Guided by ‘why’

This CEO’s Report was delivered at our Annual General Meeting and Celebration Evening on Thursday 19th October at Queen Victoria Women’s Centre in Melbourne.

My name is Olivia and I’m the CEO of Birth for Humankind. We are a woman-powered, passion-filled non-profit organisation that believes every mother should have the care and support she needs during pregnancy, birth and early parenting.

I’d like to speak to our ‘why’ — why we exist as an organisation, why our team turn up to work every day, why our doulas volunteer their time and skills and why our donors and the community support our work.

Many of us in the room tonight know how challenging and overwhelming the journey to motherhood can be — dealing with hormone fluctuations, body changes, stressful thoughts about the future, doubt over whether we will be able to give our baby all that we desire for their future, navigating the changes to our family relationships when one more is added to the mix, and dealing with the financial pressures that come with expanding the family — to name a few.

All these challenges are experienced by women who have planned for their baby, who are employed and have a safe roof over their heads, who have access to quality healthcare, who have a supportive partner and who are at an age or stage of their lives when they feel ready to have a baby. How much more stressful and overwhelming must pregnancy, child-birth and the thought of caring for a newborn be for women who don’t have those things?

Imagine women with unplanned pregnancies at times in their life where they don’t feel ready for this. Women who are experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, or mental illness. Women with strained or disintegrated family relationships, who are lacking a partner or have an abusive or unsupportive partner. Women who have recently arrived in Australia as refugees or asylum seekers, here without their support circle, in a foreign culture, trying to speak a foreign language.

And yet, through all of this, a baby is cause for celebration. A baby that brings joy and demonstrates unconditional love from the get go, something we can all learn from.

Our volunteer doulas and their clients

Birth for Humankind provides support, care and education for women experiencing social and economic disadvantage, women that would not otherwise have access to it. We are often the only voice celebrating with the mother, advocating for her rights, informing her of her options, and validating her and her choices. Our organisational values are celebration, connection, trust, respect and equity — and we live these every time we work with a woman and her family. We believe that this work has the potential to change lives and futures for the mothers and babies we support and, in the long-run, society as a whole.

Our Comms Manager Carmen and I with young mum and guest speaker Nafisa

I’d like to share a couple of stories that highlight why I’m here and why I feel so passionately about this work. I spent the last decade living in South Africa, a land of extreme socioeconomic disparity and inequality, and one that still bears the deep scars of Apartheid and the racial and socioeconomic inequity that came with it. I had many experiences that filled me with a passion for working to improve women’s care and outcomes during child-birth. I was a birth partner for a 13 year old who was sexually assaulted on her way home from school. I counselled my team after they witnessed a still-born baby born on the side of the road whilst the mother waited for an ambulance that never came. I was the one who had to tell a 20-year-old woman who had gone into labour at 22 weeks due to unmanaged pre-eclampsia, that her baby was no longer alive. She ended up having to give birth to her baby in an ambulance on the way to the hospital with no pain medication and was then placed in a maternity ward full of mothers and their babies. I’ve wept with mothers after they have learnt that their babies are HIV positive and will likely only live until their early teen years. I’ve seen mothers lose their premmie babies because the hospitals had no neonatal nurseries.

All these women, and many more whose lives I had the privilege of being involved in, were young, poor, women of colour. The harsh reality is that their experiences and outcomes in childbirth were highly likely to have been remarkably different if they were older, richer and whiter. This is an uncomfortable fact to sit with and it’s something that we wish were not true — but sadly, it is. And this is not just occurring in developing countries. This is occurring the world over, including right here in Melbourne, Australia. It might not be as extreme and obvious as in Africa, but even in its more subtle forms, it’s still not okay. And I’m not okay with it. It doesn’t sit right in my heart. I’m here because I want to see that change and I believe that Birth for Humankind can be a part of that change. If we can change and improve maternal health experiences and outcomes for even one woman, then our work is worthwhile and we must continue it.

This is my why. We all have our whys or our purposes. May we let our ‘why’ drive us with passion and purpose every day.

We are excited about the future. We want to grow this community of passionate birth enthusiasts who believe that positive birthing experiences and outcomes should be something afforded to all women, regardless of their circumstances. We want to go deeper, go further, mobilise more volunteer doulas, further develop our education programs, ground our efforts in research, advocate for the changes we wish to see, reach more women in need, empower and celebrate with mums, create better starts in life for babies.

There’s a word in Zulu language from South Africa that is ‘Ubuntu’ and it means ‘I am because you are’. Together we are a movement of people passionate about improving birth experiences and outcomes for the most vulnerable women in our society.

We can’t do it alone. In so many ways, you make it possible for us to do this. Thank you for being on this journey with us, and may it continue for as long as there is a need for it to.

Thank you.”

~~ Launching: Celebrating the journey, Annual Report 2016–2017~~

We wanted to create a document that really showcases the work that we do and the women and families we support — and I think that’s exactly what this annual report does. You can download your copy here and we’d love if you shared it far and wide!