Childbirth and the Court of Protection seminar

On 8th March, Birthrights, alongside Queen Mary’s School of Law and 39 Essex Chambers, will be putting on a seminar taking a critical look at the recent trend of forced caesarean decisions in the Court of Protection.

The seminar (17.00 – 19.00) will feature an impressive line up of panelists including: Professor Lesley Page CBE, President of The Royal College of Midwives, Dr Daghni Rajasingam, Consultant Obstetrician, Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Jo Black, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director for Perinatal Mental Health at NHS England, Polly Sands, specialist perinatal mental health midwife at Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Trust, Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan, writer, mental health blogger, and mum of one, in addition to Elizabeth Prochaska, Matrix Chambers and Birthrights and Victoria Butler-Cole, 39 Essex Chambers.

The event is primarily aimed at lawyers, and judges working in the Court of Protection but healthcare professionals and anyone else with an interest are more than welcome.

To reserve a place please contact: Beth Williams ( / 020 7832 1155

More information about the event can be found here.

Fighting the Fear: Providing positive maternity care in a litigation culture

We are delighted to announce an exciting event to be held on 30 September in London.

“Fighting the Fear: Providing positive maternity care in a litigation culture” offers a day of supportive discussion and reflection about fear of litigation, its impact on maternity care and strategies for overcoming it. We will hear from leading lawyers and midwives in constructive sessions designed to improve understanding, confidence and assertiveness in those who support women during pregnancy and birth.

It will be held at Conway Hall, home to the South Place Ethical Society, on High Holborn, London WC1R 4RL.

This is a low-cost event (£35 per ticket) aimed specifically at midwives and will be particularly useful to those working within the NHS. During the day we aim to inspire confidence in each delegate by:

– giving accurate information on how clinical negligence law can impact on midwifery
– discussing how fear around litigation can affect midwives, their practice and the women they care for
– providing positive discussion and strategies to combat the fear and confusion that our litigation culture can produce

We will welcome speakers including Hannah Dahlen, Sheena Byrom, Mary Nolan, Alison Brown and Janet Sayers. Fiona Timmins will also join us in the afternoon to offer assertiveness training, with strategies specifically developed for midwives. We will be seeking, and expect to receive, RCM accreditation for the event.

Programme available here.
Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite.

In advance of the event, we are surveying midwives on their experiences of assertiveness in the workplace. Please take our survey!

Listen to our birth & motherhood seminar

Missed our first Birth and Motherhood seminar at The Open University? You can listen to a recording of the event in full below.

Note – MP3 not supported on Firefox browsers.

The seminar series continues on March 26 when Professor Kehily will present her work on research methods for understanding motherhood as a changing identity. More details here.

‘Captured womb’: feminism, childbirth and motherhood

Deborah Talbot explores the relationship between birthing experiences and the transition to motherhood.

Ann Oakley wrote in her seminal work on childbirth and motherhood, Women Confined, that ‘the medicalisation of childbirth has changed the subjective experience of reproduction altogether, making dependence on others instead of dependence on self a condition of the achievement of motherhood’ (1980, p.98). For Oakley, a core part of the feminist project was control over one’s own body; childbirth, in the context of increasing medical intervWomen Confinedentions, no matter how well-meaning, was a critical moment in the social control of women’s bodies.  The core question of ‘who owns my body, myself or the state’ is answered in Oakley’s work.

Yet since then there has been a resounding silence on the relationship between the feminist project, birthing and motherhood. Of course birth doulas and midwives talk about these matters, and the natural birth movement through organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust have highlighted some core concerns (albeit with their own strictures), and there has been specialised research done, but it has thus far remained on the margins of debate. Of course, rape, contraception, work and childcare are important aspects of women’s equality; although arguably the equation of work with equality – a capitalist hijacking of oppression – unravels when children arrive, and is perhaps more to do with the lack of flexible work and work/life balance for all, than the lack of childcare as successive governments have claimed.  The embodiments involved with being pregnant, giving birth, being a mother, seem to sit uncomfortably and messily with recent feminist demands for equality and inclusion, precisely because it is a condition of difference and, in our work obsessed and micromanaged society, deviance.

These issues were all raised in the first seminar of a new seminar series organised by Birthrights and myself, and sponsored by Centre for Citizenship, Identity and Governance at The Open University.

Elizabeth Prochaska presented a range of perspectives around dignity in birth, including highlighting the importance of rethinking the feminist project to be inclusive of birthing and motherhood. So she argued that ‘there is a need to match up feminist discourse with women’s experiences of their bodily integrity through pregnancy and childbirth…feminism is quite uncomfortable with the concept of motherhood. It doesn’t know what to say about it or construct it in any positive way’. She cited the case in 2013 in Essex of a women who had her baby removed from her by forced caesarian section because of a breakdown; this underlies the increasing lack of control women have over their own bodies and when, in the words of an article of the Lancet (2010) ‘Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk.’

Nicky McGuinness presented research around midwives’ perspectives, touching on issues of consent and control even for the most committed midwives. Her research showed that her sample thought and cared deeply about how women were treated during labour, but that ‘there was a feeling that sometimes biased presentation and/or coercion was used to manipulate women to make certain choices that were in line with recommendations and guidelines‘. The subsequent discussion focused on the surveillance and control of women’s bodies through the dominance of risk management in the NHS, where women’s compliance is expected and delivered, and midwives use of guidelines secured, through the threat of likely harm or risk particularly to the baby. The discussion was very lively and demonstrated an appetite not just for thinking about birthing and motherhood, but how we might begin to articulate a narrative of resistance.

I will present the next seminar on the 26th February, and will be taking forward these themes by examining research I conducted in 2013 exploring the relationship between birthing experiences and the transition to motherhood.

For further information on the seminar series and to register for future events follow this link.


New seminar series – Birthing and Early Motherhood

Birthrights and the Open University are hosting, from January 2014, a series of six seminars on the subject of ‘Birthing and Motherhood’.

The seminars aim to bring together researchers, health professionals and all those interested in the subject to generate research agendas on the themes of the birthing experience, early motherhood, and the concept of dignity in childbirth. Each seminar will present a paper outlining new research and thinking, and participants will have an opportunity to talk through the findings and think about new directions for research.

Please contact Deborah Talbot for further information, to register interest for the purposes of catering, and if you would like to present a paper.

Seminars are free to attend.

Seminar 1: 29th January 2014, 1-3pm

Elizabeth Prochaska (Birthrights) and Nicky McGuinness (Freelance qualitative social researcher)
Researching respectful care in childbirth

Room 1AB
Open University Camden Centre, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP

Seminar 2: 26th February 2014, 1-3pm

Dr Deborah Talbot (Open University)
Exploring the relationship between birth experiences and early motherhood

Room 1AB
Open University Camden Centre, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP

Subsequent seminars 26th March, 30th April, 28th May, 25th June, 1-3pm, Open University Camden Centre.