Wow. What a conference. We wanted to give thanks to all those who attended and share a few thoughts. It was truly a one of a kind experience to have so many passionate people together breathing the same air and dreams. This was only the beginning. We are committed to pushing things ahead and strive for human rights in childbirth! Our heartiest thanks to everyone involved in making the conference a reality and to all those who came.
The Birth India Team. From top left: Sakshi Ahuja, Preksha Rawal, Subarna Ghosh, Kai & Tina Stephens, Kanika Aswani, Ruth Malik, Zoe Quinn, Shivani Sharma, Lina Duncan, Rita Theobald. From bottom left: Sophia Malik, Divya Deswal. Not shown is Suyai Steinhaeur who helped immensely but could not attend.
From Ruth Malik, co-founder of Birth India, Conference Coordinator
After many months of preparation, and sleepless nights it was exhilarating to open the conference. I thoroughly enjoyed welcoming everyone, and I felt the optimism in the room, and for four nights I slept like a baby. There is nothing like spending time with people committed to providing quality reproductive health care and addressing the widespread fraudulent practices and disrespect of women. Our Bollywood party showed just how hard working, and passionate women come together and dance and celebrate and enjoy! For me, conferences are about meeting with colleagues and the potential that those connections and learning create, the buzz of human connection a palpable happy energy. I was happy!
The Birth India team is unbelievable, perfect in the execution of their tasks. Shivani Sharma positively and confidently coped with ticketing questions and delivered beautiful conference bags; Tina Nandi kept us looking good with her design and social media skills, and when needed she took on not just India but International social media. Subarna Ghosh made sure we got press coverage and ensured the health minister noticed us with her change.org petition, Zoe Quinn and Lina Duncan kept excellent blogs flowing that introduced our speakers, and Lina Duncan also powered on with Suyai and coordinated the speakers. Lina also networked and tweeted the conference from @HRiCIndia2017 handle like nobodies business! Kanika Aswani managed the challenging and demanding task of event logistics. Rita Theobold did the invaluable job that she has been doing for us for ten years and kept our accounts and payments in order. Our interns, Sakshi Ahuja and Preksha Rawal, helped in many ways and gave us the support we needed, and to all of our kids, friends, family and partners who helped and supported us, we thank you!
We faced many problems along the way, internally the BI team was impeccable, no drama, no negativity or self-doubt they fulfilled their obligations and promises, kept a positive and conflict-free atmosphere through some very tough times and incidences which screamed CANCEL! We had invested so much that nothing would deter us, and we were prepared to take whatever came our way. Words can not describe how awesome the team is, the passion and commitment of volunteers.
Birth India was inspired by the many Indian nurse-midwives who attended, and the take home for us is clearly the midwifery model of care improves outcomes for mothers and babies, so let’s get India going. Birth India is committed to developing a project which will focus on ensuring that every woman in India has the choice to access affordable, quality and skilled autonomous professional midwives be it in the home, birth centre or hospital. We are committed to engagement with the informal sector, indigenous midwives as well as reaching out to the most vulnerable communities.
The conference made it clear that for the success we need a legal commitment and accountability, research, training that includes respectful care evidence-based practice, wider stakeholder engagement, focus on prevention as well as support from the medical community. Today I am pondering how we will pull this off; the conference has given us greater capacity regarding a small amount of funding and potential partnerships, It is evident we must now form a coalition.
We can not do this alone.
From Tina Nandi, Conference Graphic Designer & Photographer
I still remember quite distinctly our first on-the-ground meeting at Ruth’s home in Mumbai in November 2015. The idea of putting on this conference was mildly intimidating for our little organisation but also so exciting. We were ready to give it all we had and our meeting went on past midnight as we gathered and shared stories from the around the world of injustice in maternity care that just had to stop. We all went home that night buzzing and ready for action. I was about three months pregnant at the time, I had the most amazing midwives and was hoping to have a gentle homebirth – an option that I knew is far from reality for so many and I wanted that to change. Why shouldn’t all women be able to receive the kind of respectful, dignified care that I was receiving? This is one of the many questions we hoped to raise at the conference.
Our little team expanded, we made connections, found supporters – big and small – and 18 months of hard work, some sleepless nights, some difficulties, a lot of passion and perseverance later, we met at a conference hall at TISS University and over 4 days we examined all the challenges ahead of us and saw some of the amazing work that is already happening and committed to joining forces for the journey ahead.
How do we find a middle ground in maternity care between Too Much Too Soon and Too Little Too Late? How can we listen to the Women’s Voices better, and let their experiences shape our policies? How can we support our overworked doctors, nurses and staff in hospitals so that they are in a better position to give the kind of care that they entered the profession to give to their patients? How can we help women who have already suffered trauma in this broken system to heal and be able to mother their children in wholeness?
To the question of whether a live baby and mother is all that’s important at the end of the day, we say a resounding NO! We say a resounding #ENOUGH! to injustice and abuse in maternity care. We want justice, dignity, respect and we have some ideas on how to get there.
