There was a huge Internatioal Conference called Women Deliver, held once every three years, that was held in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. It attracted thousands of participants from all over the world including government leaders, policymakers and NGO representatives from organizations such as UN and WHO. Internationally renowned figures such as Melinda Gates, Chelsea Clinton and Queen Mary of Denmark gave speeches at the conference; and also eminent figures in the birth world, such as Debra Pascali-Bonaro, Robbie Davis-Floyd and Ibu Robin Lim.
The weekend just before the conference, BIB Malaysia hosted the 2nd International Birth Without Borders (BWB) Conference, in which Robbie Davis-Floyd (meidcal anthropologist) and Debra Pascali-Bonaro (Birth Activist, Doula and chair of the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization) were the main speakers. These are two prominent figures in the birth world and I was SO excited and SO grateful to be able to meet with both of them.
I myself was invited to present at a Forum during the Birth Without Borders Conference, as a representative of the Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia, and to represent the collective voice of Malaysian mothers. Other panelists included Consultant ObGyn, Dr Noraini from Sunway Medical Centre and Consultant ObGyn, Dr Haliza from Hospital Kuala Lumpur. I felt honoured and grateful to be invited to present amongst eminent figures at such an important conference.
In my presentation I showed video clips of mothers from the Gentle Birthing Group (GBG) telling their birth stories in their own words. Their stories told of how they were ill-treated during their births or given inaccurate information or how they were pressured into accepting unnecessary interventions. As these were first-hand accounts of mothers' experiences in birth, it did a good jon in informing the audience that many mothers are unhappy about the way they are treated in Malaysian hospitals during their births.
I thought it must be a difficult message to see, if I were a nurse or doctor, but it certainly had to be done. At first, the audience was silent and I noted an air of defensiveness from the other panelists, but as soon as I and the other members of the Gentle Birthing Group, who were seated in the audience, made it clear that we want to work together with the Ministry of Health and actually be part of the solution, the tone of the discussions became much less defensive and more productive all round. The conclusion was that medical professionals cannot turn a deaf ear to what mothers have to say, and so all parties agreed that it is in mothers and babies' interests that all parties work together in the spirit of mutual understanding for the health and safety of mothers and babies.
The whole Conference was charged with oxytocin, as the main speakers, Debra Pascali-Bonaro and Robbie Davis-Floyd, told it like it is to an audience full of medical professionals – how routine hospital procedures (much of which are still parcticed in Malaysian hospitals) impede the chances of the mother to experience a natural birth by a great amount; how many of them are actually NOT based on scientific evidence; how many other motives drive Obstetricians – including legal issues, conveniene and money. Each of the speakers brought to the conference their own strengths - Debra focused on the International MotherBaby Childbirth Initiative and the importance of doulas at birth, while Robbie Davis-Floyd talked from an anthropological perspective about childbirth and why we have gotten to the point we're at today. I found her talk about the difference between Technocratic, Humanistic and Holistic models of birth simply fascinating! And when she talked about power issues in birth and the centuries-old power struggle between man (Obstetrician) and woman (midwife and mother), the whole room (well, mostly the birth activists) gave her a standing ovation! Obstetrical medicine is a very recent phenomenon. Only in the past few hundred years, have men encroached upon the domain of childbirth, a historically female event – where females attended births and provided emotional support (midwives and doulas) to the mother. Fascinating!
We were able to network with many parties and we definitely made headway in following-up with our relationship with the Ministry of Health. The GBG was invited by Dr Ravichandran, the head of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia, to work together with OGSM and Ministry of Health in improving birth in Malaysia. So this was a HUGE step forward for the GBG in our birth activism activities. I met midwives and nurses from Klinik Kesihatan who said "you know we have had a few women who birthed at home unassisted - at first we were against them, but now we realize we have to listen to them" ! :) These were good midwives who are just carrying out their jobs to the best of their abilities and to the best of their knowledge. The concept of Gentle Birth and HypnoBirthing were all new to them... they were curious! You could see it in their eyes!.. And many were willing to listen :)
I left the conference with a renewed vigour and a sense of awe by the work that these two strong amazing women do and how they contribute to the collective wealth and health of women and babies all over the world. My colleagues and I from the Gentle Birthing Group laughed, hugged and shed quite a few tears because it was so refreshing to be at a conference where the truth was spoken out loud and birth workers, mothers and medical professionals all gathered in the interests of mothers and babies! The conference only re-affirmed my belief in my work as a birth activist, and showed me that there is a MUCH bigger purpose for doing the work I do..It's not JUST birth. It has repercussions for women, babies and whole societies, nations and future generations in years to come.
Immediately after the BWB conference, was the Women Deliver Conference where key figures from renowned institutions across the world came together. We were fortunate to attend and listen to such important people speak such as Francis, the president of the International Confederation of Midwives, Queen Mary of Denmark, and other eminent figures talk about the state of women and girls all around the world today. Ibu Robin Lim (CNN Hero of the Year) also was invited to speak. It was a great opportunity for me and my colleagues from the Gentle Birthing Group to network with relevant organizations to put forth our cause. I met many wonderful people there who I hope to be in touch with for future projects with the GBG. The conference itself I thought was alright. I did learn quite alot. However, the entrance fees was very high and it was definitely not affordable to independent midwives who work the most with mothers and babies. Many ministries from around the world sent representatives, and there were many Obstetricians there, but the main theme I felt was still about institutionalizing birth - about getting women to the hospital and "adequate care" and reducing maternal mortality, etc - but as Robin Lim poignantly pointed out - there was nothing about food quality - and about addressing malnutrition in countries. How can we talk about gentle birth, when mothers are malnourished?? Its not possible. There really should have been more talks addressing the causes of undernourishment of women and children leading to dangerous complications and deaths. However, it was good that the International Confederation of Midwives were represented and were able to put forth their case. Debra also put forth her case for Respectful Maternity Care. Hopefully all these issues will be taken into consideration when the next Millennium Development Goals are drawn up in 2015.
After the conference, we spent half a day with Debra and Ibu Robin just chatting! The day after that, the GBG hosted a talk where Ibu Robin addressed a crowd of about 40 mothers and fathers at Chayo Studio before she went home to Bali. I was only able to stay for the first half of the talk, but it was full of love, hugs and tears of happiness :)
It was such a memorable 10 days. I am so grateful and feel so blessed that everything worked out well – and I was so grateful I managed to squeeze in an intensive HypnoBirthing class and also attend a beautiful homebirth (more about that later;) !
Alhamdulillah! Feeling very blessed! And now, returning from a 5-day vacation with my girls, I'm excited to get back into gear! Allah make it easy for me and bless our work and give us barakah in the work we do to make birth better for mothers and babies in Malaysia. Ameen.