Two exceptional midwives from Bolton, in NW England, decided to plan a conference after being inspired whilst attending MAMA conference in 2013. Joanne Camac and Annabel Nicholas wanted to hold an event to celebrate birth centres, and chose the name ‘Born to Safe Hands’ from their family experience/visitors book. Jo told me 'a lovely family that Annabel and I looked after wrote this and we felt it was just perfect for our conference'. So they set about inviting potential speakers, collaborators, film makers and researching venues. Last week the conference happened. From the moment I arrived, I knew I was part of something special. The wonderful Oli Armshaw (@Olvinda), a student midwife from the University of the West of England attended (see photo below), and has written a superb reflection of the day.
When Sheena asked me to write a reflection on Friday’s Born to Safe Hands conference, I did what I always do, which is, a) instantly say yes without considering how on earth I’ll lever it in around family/full time placement/exam revision and, b) consult Twitter – and there it was, the whole marvelous day to be relived, one #B2SH tweet at a time!
On 28th March 2014, 180 midwives, mothers and a few doctors converged on the home of Bolton Wanderers football club for Born to Safe Hands: a conference to celebrate birth centres, beautifully brought to life by Bolton Birth Centre midwives, Joanne Camac and Annabel Nicholas. I’m still buzzing from the vibrantly positive atmosphere and sense of building a community, a living network - not just within the walls of the Reebok stadium conference room, but as far afield as Perth, Rio de Janeiro, Edinburgh, wherever Twitter stretches. The midwifery ecosystem keeps growing, inspiring us to keep up the fight for women’s rights to informed choice and dignity in childbirth, and to keep looking for ways to be ‘with woman’ - for all women, not just those who fit admission criteria.
Certain battle cries stood out from the day:
‘Put on your leadership hat and fight for women!’ Cathy Warwick incited every single midwife to be innovative, imaginative and creative about the woman-centred agenda, do research, challenge practice and use emerging evidence. As we all know, it’s not just the birth rate putting midwifery under pressure, but the complexity of the women we are looking after, and we need to keep this complexity in perspective, as it’s not always a problem. Cathy highlighted the need to adapt our care and policies to the over 40s mothers, who are the most rapidly increasing group, and to learn from each other about keeping the numbers up for birth centres and freestanding midwifery units.
‘Why can’t labour wards look like birth centres?’ Denis Walsh demanded, as he enthused about normalizing birth for older mothers, women with high BMIs and other complexities. He calls for a change in how we assess risk, and to make the point that change can and does happen, told us about the ACOG’s game changing revised active labour thresholds: “Cervical dilation of 6 cm should be considered the threshold for the active phase of most women in labor. Thus, before 6 cm of dilation is achieved, standards of active phase progress should not be applied.” and “A prolonged latent phase (eg, greater than 20 hours in nulliparous women and greater than 14 hours in multiparous women) should not be an indication for cesarean delivery.”
‘It’s the baby’s blood anyway!’ cried obstetrician, David Hutchon confronting the misnomer ‘placental transfusion’. No one can still be in the dark about the benefits of timely cord clamping to prevent neonatal hypovolaemia, though third stage practice is slow to change.
‘Love or fear?’ Soo Downe, made it very simple, binary even: Love or fear. Which one are we working from? Which drives our decisions and actions? I enjoyed her every word about belief and salutogenesis: the fundamental belief that birth is salutogenic – ie seen from a perspective of wellness.
To illustrate the effects of being watched, and the power of belief, Soo showed us this chilling image of Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican penitentiary (1791). The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. It reminded me of the main office on delivery suite where 8 women’s CTG traces can be viewed at once on a huge screen – not exactly the ‘private, safe and unobserved’ conditions recommended by Dr Sarah Buckley as the optimum environment for undisturbed, physiological birth.
Sheena Byrom’s whizzy Prezi explored the pitfalls of using guidelines-policies-protocols interchangeably, and linked the importance of supporting women to make autonomous decisions with human rights and the dignity agenda. @SagefemmmeSB is a massive advocate of Twitter, as her ‘I love you Twitter!’ video shows, eulogizing about the potential for getting and giving support; sharing ideas and news; building relationships, communities, networks and social capital; influencing change; starting or engaging in debate about practice. She implores all midwives to adopt Twitter, to respond to evidence and articles, to challenge what’s being said, to question and connect with each other. Bring the birth revolution!
‘Is hospital birth a riskier choice for healthy women and babies?’ It was the first time I’d heard Mary Stewart speak and I loved her ‘coming clean’ as a passionate advocate of homebirth. She tackled the knotty concept of risk, swapping the word risk for chance, when talking about out of obstetric unit (OU) birth and transfers to OU from home. Mary urged us to be responsible when talking to women about place of birth, providing balanced information about planned hospital birth as well as planned home birth.
What I found most stimulating about Born to Safe Hands, was the social bonding, and positive community building of it all, which Lesley Choucri, director of midwifery at Salford University, related to Cooperider’s work on ‘unleashing the positive revolution of conversations’. Thanks to Twitter, the potential reach of the normal birth conversation at Born to Safe Hands stretches way beyond the immediate 180 people present in the room. In fact, Twitter stats suggested that 123,228 unique users saw #B2SH and the number of impacts was over 2 million, i.e. the potential number of times someone could have seen #B2SH. This is very exciting.
Born to Safe Hands really was a celebration of the inspiring woman-led work going on in birth centres around the country - an antidote to fear and feeling disheartened, that we are losing our grip as birth becomes ever more medicalized, as women become more complex, and less curious and trusting of our bodies. Born to Safe Hands has revived my vigour and clarity about how to develop and nurture the new midwifery and bring to life the benefits of being truly ‘with woman’, for all women - the benefits of which span generations.
Oli Armshaw @olvinda
THANK YOU OLI!
A Storify from the conference is here, and a selection of comments:
‘best study day ever! Thank you – it’s been wonderful’
‘Best conference I’ve been to in years (and I go to a lot!). Well done. Make it annual! Make available on DVD for sale!’
‘Wonderful, wonderful day, loads of evidence and positive stories to take into my practice, thank you so much for organising’
‘Had a fabulous time, brilliant speakers. Feel ready to return fully invigorated’
‘Lovely to her what committed, expert birth centre midwives are doing in Bolton and around the UK’
‘More than exceeded my expectations, totally fantastic day, will look forward to the next one’
‘I came today to be uplifted and inspired as my unit feels very negative and de-motivated. I feel much more confident, have learnt something and feel so inspired and enthusiastic’
So Annabel and Jo, we hope you will start to plan next year's conference soon, and make it a annual event. As Jacque Gerrard said 'This could be the North West's answer to MAMA!'