Will you join us?
From Lina Duncan, Social Media & Networking
The journey towards the conference was a long one, having been involved from the start some 4 years back with emails flying round and conference calls. The city venue and team members changed along the way as the path unfolded. All previous and current team members contributed to gathering such brilliant people from across the country, and the globe.
Personally, it was a total highlight to meet some of my heroes in the maternal health field. Hosting the Launch of the Lancet Series was like the icing on the cake. Such fantastically researched and presented facts and data to reinforce what many of the other speakers brought to the conversation.
I’m so glad Ibu Eka Maya came all the way from Indonesia to share her story in film. As a mother and a midwife her voice was important to hear. Sohini Chattopadhyay travelled by train for 3 days from Kolkata to bring her voice and her previously published articles and observations on Maternal Health. Having read her words, I was even more powerfully moved by her spoken words which describe the abuse that literally thousands of women face daily, globally in the most important moments of bringing their baby into the world. Women’s stories are the force behind change and as we move forward to navigate a path to improve the quality of maternal health care, let’s remember these images and narratives.
My favourite times were not on the stage, or even in the conference hall, but were bringing some of my midwife sheroes to meet the local community dai and some of the families we had served together over the last year. Lesley Page and Hannah Dahlen with her daughter Lydia Dahlen came on separate visits to meet these amazing families who dwell in such challenging circumstances. As visitors thrown it at the deep end they managed to extract diamonds in each person they met. It was a joy to me that the local dai felt welcome to come and to participate in the conference.
One point I would like to make is that I think we need to include all in the discussions going forwards. Collaborative care is excellent and I value and enjoy the working relationships with OB/GYN doctors, I had as a foreign trained midwife in India. We should not exclude the wisdom and the traditions of the dais and we must re-think the role that nurse-midwives play, largely in rural settings where they are often the sole care-provider.
I hope that everyone and anyone interested will continue to discuss and implement policies that improve the quality of care and include autonomous midwifery, good physiological birth options, delayed cord clamping, early initiation of breastfeeding with skin to skin care etc. And if you want to check out some highlights of the conference, check out this flipbook I made!
Lina with friend and Mumbai dai (traditional birth attendant)
From Rita Theobald, Accounts & Payments
I was overwhelmed to see so many speakers and the audience at the opening of the HRiC conference. We worked for the cause for a long time and finally it was time to share the fruits. I couldn’t hold my tears. HRiC managed to get so many eminent speakers from various places in the world. The audience was also from all over the world.
However, I wish there should have been more positivity. The speakers also all deserved more time!
But this conference has got the ball rolling!
From Zoe Quinn, Blog Coordinator
Where to even begin? The Birth India team practically breathed this conference leading up to it. There were a fair share of dramas and issues to grapple with and certainly some stress. But then came in a big breath of fresh air- Dr. Prakasamma. Not only did she found SOMI (Society of Midwives in India), but she seems to have the clearest vision of the model of midwifery India needs.
This woman floored me. Dr. Prakasamma is a petite, senior woman with little oval spectacles and a sweet sweet smile. She is unassuming. But that woman is raw, undiluted power. Listening to her speaking gave me more than goosebumps- so much excitement and inspiration welled inside me I almost felt sick. It was amazing. She had the guts to acknowledge what many don’t recognize, let alone speak out against. She reminded the attentive crowd that the experience of childbirth matters for the mother and the baby and society at large. She dared to even reflect that it’s hard for us to compensate for all that is lost and all the social implications of institutionalizing birth. She remarked about how superficial most research has been regarding childbirth so far and has yet to even scratch the surface of the magnitude of importance giving birth has. She also included wonderful metaphors she gathered from working outside in her farm which just made me love her. She is my new idol.
Then, there were so many warm smiles and amiable exchanges, which I like to think were not mere pleasantries, I can’t even count. The sweetness that exuded from Dr. Evita Fernandez was so genial and Indie Kaur was so candid and lovely I wished I could just be her. Then there was Asha Kilaru whose perfect softness affectionately won me over. And the precious midwife from Indonesia- Eka Maya Febriana. I must admit I underestimated her because her english fluency wasn’t great, but it’s clear that Indonesia is incredibly lucky to have her working in their country. This woman is bold, smart and has a heart of gold. And Lesley Page? Hannah Dahlen?! These women kick solid butt. These are just a good few people out of many who stepped into the conference.
But what I enjoyed the most was the uplifting buzz. People were excited and ready to take action. Connections were made for the first time and I felt like we banded together like a little army ready to fight for what women really need in healthcare- their rights and for healthcare to be about them.
It was my honor and pleasure to help with the Human Rights in Childbirth Conference and to become a part of the Birth India Team and I am so excited to see what is to come. Thank you all who attended and I look very much foreward to our work ahead.
Zoe (left with red hair) with Ruth listening on