A group of women is passionately advocating for women to take control of their childbirth experience.
FOUNDED in 2008, The Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia (GBG) started out as a support network for mothers who want a gentle birth – drug-free and natural birthing options.
“There isn’t enough information out there and women didn’t know they have choices,” says Nadine Ghows, one of the co-founders of GBG. The group is run by a bunch of passionate childbirth advocates-cum-homemakers.
“Because of our healthcare system and years of brainwashing – horror stories of births or inaccurate portrayals on the media, many people view medical interventions as the norm in childbirth,” adds the certified hypnobirthing practitioner and childbirth educator in training. “But childbirth can actually be empowering and gratifying.”
Aside from raising awareness, GBG also pushes for mothers to ask and tell care providers what they want, adds childbirth advocate Chrissy Steinhardt.
“The more women ask, the more people are going to sit up and listen. And we are seeing more women asking the right questions and having hypnobirthing in hospitals,” adds Steinhardt, also a certified hypnobirthing educator. Through Facebook, GBG disseminates information and encourages mothers to post questions and share their birthing experiences.
“Most people go to our Facebook for the interaction, they want to know that another mother is going through the same thing as them and welcome the support,” explains Ghows.
“Free of trauma” is another way to define gentle birthing, Steinhardt said.
“A gentle birth doesn’t have to be natural birth, it can be a C-section if it’s done with respect to the baby and the mother makes the decision. If she’s happy with a medicalised birth (epidural, episiotomy and the whole works), it’s her choice,” she adds. “But when it’s not her choice, the interventions can result in post-traumatic disorder.”
The group engages the medical fraternity through dialogues and forums, and organises events and talks for the public. GBG recently teamed up with Ibu Family Resource Group (a membership-based NGO that provides pregnancy and baby wellness support and playgroups) to organise a childbirth forum and talks by experts in conjunction with International Women’s Day 2014.
“We also want to raise awareness among the medical community by posing questions like: why are women not satisfied with their birth experience? And why people are wanting to birth at home?” Steinhardt adds.
Birthing at home
Following the case of a maternal death during an unassisted home birth last November, GBG drew some flak for "promoting" home births on its Facebook.
“We have discussions on birth preparation – be it at home or the hospital – on our Facebook, in the spirit of informed choice,” explains Ghows. “But we constantly remind parents that our official stance is we do not promote or support unassisted births at home. Perhaps we were not strict enough in barring people from posting unassisted birth stories.”
GBG has since disallowed posting of unassisted home birth stories on their Facebook.
“Personally, as a childbirth educator, when people come to me saying they want a homebirth, I always tell them there are lots of research to back up home birth safety with a certified midwife,” says Ghows. But there’s no research to back up unassisted birth. You make your choice.”
Despite the two recent maternal deaths (another unassisted home birth death occurr in December last year), Ghows thinks there will still be women who will opt for home births. “If we don’t provide the option to birth at home for women, they are either going to have to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. They feel they have no choice,” she asserts.
Hence, the next big step for GBG is to push for midwifery care in Malaysia.
“We need to advocate for midwife-led birthing centres and not just about making hospitals more birth-friendly,” says Ghows. “What is important now is for us to be the bridge between mothers and care providers, to keep the dialogues going and advocate for more birth options.”
For more info, go to The Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia Facebook page or drop them an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org