What is birth positivity? We spoke to Maria Coleman to find out how this feel-good movement is benefiting expectant mums throughout the county.

Donegal mum Maria Coleman has become an advocate for the positive birth movement in the north-west, and is now working towards spreading her positive message to mums-to-be across the county.

Maria explained to Donegal Woman that pregnancy can seem quite scary, particularly with the dramatic depiction of labour in films and in television programmes such as ‘One Born Every Minute.’ A woman on her back, legs akimbo grimacing and howling in pain; this representation of birth leads to birth negativity, she says.

However, Maria is working to change this with free-to-attend Positive Birth Movement meet-ups, which promise to be a new beacon of positivity in the region.

The PBM is a global network of informal antenatal discussion groups that encourage peers to meet, discuss, and help navigate each other through the birth journey. In these groups, fear of childbirth is replaced by information, affirmation and empowerment.

Maria says: “I am particularly eager to get this movement going in Co. Donegal, since the county is unique in Ireland in that we have no midwife-led maternity unit, or supports for homebirth. Every birth therefore happens in hospital.

“In my own case, and for many other mothers in the county that meant an hour-long journey on bumpy roads, something that’s far from ideal for a birthing mother.”

Both of Maria’s children, born in 2008 and 2014, were born in Letterkenny, in situations she likes to describe as ‘homebirths in a hospital’.

Maria and her son Naoise in 2014

“I was doing a PhD when I got pregnant with our first child so it was a natural progression to wear my research hat with regard to pregnancy and birth.

“I was carrying a pelvic injury from a road traffic accident and I knew it would be more than foolhardy to attempt to fulfil my homebirth dream while living rurally with no supports, so I researched extensively to fully inform myself as to hospital procedures and quickly came to the conclusion that although I would deliver my baby in the hospital, I would not be accepting routine interventions and would instead be asking for a hands-off approach.

“My ‘secret weapons’ were preparation and support from my husband. I did yoga to strengthen and open my body and prepare me mentally for the challenges ahead.

“We hired a doula to come to our home and work with us one-to-one to prepare us for what to expect on the day. We both did Hypnobirthing training and Marie Mongan’s ‘Hypnobirthing’ book became my bible, and the accompanying CD became the soundtrack of the pregnancy and birth.

“The key to the whole thing was writing a well-considered birth plan – and this is a key piece of advice I would give anyone hoping to navigate a similar path. Crucially also, have your partner involved and informed regarding every element of the birth plan. He is your key advocate throughout, who can offer you support as well as gently, or forcefully remind the care staff of your wishes as the birth unfolds.

“I can’t wait to get the PBM meetings up and running in the county! I will travel to any area where 5 mothers or couples can gather, and through open and optimistic conversation around birth we can begin to change the narrative and spread positivity from a grassroots level. It’s important to me also that these meetings are free, so that there are no financial barriers there to stifle the message.”

Positive birth messages are already being channelled through a social media feed from the Facebook page ‘Positive Birth Donegal’ which Maria curates with the help of Letterkenny Doula, Erin Ponsonby.

Maria is also working on the website www.positivebirth.ie which will provide local, national and international sources of information regarding pregnancy, birth and postnatal supports.

“I would love to hear from people who want to share their positive birth stories to provide hope to those navigating the journey, so please make contact if you wish to share yours.”

Summing up her efforts, Maria’s closing message is simple: “I believe the greatest barrier to a positive birth experience is fear, and no matter how the journey unfolds, I know that information and preparation can change fear into empowerment.

“After all, birth is our female ‘superpower’ – and we need to reclaim it!”