Thursday, April 28, 2011

Just Be Gentle

Advocating gentle birthing


CHANGE can only happen if women ask for what they want, as Ruth Miller and Joanna Cheryan, founders of The Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia (GBG), discovered.

Joanna Cheryan, one of the co-founders of The Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia, an NGO that promotes women’s right to make informed decisions on their childbirth.

Founded about two years ago, GBG is a support/advocacy group that holds informal talks or get-togethers twice a month for mums or mothers-to-be to share birth stories or ask questions.

“The Group came about originally because Ruth and I wanted do water birth, which wasn’t available in the Klang Valley at that time,” says Cheryan of the UK, who is married to a Malaysian.

“We approached Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, and Ruth said to them, ‘I’m prepared to buy the pool from the UK and get it shipped over. Here’s the info pack for the staff and nurses. So can we do it?”

The hospital asked the ladies to find out if there’s enough interest in water birth. Miller collected more than 100 signatures from women interested not just in water birth, but also other drug-free, natural birthing options.

Karin Heinimann-Martin is currently the only certified doula in Malaysia. She provides emotional support and encouragement to women during their labour.

In June 2009, Cheryan delivered her third child, a baby girl, via water birth at Pantai, a first for the hospital too. Miller had since moved to Adelaide.

“The Group is really about giving women the option of having the kind of birth they want to have and supporting them throughout,” explains Cheryan, who delivered her first child via water birth in The Netherlands.

“Here, it’s so easy if you want to have C-section or epidural. But having a normal birth with no intervention is so difficult.”

Like Cheryan, Nadine Ghows, an active GBG member, finds that most of her friends here either have gone through traumatic birthing experiences or didn’t know of the different birthing options available here.

“Because of our healthcare system and years of brainwashing – horror stories of births or inaccurate portrayals on the media, many people view medical interventions as the norm in childbirth,” says Ghows of Kuala Lumpur. “They don’t believe that birth can actually be empowering and gratifying.”

Kuala Lumpur-based Nadine Ghows’s natural childbirth experiences inspired her to advocate for gentle birthing

The Group advocates getting women to shop for the right care provider who can help them realise their birth wishes, arm themselves with information about risks associated with interventions, know their rights, and question the doctor.

GBG is also affiliated with ibu Family Resource Group (, a membership-based NGO that provides pregnancy and baby wellness support and playgroups.

Yong Mei Fong, 32, delivered her baby boy using the waterbirth method. Water immersion is a good pain-relief and a gentle birthing option for mothers who want a drug-free birth.

“If the woman is able to make informed decisions surrounding her birth, she is likely to come away from her birth feeling satisfied and empowered – regardless of whether she had intervention or not,” says Ghows, who experienced drug-free natural births twice.

“Also, the pre-natal care that a woman receives goes a long way in determining the outcome of the birth. The more she feels cared for and understood, the more likely her natural instincts will take over and she can birth her baby with ease.”

“Our challenge now is to see how we can go further to change perceptions and create more awareness,” adds Cheryan. The Group plans to produce an information pack with questions women could ask their doctors.

The Gentle Birthing Group Malaysia is on Facebook

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