Any pregnant woman will tell you that once your bump begins to show, people are falling over themselves to tell you birth stories. Very often these stories are far from positive ones, and if the listener is a first time mother-to-be, the fear factor quickly begins to ratchet up as she realises that she too may meet a similar fate. In truth, its virtually a cultural norm to expect birth to be a difficult journey. Every film with a birth-scene has a woman on her back, legs akimbo grimacing or howling in pain. Documentary-style programs like ‘One Born Every Minute’ paint the same picture. In such an environment, mothers-to-be have an uphill battle to avoid the steady stream of birth negativity, and quite often, with the prize of a healthy child in their sights, they resign themselves to ‘necessary’ suffering when the fateful day arrives.
In the near future however, pregnant mother’s in Co. Donegal will have a new beacon of positivity in the form of free-to-attend Positive Birth Movement meet-ups. The PBM is a global network of informal antenatal discussion groups that encourage peers to meet, discuss, and help navigate each other through the birth journey. In these groups, fear of childbirth is replaced by information, affirmation and empowerment.
Maria Coleman, a pregnancy yoga teacher and positive birth and mental health advocate, is the point of contact for the Positive Birth Movement in Co. Donegal. “I am particularly eager to get this movement going in Co. Donegal, since the county is unique in Ireland in that we have no midwife-led maternity unit, or supports for homebirth. Every birth therefore happens in hospital. In my own case, and for many other mothers in the county that meant an hour-long journey on bumpy roads, something that’s far from ideal for a birthing mother.” Both of Maria’s children, born in 2008 and 2014, were born in Letterkenny, in situations she likes to describe as ‘home-births in a hospital’.
“I was doing a PhD when I got pregnant with our first child so it was a natural progression to wear my research hat with regard to pregnancy and birth. I was carrying a pelvic injury from a road traffic accident and I knew it would be more than foolhardy to attempt to fulfill my home-birth dream while living rurally with no supports, so I researched extensively to fully inform myself as to hospital procedures and quickly came to the conclusion that although I would deliver my baby in the hospital, I would not be accepting routine interventions and would instead be asking for a hands-off approach.
My ‘secret weapons’ were preparation and support from my husband. I did yoga to strengthen and open my body and prepare me mentally for the challenges ahead. We hired a doula to come to our home and work with us one-to-one to prepare us for what to expect on the day. We both did Hypnobirthing training and Marie Mongan’s ‘Hypnobirthing’ book became my bible, and theaccompanying CD became the soundtrack of the pregnancy and birth. The key to the whole thing was writing a well-considered birth plan – and this is a key piece of advice I would give anyone hoping to navigate a similar path. Crucially also, have your partner involved and informed regarding every element of the birth plan. He is your key advocate throughout, who can offer you support as well as gently, or forcefully remind the care staff of your wishes as the birth unfolds.”
“I can’t wait to get the PBM meetings up and running in the county. I will travel to any area where 5 mothers or couples can gather, and through open and optimistic conversation around birth we can begin to change the narrative and spread positivity from a grassroots level. Its important to me also that these meetings are free, so that there are no financial barriers there to stifle the message. Although I am a pregnancy yoga teacher, I won’t be doing the ‘hard sell’ at these meetings. The message is too important to make it about business leads. I am a firm believer in social enterprise, and my business is very socially engaged, giving back not only through the upcoming voluntary work with the Positive Birth Movement but also through LÁMHA: Life Affirming Mental Health Action, a wellness initiative I co-founded with Linda Uí Ghallchóir in 2016. LÁMHA’s current focus is on Beoga, a teen wellness program currently available to Donegal secondary schools. LÁMHA plan an event in summer 2018 that will focus on maternal mental wellness, with a Men’s shed wellness event also in the pipeline. I also volunteer as a European Citizen Journalist and will be representing Donegal (and Ireland) at an upcoming Ladder Citizen Journalist event in Strasbourg in November. My next article for this initiative will put Donegal maternity experiences in a global context, so watch this space. “
Positive birth messages are already being channelled through a social media feed from the Facebook page ‘Positive Birth Donegal’ which Maria curates with the help of Letterkenny Doula, Erin Ponsonby. Maria is also working on the website www.positivebirth.ie which will provide local, national and international sources of information regarding pregnancy, birth and postnatal supports. It also offers a platform for local service providers, yoga teachers, doulas, counsellors etc. to make themselves known to expectant mums, new parents and those wishing to conceive in Co. Donegal. This site will also include a blog where positive birth stories can be shared. “I would love to hear from people who want to share their positive birth stories to provide hope to those navigating the journey, so please make contact if you wish to share yours.” Summing up her efforts, Maria’s closing message is simple, “I believe the greatest barrier to a positive birth experience is fear, and no matter how the journey unfolds, I know that information and preparation can change fear into empowerment. After all, birth is our female ‘superpower.’ We need to reclaim it! “
A version of this post was published in Donegal Woman on Oct 20th 2017