6th September 2017
This interview with Milli Hill, founder of the Positive Birth Movement, was first published in The Doula magazine in 2016. Here, Milli shares the vision that created the network, her top tips for pregnant mothers and the key to a positive birth experience.
The Positive Birth Movement is a global network of free antenatal groups. It connects pregnant women to share stories, expertise and positivity about childbirth, the purpose being to challenge the epidemic of fear that surrounds modern birth, and help change birth for the better. There are currently groups in over 36 countries with over 250 in the UK.
How did the Positive Birth Movement start? What inspired you to launch it?
Well I always say it started by accident! Nobody sits down one evening and decides to launch a global initiative to change childbirth! I had just done some doula training and I wanted to start connecting with pregnant women in my area. I had a background as a group therapist so I was very interested in the power of the group to bring about positive change. I just felt that if women got together and actually talked openly, honestly and without judgment about their birth plans and choices, then this could actually be quite transformative. It could challenge fear, it could raise awareness of choice, it could tackle isolation…all kinds of things. Within a week or two I’d set up a facebook page and a free website, and the rest is history.
As far as what inspired me to launch it goes, I guess a number of things. As a feminist I had felt for a long time that something odd was going on when it came to women and birth – all this talk of ‘they didn’t let me’ and ‘I was not allowed’ from women who didn’t normally take such a passive stance in life! I was influenced by ideas I’d read from Germaine Greer and others about the way the female body is ‘pathologised’ and we are made to feel as women that we need to be rescued from our femaleness by the wonder of medicine at every stage of life. So I felt there was a wrongly weighted power dynamic in birth that needed women to come together and address. I also had a LOT of fear of birth in my own first and second birth experiences, and felt that I hadn’t really had a space to address this – I had never really heard anyone, my whole life, say anything postitive about birth, and I really craved that.
What are the key principles of a PBM group and what does it offer to mothers?
Positive Birth Movement groups have two main criteria, they are free to access, and positive about birth! They are a place for all pregnant women – regardless of their background, experience or choices – to come together and share experiences, thoughts, feelings and insight about childbirth. There is often also tea and cake! The groups aim to be a helpful part of a woman’s pregnancy; a warm and welcoming place to hear stories and ideas, to consider what they really want from their childbirth experience, and to challenge any fears or negative expectations they might have.
A positive birth means a birth in which a woman feels she has freedom of choice, access to accurate information, and that she is in control, powerful and respected. A birth that she approaches, perhaps with some trepidation, but without fear or dread, and that she then goes on to enjoy, and later remember with warmth and pride. A positive birth does not have to be ‘natural’ or ‘drug free’ – it simply has to be informed from a place of positivity as opposed to fear. The Positive Birth Movement is woman-centred and as such respects a woman’s human right to choose where and how she has her baby. You can birth with positivity in hospital or at home, with or without medical intervention. You can have a positive caesarean, or a positive home water birth. Positive Birth is about approaching birth realistically, having genuine choice, and feeling empowered by your experience. The Positive Birth Movement believes that communication is the key to shaking up birth. By coming together, in real life and online, and sharing experiences, feelings, knowledge and wisdom, women can take back childbirth.
How does a PBM meeting differ from a regular pregnancy group?
I think the main difference is that everyone present is considered to be an expert. Unlike traditional ‘antenatal classes’, in Positive Birth Movement groups, women listen to each other, rather than to a teacher. I hope that the way that we break down the dynamic of ‘person who knows about birth’ versus ‘people who don’t know about birth’ will have the subtle effect of seeping into the birth room or labour ward and encouraging women to feel that they probably have more knowledge, wisdom and expertise than they realise.
What changes would you like to see in the maternity care system?
Better birth environments. Whether home, hospital or birth centre – dimly lit, calm, quiet and no chit chat. Reverence and respect from all HCP’s. Less poking and prodding and more understanding of oxytocin and mammalian birth. A big bee I have in my bonnet at the moment, too, is that I’d like to see more ownership taken for the really dreadful birth experiences that so many women are having. I see a lot of distancing going on – which is an understandable defense mechanism. People will hear an awful story and say, “well thank goodness things like that don’t happen where I work!”. It seems like all this birth trauma, women not being listened to, lack of consent etc, is all happening ‘over there’, but not ‘here’. Well I’m sorry but we need to take some kind of collective responsibility for what’s going on and really listen to women. The current average birth experience for UK women is often simply not good enough – and we can do better.
If you could give one piece of advice to a pregnant woman what would it be?
Don’t let anyone discourage you from taking an active interest in your choices. The whole idea of ‘going with the flow’ can often just be code for ‘lie back and think of England’. Yes, of course we all need to be flexible, but it’s a huge mistake to think that what happens to women in labour is just luck of the draw. So learn about your rights, get informed, and think about what kind of birth you really want and how to maximise your chances of getting it.
What is the key to a positive birth experience?
True freedom of choice. This is not as simple as it sounds! For example, people sometimes get annoyed with me for saying ‘Get off your back and get off the bed!’. They say, ‘If a woman wants to give birth in this way it’s up to her!’. But the trouble is, if every TV image you’ve ever seen of a woman giving birth she was on her back on the bed, and when you get to the hospital, the bed is right there slap bang in the middle of the room, and a midwife asks you to hop up on it, then is the choice to give birth in this way truly free? We need to peel away the layers – cultural, personal, familial – before we can analyse whether we have true freedom in our choices. When women find the confidence to do this for themselves and to think outside the box, these birth experiences are usually the ones that are most likely to be described as ‘empowering’.
Tell us about your book!
The Positive Birth Book was published in Spring 2017. It addresses misconceptions about birth and gives woman to woman information about what giving birth is actually like. There is lots of info in there about building a really brilliant birth plan, and about having a positive birth in any setting or eventuality.
Milli is a freelance writer, columnist for Telegraph Women, mum of three small children and the founder of the Positive Birth Movement. She lives in Somerset.
To find your nearest Positive Birth Movement group or for information on starting up a group yourself visit www.positivebirthmovement.org