Their Birth, Their Way: Nikki Macfarlane

April 23, 2009

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrant: Lynne F.

Nominee: Nikki Macfarlane, Founder of Childbirth International

Nikki Macfarlane advocates for informed choice. She believes we have the right to make personal choices about our health and we make better decisions when we understand the implications – pros and cons – of the choices available to us.

Nikki’s professional work has focused for many years on pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. She helps women and their partners discover all their options and make informed choices that lead to their own best possible physical, emotional, and spiritual health as they go through perhaps the most important transformation of their lives: giving birth and then becoming parents.

Nikki’s work began as she trained to be a childbirth educator, helping women truly have “their birth, their way.” Nikki listened to women demoralized by impersonal and routine approaches to maternity care and developed tools to help women gain the skills and acquire the knowledge they needed to make their births personal, healthy and free of unnecessary and unwanted interventions.

Nikki’s approach to helping parents prepare for birth and parenthood was unique – she emphasized communication skills, decision-making skills, reflection, and assertiveness skills. These were unconventional topics for a childbirth class at the time, but stemmed from the realization that traditional classes were not enough to help women reach their goals. Women needed more than just facts and figures. They needed to take charge of their own health care decisions and work with their caregivers rather than just learn “what to expect.”

And so Nikki created Childbirth International (CBI). It offers the most comprehensive training and certification programs for birth doulas, postpartum doulas, childbirth educators, and breastfeeding counselors anywhere in the world. With CBI, Nikki’s vision of preparation for birth as a time for parents to discover their own power and abilities can reach many more women through each doula and each educator trained.

CBI’s message is that birth is about physical health as well as emotional discovery, self-reliance as well as developing a community, and personal growth as well as family connection. CBI’s students come from over 60 countries across the globe, helping each student connect her local birth culture to the traditions of the wider world. Her initiatives have already affected thousands of women globally.

Beyond CBI, Nikki:

  • Created large and thriving online forums where birth professionals and interested others can express their ideas and exchange important health information with a worldwide community.
  • Worked within the hospital system in her former home in Singapore to make positive changes for birthing women (introducing the first professional doula service in Singapore, developing the first labor pool in a hospital, establishing relationships between the medical community and women wanting more choices in birth).
  • Taught self awareness in schools to pre-adolescents to encourage them to respect their own bodies and minds as well as those of their partners and peers.
  • Continues to work on ways to provide education for women in developing countries about nutrition and about the harmful effects of many of the chemicals they use in their daily lives have on themselves and their children, born and unborn.
  • Is collaborating with indigenous women to preserve important health knowledge and local cultural perspectives on health and wellbeing, wisdom that is no longer being passed from generation to generation as faithfully as it was in the past.
  • Created a special memorial in a town in England for women to visit who had experienced a miscarriage: a statue was erected and a seat installed in a corner of the local park. This memorial raised awareness of the impact pregnancy loss can have on families.
  • Coordinated a peaceful but dramatic protest in Singapore against a local coffeeshop whose staff asked a woman to leave when she began to breastfeed her baby while sitting at a table. The protest received widespread press coverage and was one of the first events to draw attention to the importance of social support for breastfeeding.
  • Was involved in creating an art exhibition focusing on the customs and traditions of birthing women around the world to bring about an awareness that for most women in the world birth is normal and natural, and focuses on the needs of mother and child.

Nikki lives her commitment to helping women all over the world discover their ability to make positive change in their health and the health of their families, through pregnancy and birth and all parts of their lives!

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