The following is written by Annie Hampson.
Annie has been a Caseload Midwife at RBWH Birth Centre for the last 6 years. She has 2 young children aged 4 and 18 months, the first having been born in water at the Birth Centre. She has had the pleasure of working in a variety of teams with midwives such as Karen Marshall, Elaine Barrett, Corinne Mawn and currently with Carolanne Benson and Martha De Lacey. She loves working alongside Friends of the Birth Centre to continue to support the Birth Centre and to promote increased access to continuity of care for as many families as possible.
Holly Madeline Ditfort Williams was the first baby born in the Royal Women’s Birth Centre on 12th June 1995 at 11am. Her mother, Robyn, had a natural vaginal birth and used the bath in her labour. Holly was her second child and she was attended at the birth by founding midwives Marg Fein and Karen Marshall. Marg was a Labour Ward Charge Midwife who had been approached to look into the feasibility of setting up a Birth Centre at the then Royal Women’s Hospital. With a small budget the end of ward M17 was converted into a small Birth Centre and Karen and Marg began recruiting clients. The Birth Centre had originated out of community lobbying for a family centred birthing unit after the closure of Boothville Hospital which was a small private hospital offering a homely environment in which to birth. We know Marg and Karen were ecstatic to be able to provide this continuity of care at Birth Centre but we were also interested in what it was like to be the first Mum to birth there. Luckily, Robyn Williams agreed to share some insight with us all.
Birth Centre was such a brand new space when you were accepted to birth your baby there - why did you choose BC care?
After the birth of my first baby in 1992 (private system, male obstetrician) - and all manner of interventions - I felt really strongly that I wanted to be cared for by women in this pregnancy. I was living away from my family and the choice to be cared for during my pregnancy by a female midwife seemed the perfect solution. I needed to be nurtured in body and mind, and to heal from my previous birth experience and when I heard the philosophy behind the BC I knew I had found what I was looking for.
Did your friends find your choices strange?
A lot of people had no idea what a BC was. Some said things like "you're braver than me" or "I couldn't do that" (natural childbirth). Some thought I was taking a risk not having an obstetrician, and going into the public system. In some ways it was a leap of faith to try this 'new' concept, but it just felt right. I never waivered in feeling that's where I wanted to be.
What do you remember about your pregnancy care and birth experience? Does anything particularly stick out in your memory?
I think I breezed through my pregnancy. I always felt well and healthy while pregnant. I was able to cast off the negativity of my previous birth by talking to my lovely midwife, Marg (Fien) about that experience and I found a new confidence in myself and my body ... and its ability to birth as nature had always intended. We celebrated my pregnancy as it progressed by being in this unique partnership.
What was the environment and the midwifery care like?
In terms of the physical environment, to be honest, it’s probably much different from the BC today. It was a hospital ward, which felt quite isolated from the rest of the hospital. There was still "political tension" then as the BC was forging its identity and more and more women/families were seeking its services. I spent the first night on my own, with Holly. My partner was at home with our other child.
When you think of your experience and see that FBC are celebrating 20 years - how does it make you feel?
I am so grateful and happy that other women/families can continue to birth at the BC, and for all the advocacy work women/families have been doing over this time to ensure that this model of care continues to be a birth choice for women in Queensland and beyond.
Do you think your birth experience has impacted your life as a mother, a women and/or in your career?
What my birth at the BC did for me was restore my faith in my body's ability to birth. It was very empowering. Even I wasn't sure I could birth naturally and at one point during my pregnancy I convinced myself I didn't have what it takes. A lovely English midwife called Jane who worked at the BC and also with me at the Young Parents Program visited and reassured me that I was completely capable. She lent me a book called "A Wise Birth" written by a midwife that had supported Amish women to birth for many, many years. And I realised I didn't need to fight these anxious feelings, or be afraid ... because women were designed to birth and it was only man-made interventions and processes that had taken away ownership of our bodies, and the birthing process, from women over the years.
As a mother and a woman I can't speak highly enough about the BC and the opportunity for women to choose how they birth. There are so many avenues in this life where women do not have a say, or are undervalued and the BC is completely the opposite. It is women-centred, your wishes are respected and supported and you feel that you are very important. If wider society could reflect the value, care and attention placed on empowering women to have a choice, we would have a very different dynamic in this world. We still have a long way to go before equity and equality are the norm for women.
My BC experience has contributed to shaping me as a person.
Do you think your daughter is open to the birthing choices you’ve chosen for yourself?
Yes, she's quite proud of the fact that she was the first baby to be born at the BC and understands why it was important to me that she was born in that environment and with midwife care. I would support her in any birthing choice she made, but I think she might be a long way off having babies at the moment.
Did you have further children/births in the BC or other similar models anywhere?
I had my 3rd baby at the Mercy Birth Centre here in Melbourne
What is Holly doing now?
Holly has had a gap year since finishing high school and has enrolled at Deakin University for mid-year entry. For me, success is not about what Holly is doing right now, but who she is as a person. She has become a beautiful young woman, and has been a blessing to us in many ways. She is loyal, intuitive, compassionate, creative and kind, and puts others before herself. She is the calm one, when others around her are in chaos. She loves being creative, long walks, our cats and being with her family ... and loves a coffee and chocolate (a woman after my own heart!).
I think you’ll agree that Robyn gives us a great insight, not only into her own experience, but also fundamentally why we do what we do at the Birth Centre. One of the most amazing things we can offer is the opportunity to birth with a known midwife. The ability and strength of a woman is endless, particularly when she believes in herself, trusts her midwife and feels in control. In this way even a birth that doesn’t go quite to plan can be a very empowering experience.
The Birth Centre now has more midwives than ever and unending passion to deliver the ‘gold standard’ of maternity care for many years to come. Karen Marshall continues to care for families and share her wisdom and experience to this day which is testament to the model of care. We owe much to the support of Friends of the Birth Centre and wholeheartedly support all their efforts to increase the availability of continuity of midwifery care to as many families as possible.
A big thank you to Robyn Williams for sharing your story, I know many expectant mothers out there will find inspiration and strength in your words. We hope your family enjoy a wonderful birthday celebration. Happy Birthday Holly!
Our FBC Committee Members will keep you updated on the various fundraising, consumer representative and information events they participate in during the year.