and me.
I teach birth classes and I blog a lot- for me that is my small way of having a voice in this big world. But there are many ways that women can be advocates in their own world. I wanted to talk to a woman this week who exemplifies what I consider “birth advocacy” in a very real and very moving powerful way so that other women could learn from her example.
I thought of Shannon Blackwell. She is a mother of three, a former owner of a cloth diapering business, a non-profit expert, a marketing guru, and currently the marketing director for Birth Boot Camp, a childbirth education company. (She and Birth Boot Camp are offering a special on Labor Day only-check the end of the post to find how to get it!)
When I first met Shannon she was talking about how she was going to schedule Ina May Gaskin to come speak at their local Tarrant County Birth Network meeting. I thought she was nuts. I mean WHO can get Ina May to come just TALK to them?
Well, Shannon can. (You will learn more about how she did this later on.)
So, I asked her a few questions about getting involved as a birth advocate and making change in maternity care. I am so excited to share her answers with you. There is something that EACH of us can do.
Q: Why does birth advocacy matter?
Because birth matters. This is a human rights issue. Babies and mothers deserve a respectful evidence based birth and postpartum experience. When you consider the things we allow done to a mother and baby during the birth process (as routine procedures) – you would NEVER let anyone hold down your 2 year old and do those things without a really good reason.
Q: Why should your everyday mom be a birth advocate?
Everyone of us was born. A good portion of us will give birth. And a whole lot of us will be around when our daughters give birth. This affects all of us, no matter what our stage in life. And it is something we can easily change. This has nothing to do with “going natural” or getting the epidural as soon as you feel a contraction. This is about understanding birth (a fundamental piece of the human experience) and having care providers we can trust to help us assess the risks that go along with our preferences.
Q: What are a few simple ways that women can become advocates for better birth?
1) Know what mother-friendly (www.motherfriendly.org) care is. Believe you deserve it. Teach your daughters they deserve it, and should demand it. My 3 year old daughter witnessed her sister’s birth a year ago. She still talks about it with joy and enthusiasm. She doesn’t fear birth. She doesn’t think that bringing life will be the most painful thing she ever feels (my unmedicated births were actually less painful than my epidural birth!). I hope I can preserve that confidence and awe in her so she can birth fearlessly when she is ready to become a mother. That is the best thing I can contribute – growing confident, empowered young women who aren’t scared of anything, and a young man who values and honors them.
2) Put your money where your mouth is. We are a supply and demand society. If you switch care providers to find one who is practicing evidence based care then tell the provider you left why you moved on. And tell the hospital administration where you would have birthed why they are losing that income. If we demand true informed consent and evidence based care the medical industry will rise to the occasion.
3) Get involved in the movement. The ImprovingBirth.org National Rally for change is happening this Monday, on Labor Day, from 10am-Noon in a community near you. Find your location, go stand with the ladies, gentleman and children who believe we can make change. Visit BirthNetwork National (www.birthnetwork.org) and join as a consumer member for $25. Volunteer with your local Birth Network chapter. Support the efforts of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (www.ican-online.org).
Q) How did you fall into birth activism?
I’ve been interested in nonprofit work and fundraising since I was young. I wasn’t one of those kids that raised a $100,000 for leukemia with lemonade sales or anything, but I did raise several thousand dollars for my theatre group holding a rock concert. I loved the feeling of seeing something I imagined actually happen in front of me.
After my first son was born, I worked and volunteered for a few nonprofits as a marketing and fundraising professional, learning some tips and tricks along the way. With a couple of other advocates, I started a nonprofit in 2002 that trains search and rescue dogs.
When preparing for the birth of my second child, I started learning about low intervention and mother-friendly birth, and when she was almost a year some ladies locally formed the Tarrant County Birth Network (www.tcbirthnetwork.org). Through random circumstances, I got involved with that amazing group of women and we raised $10,000 at the first event I produced in 2010. We have since produced a book (www.thebirthnextdoor.com), held an art show, produced the Birth play twice, and most recently hosted Ina May Gaskin for a huge crowd in downtown Fort Worth. We hold monthly meetings teaching couples about mother-friendly care (www.motherfriendly.org).
After Ina May’s visit in July, she wrote in her first HuffPost blog, ”A recent trip to Fort Worth and Dallas showed me a range of choices that I wish was available to every pregnant woman in the U.S.”
That was a huge compliment for our birth community and reminded me why I do what I do. Almost as huge as when a mama tells me that she made decisions about her birth based on something she learned at one of my events, and her birth was amazing. That is the biggest compliment of all.
Shannon’s company, Birth Boot Camp, is offering a one day $75 off discount on their online birth classes THIS MONDAY- LABOR DAY in honor of women every where and birth advocacy! Log on to www.birthbootcamp.com on Monday to check it out.
Thank you Shannon for this interview and for all you have done for birthing women. This is how we make change!
About Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark is a mother of four naturally birthed babies, a wife, a birth instructor, and a board member for Birth Boot Camp, a natural birth company specializing in online and in person birth education.