Finding a shared narrative: introducing the Re:Birth project

By Mary Ross Davie, Director for Professional Midwifery on 29 June 2021 Maternity Services Pregnancy

There is no doubt that the term ‘normal birth’ has become the focus of much debate over recent years in the UK. While many working in maternity care sit somewhere in the middle, the debate and discussion around normal birth has become polarised and often toxic. The impact of that is felt by maternity staff but also by those in our care.

That is why the Royal College of Midwives is taking the lead to find consensus and a shared language, with the start of our new collaborative project. The Re:Birth project aims, during the course of the year, to enable all of us in the maternity community across the UK – midwives, obstetricians, service users, support workers, students, researchers and others - to come together to develop a new, shared, positive narrative around birth.

This project aims to listen to those who are interested in birth and safe outcomes, and facilitate an agreement about how we might best collectively talk about different kinds of birth in a way that allows families to be heard and professionals supported. While the specific outcomes of the project will be shaped by our collaborative group and wider participants, our overarching aims are to:

  1. develop our shared understanding, and seek a consensus on what terms are both welcome and helpful for us all to use when we describe different types of birth;
  2. agree on clear, consistent terminology so that professionals and service users can be confident what different terms mean, why they are used and how others might feel about them;
  3. develop a clear narrative about what birth professionals hope for women and their families coming through our maternity services in the UK. This will need to include a clear description of the unique role of the midwife in supporting physiological processes, identifying and acting upon deviations from the norm and reducing morbidity and mortality.

We hope that, as a result of this collaborative approach, it will help maternity staff talk to women and families about the benefits and risks of different types of birth in an individualised, but evidence based, way and express to those we care for what we hope for them from their birth.

While this programme is being facilitated by the RCM, it is truly collaborative. The project is overseen by a broad-based project oversight group, made up of 24 representatives from a range of eight service user organisations, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and clinical and academic obstetricians, as well as midwives working clinically, Lead Midwives for Education, consultant midwives, and professors of midwifery.

The programme chair, Shirley Cramer, CBE, brings an independent perspective and a wealth of experience of positive facilitation and collaborative working. As Director of Professional Midwifery, I will be leading for the RCM, supported by our new research fellow, Dr Juliet Rayment. Juliet is a sociologist with 15 years’ experience of qualitative research and engagement in maternity services.

We can’t do this in isolation: we need you, our members, to get involved in the conversation, whether through taking part in surveys, focus groups or workshop events. 

We believe that this project can make a really positive contribution to the debate, moving us on in our thinking about language and its impact in maternity care. 

We look forward to working with you over the next nine months.