Voice for Parents - Looking Back and Moving Forwards

by Carla Sargent

Given it's been one year since the birth of Voice for Parents (VFP), I thought it appropriate that our first blog post be about what we've achieved and where we are heading. While we have had an expectedly slow start, we have achieved some really important things this past 12 months, and have been chipping away at the groundwork that is required to make VFP what it needs to be.

Our Birth Trauma Survey that we conducted at the start of 2015 produced some eye opening revelations, and we were stunned by the number of Kiwi women who responded - 319 in total! While collating and summarising the findings proved to be a lengthy task (it took a number of months for me to publish the results), there is such a wealth of valuable insights into the trauma and support (or lack of) experiences of Aotearoa mothers contained in the report. If you haven't read the report yet, I suggest you find the time to do so, though be warned, much of the content is likely to be triggering for people who have experienced birth trauma, and distressing for those who haven't had any experience of it. For people who feel able to hear of women's stories of birth trauma, I believe we owe it to those women who opened their hearts in responding to a confronting survey to do so. I hope that the more people who read the report, the greater the chance that others will feel compelled to do what they can to improve outcomes for women who are yet to give birth. To read the report click here.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to represent Home Birth Aotearoa at MATCON last year, speaking on a panel discussion about ways we can increase primary birthing numbers (ie. women giving birth in birth centres or at home). MATCON is a maternity conference held by the Ministry of Health which brings together maternity practitioners, DHB representatives, NZCOM representatives, Midwifery Council representatives, MOH representatives and consumer representatives to discuss maternity issues over three full days. I made the most of this opportunity to network around our VFP work, handing out our brochures, and encouraging as many people as I could to take and read copies of the Birth Trauma Survey Report.

Last year I was also offered the chance to speak at a Maternal Mental Health Symposium at the Waikato Hospital during PND Awareness Week. I talked about the survey findings, doing my best to spread word of the effects of traumatic birth on NZ families and ways we can improve support for them.

In 2015 Jenni and I held five Birth Trauma Support Workshops. We were a little disheartened that we didn't have more attendees (usually 3 - 5 women/couples each session), especially given that they are free to attend. However, the 2 1/2 hours was only just enough time for people to share their stories as it was, so perhaps the small numbers were a good thing. We had wonderful feedback from all our participants, which was very encouraging. Hopefully, word will spread about these workshops and more people will attend this year. It says quite a lot that we had families from Taupo, Tauranga and Auckland drive to Hamilton to attend these workshops!

Much of the VFP work that I did in 2015 was one-to-one support with women or couples, either in person or via Skype. It's been amazing, the healing that's taken place for those women, and for those who were pregnant at the time of receiving VFP support, every one has gone on to achieve a really positive and empowering next birth experience. So very cool and incredibly exciting!!! I feel so encouraged by this work, I only wish I could offer such support free of charge! 

Speaking of funding... We are still fumbling our way through establishing what sort of entity we are given that we would dearly like for the support we offer to be available to everyone in need, not just those who can afford it. Although we are a Not For Profit organisation, we do need to ensure that we are receiving an income for the important work that we do, otherwise VFP will be unsustainable and such support won't be available at all. We are in the process of gaining 'Charitable Status' via the Charities Commission, and I have spent many hours in discussions with Community Trusts to see whether we might be able to receive funding. Unfortunately, it's going to be a long slow road to be able to access funding, and there are no guarantees at the end of it. In the meantime, we will continue to volunteer our time and services in the way of free Birth Trauma Support workshops, and we offer paid services at largely reduced rates for CSC holders as well as the option for people to pay invoices off at $10 per week. If anyone has some genius funding ideas out there, please let us know!

Looking to the year ahead, we are going to continue our free workshops and would even like to trial an on-line workshop so that those outside of Hamilton who want to partake are able to do so (watch this space!). I am hoping the one-on-one work will continue to roll in. Hopefully we are able to have some productive conversations with maternity and postnatal care provider organisations, such as Plunket, GP practices, the Midwifery Council, to see whether we can run some education sessions with the practitioners who work with birthing women and new mothers. It would be great if we could do some work that isn't just 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' stuff - some fence building at the top of the cliff would be ideal!

We will continue to look into ways of accessing funding - there are still a number of opportunities we haven't yet explored. And we will keep networking, doing what we can to spread word of the services that we offer. We'll also keep posting on our Voice for Parents Facebook page and keep up with the administrative tasks involved in hosting the Birth Trauma Support NZ Facebook group that we started. This group as been an amazing source of community support for people who have experienced birth trauma. If you know someone who has experienced a traumatic birth, I would really encourage you to let them know about this closed Facebook group. It's a safe space to share stories and offer support to others who have been through similar.

Finally, I am going to do my best to write regular blog posts about birth trauma related matters. Since the report that I wrote on the birth trauma survey we did is is darned lengthy, the plan was to write shorter blog posts about aspects of the findings and link them back to the report. This way, people could learn about the report contents in smaller, more manageable bites. I didn't manage to find the time to commit to that writing last year, but I'm determined to have a go this year and am putting steps in place to create some writing time amongst my weekly schedule.

Thanks for taking the time to read about what we've been up to and where we're headed. If you have any ideas or suggestions you'd like to share with us please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

All the best for a fulfilling, productive and nourishing 2016!


Carla and Jenni