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Can One Film Change Birth Around The World?

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Call me idealistic, call me brave, you can even call me stupid, but please don't question my desire to change the perception of birth around the world.

Ask parents-to-be what they expect their birth to be like and you'll probably hear descriptions of fear, pain, a dramatic dash to hospital and a highly medicalised delivery. This image of birth is regularly reaffirmed by "I Almost Died in Childbirth" headlines and TV shows like ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE.

CALL THE MIDWIFE has succeeded in projecting an image of birth as safe and positive in the hands of wonderful midwives, but that's a historical drama.

So what about birth in reality today?

I've always believed that filmmakers have the power to change the world. My mission is to show parents that birth can be a really positive experience and that it's achievable.

So starting March 22nd, I am coordinating hundreds of screenings around the world of my self-funded self-distributed documentary film DOULA! to coincide with World Doula Week.

DOULA! features three doula-supported births in intimate close-up detail. Two of the births are home water-births, the third birth progresses to a hospital c-section.

Doulas take their name from the Greek for "woman-servant" and although not medically trained, doulas are paid birth companions. They provide practical and emotional support to both parents through pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. Doulas are not a replacement to midwives, in fact our film highlights the amazing work of midwives in helping the mother to birth her baby.

As a filmmaker, I was inspired to focus on births after my daughter's difficult birth four years ago which resulted in an emergency c-section. That was before I knew about doulas. Before I knew that birth didn't have to be that way.

My first birth film REAL BIRTH STORIES features five couples' telling their warts-and-all birth stories. I wanted the film to reduce the fear of birth by telling expectant parents exactly what to expect step-by-step. At the premiere, a doula suggested my next film should be about doulas.

I luckily found parents who were willing to have me film their births. I shot, edited, produced and directed the film myself and together with my partner Alex Wakeford, we decided to self-distribute.

No-one can tell you how amazing and how beautiful birth can be. No-one can tell you what an amazing difference having a doula can make to your birth experience. You have to see it for yourself.

And that's why I have encouraged doulas around the world to set up their own local screenings. Anyone can host a screening during World Doula Week March 22-28 at any location for no fee.

The result is over 170 screenings happening across the globe from Alaska to Panama City, from the Scottish Highlands to Israel, from Eastern Europe to South East Asia.

Whether a woman has a natural delivery or a c-section, the film proves that whatever the circumstances, birth can be extremely positive and even beautiful for every expectant parent. If we can start to shift negative perceptions so that parents see what is possible and what is achievable, then we can start to transform the image of birth on a global scale.

If more women go into birth with less fear, ideally supported by a doula, then they'll be less likely to need medical intervention and more likely to breastfeed. A new survey by Doula UK released to coincide with World Doula Week bears this out.

The survey gathered data from 105 doulas and their 1,106 clients. The survey found that only 12 per cent of doula-supported births required medical interventions, such as the use of forceps, ventouse or C-sections, compared to the latest UK national figures of 37.3 per cent.

When it comes to breastfeeding, if supported by a doula, 93 per cent of women attempted breastfeeding compared to the latest Department of Health figure of 74.1 per cent. 70 per cent of mothers supported by a doula were still exclusively breastfeeding after six weeks compared to the UK national figure of 46 per cent.

I'm really proud of our DOULA! film and the positive message about birth it portrays. I am really excited that doulas around the world have seized this opportunity for hosting their own screenings.

So can one self-funded self-distributed documentary film change the world? I certainly hope so.

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For a world map of DOULA! screenings for World Doula Week: www.oneworldbirth.net/doula-week-screenings/doula-screenings/

For more information on DOULA!: www.doulafilm.com

For more information on REAL BIRTH STORIES : www.realbirthstories.com

Toni Harman's and Alex Wakeford's next project is ONE WORLD BIRTH; a documentary and free educational video resource featuring the world's leading birth experts to help promote positive births.
Visit: www.oneworldbirth.net