Visions of Infant Joy – Research and Practical Implications towards the Greater Enjoyment of Pregnancy, Birth and Babies. (Homerton College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England)

Keynote Speaker:

Organised by: Francoise Freedman & Birthlight Trust

Birthlight’s International Launch Conference which took place in July in Cambridge was a truly remarkable event – an unprecedented gathering of practioners and scientists whose work has changed our understanding of birth and babies.

Thank you to all those who came to the conference and made this event an experience that was described as both professionally relevant and heart opening.

The dominant note of the conference remains one of celebration and hope. Celebration of all the facets of knowledge that the speakers interwove together beyond differences to support an effective dialogue between science and matters of the heart around pregnancy, birth and babies. Each talk, workshop, poster and exhibit affirmed in many complementary ways the possibility of creating effective applications in order to better welcome babies into the world at this time. There is an abundance of research now available to support the insights and radical changes in practice or perspective that triggered the lifework of the visionaries gathered at the conference; it was timely to bring to public awareness the wealth of information that, as authors, these remarkable people have been able to offer, some against established ideas and medical protocols. What is striking is the consistency of this information and the fact that it now constitutes a critical mass.

The conference was a turning point in the development of Birthlight as a launch event to ‘go public’ with our achievements of the last decade, our current priorities and our strategies for the future. The Trustees of Birthlight have presided over the organic growth of our organisation and given it structure and a sound legal basis as a small non-profit venture. Birthlight would not exist without their generous input and skills. The conference brought together researchers who have kindly agreed to be on the scientific advisory panel for the Birthlight Trust: Marie-Claire Busnel, Vivette Glover, Amali Lokugamage, Michel Odent, Martin Richards, Robin Monro, Marilyn Strathern, Colwyn Trevarthen will be sources of excellent expertise from different fields to which they have made distinguished contributions.

Birthlight’s ultimate shared goal is to promote greater enjoyment of pregnancy birth and babies, our outlook is deliberately a positive one. We do not overlook the trauma and misery that misguided policies and practices can cause to women, babies and their families and we acknowledge with sadness the detrimental effects of poverty, displacement and the political economic processes that are their cause. Our choice is to act in the community to make things a fraction better, each woman at a time. Birthlight has grown purely through word of mouth, because tutors, teachers, health professionals who have trained with Birthlight and all the families from all walks of life whom we reach in many different ways are linked in a network of healing. A focus on enjoyment has led us to nurture ourselves as a source of helping others and in so doing we have found inner resources that feed what we call ‘the expanding spiral of joy and well being’. The more we nurture ourselves, the more tolerance and compassion we can have from an open-minded but steady core centre –pelvis, heart and brain together in spirit.

Respect for others, in the form of Namaste, is at the root of all Birthlight activities and encounters. There are a wide range of views and opinions within Birthlight and strong personalities to voice them. Yet what keeps us together is a will to listen and show acceptance in action. If a woman comes to prenatal classes wanting an elective C section, there is value in helping her prepare for her birth from her perspective. Practice and exchanges with others, as Sophie Messager revealed in her testimony at the conference, may open a different perspective. The foundations for parent-infant bonding, including breastfeeding, are ideally laid in active relaxation during pregnancy. In a continuity of experience that extends from conception (or even pre-conception) to the third year, we offer nurture in action and in the present. This works both as prevention for the future and as self healing in retrospect if needed.

Our motto ‘no guilt, no shame, no blame’ takes on new significance as research reveals complex links between pregnancy and children’s performance, modalities of birth and primal health. The professional experience compounded in the Birthlight forum confirms our other working tenet that simple practices can be effective tools to repair damage in the transition to parenting that may be significant but not serious enough to be reported or addressed clinically, immediately or years later. Admittedly faith is needed here, but experience comes to support it realistically: witnessing a change in the way a depressed mother touches her baby; a new father exploring his emotions in movement with his baby in the water; women recovering sensitivity in their scarred abdomens years after surgery; the slow (or instant) rise to consciousness of issues that feed trauma in our lives, as Anna Verwaal’s photos showed so well. All these experiences are spoken and unspoken bonds between all of us within Birthlight and those we reach in the community.

Translating this quality of experience into research evidence – not necessarily in the form of blind controlled trials – is next on the Birthlight agenda. Profs Marie-Claire Busnel and Vivette Glover have offered useful frameworks at the conference. The birth statistics at the Farm confirm the validity of the stories Ina May Gaskin reports in her books and talks, and sets them in a light of feasibility. It is our wish that this conference can not only make more available a great deal of existing resources but also can contribute to consolidate the budding links between Birthlight teachers, midwives and health visitors –particularly in Sure Start-, complementary practitioners, and new families across social and cultural backgrounds. We are fortunate in counting with the support of some excellent obstetricians and paediatricians. But this conference confirmed that the momentum that is gathering in public awareness comes from the grassroots, among those working directly with new families or those taking close professional interest in their experiences. The Birthlight conference was deliberately hosted in Homerton College as the seat of the Cambridge Faculty of Education and early site of the College of Health Studies. As Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern who opened the conference pointed out, the context of culture informs how care is delivered and received; at a time when the rise in medical intervention during pregnancy and birth is unquestionable worldwide, it is significant and heartening that visionaries of the 20th century should find a new audience in young women (and men!) who are seeking congenial values to inform their parenting experience.

 Comments from the 2006 Conference …

 “A totally amazing experience. I had no idea that it would influence me so directly and positively”

“Thank you for a stimulating and inspiring 2 days. I have been shocked at the number of times I have been moved to tears. My head is spinning with new knowledge.”

“I found it extremely interesting and inspiring. I don’t feel so isolated with my work now…The support and exchange of ideas is very very helpful and nurturing”

“Fantastic experience and life changing”

“It has been an amazing event and a fantastic achievement. Congratulations on the vision, the determination and effort to bring this event into realisation.”

“As always, Birthlight enchants and surprises!”

“As a paediatrician midwife, there was much in the conference which I can use.”