FIGO Congference, Vendor Area

Suzanne Arms -    Highlights & Impressions of BirthKeepers time at the FIGO Conference


Suzanne’s Highlights & Impressions of FIGO

October 27th, 2015


Hi Friends and Colleagues,

I hope your Sunday (or whatever day you read this) is going well and that you've each managed to create some "down" time for yourself this past week.


These are my reflections on the World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics that is known as "FIGO". It was held at the Vancouver Convention Center in British Columbia, Canada over 5 days early in September. And there were more than 7,500 attendees from every continent and dozens of countries.

3 of us went from the BirthKeepers, and Sandra Bardsley, President of APPPAH, joined us as our 4th booth person at the BKS booth in the nonprofit/charity section of the huge exhibit hall. The FIGO organizers graciously placed all the non-profit groups in one part of the hall and charged only $500 per booth space! 


It was a very important event for each of the 4 of us who staffed the BirthKeeper nonprofit booth: Deb Puterbaugh, Sandra Bardsley (President of APPPAH), Barbara Rivera (of and myself. We were immersed in non-white, non-USA cultures, peoples, and global issues; and it was eye-opening, mind-expanding and deeply touching…An important milestone for the Birth Movement and BirthKeepers.


We staffed the booth in pairs, so I didn’t get to know what Barb and Deb experienced. However, Deb and Barb were excited to find themselves in conversation with a young American OB resident who said that she completely agreed with everything we stand for, and that in her OB residency, most people stand on the side the need for  doctors to regain women’s trust and support their choices, as well as practice less invasively! That was very heartening indeed.


I was struck by a number of things... and deeply: 

First was the complete absence of the American College of OB-GYNs in the hall. No booth, no presence. Nada. AND then I was struck by the fact that the biggest issues women and girls face worldwide that relate to childbearing are similar in almost every part of the world, no matter how poor or wealthy:


1)  Women and girls are still being treated as inferior and deserving of neglect and abuse - and internalizing shame and low self-esteem is widespread. Despite this, they are gaining consciousness and empowering themselves in a variety of ways.


2)   Girls lack access to basic education and knowledge of their bodies and reproduction. This is proven to be the key factor in empowering girls and preventing them from having too many children, too young and too close together. Wherever girls get an education they, as women, tend to start having children later, their health is better, and they intentionally limit the number of children they have. And, no surprise, the mortality and morbidity rates of their children drop dramatically!


3)   Men in women's and girls' lives are still the major decision-makers about virtually everything that effects women and girls.


4)   Girls lack knowledge of their bodies and have shame about menstruation, and lack of basic knowledge about conception, complications of pregnancy and how to prevent/treat those problems.


5)   Girls and women lack of ability to protect themselves from rape and early forced marriage, and men are still the condoned perpetrators, raised from infancy to believe they are the dominant sex.


6)   Females lack awareness of, and access to, effective, safe and cheap contraception, so they have no power over their reproductive selves.


7)   Women lack access to both full prenatal care AND safe contraception and abortion and therefore have a high likelihood of preventable death or injury during their childbearing years.


8)   Girls and women who become pregnant lack prenatal care and knowledge about how to be healthy in pregnancy and enter birth without fear with confidence and trust in the process and their ability.


9)   There is a lack of knowledge of, and access to, first aid when they have problems in pregnancy, labor/birth or postpartum (fistulas being commonplace, caused by complicated and obstructed labors/births and bad care, having babies too young (when their pelvis is not fully formed), resulting in incontinence, smelling badly and being shunned and hidden away by families). 


Note: I did not learn this there; however, traditional birth attendants have, in many parts of the world, become less knowledgeable about the use of herbs and other effective natural remedies. This is a by-product of lowering women’s status in the community and lack of respect for midwives, as well as lack of knowledge of emergency first aid. This has been an ongoing effect of modernization, poverty and partriachally-designed societies.


Note #2:  I, for one, think it's time to start talking about the "root" cause of worldwide greed, violence and despair. [If you're interested in a good read and new info and scientific evidence, take a look at my husband, Bob Hartman's blogsite – - and be sure to read his blog on the “vulnerable male”. It contains important info every parent and care provider should know!]


On the positive side, from the perspective of the exhibitors in the FIGO exhibit hall it was clear that:


1)   Consciousness is rising worldwide about the sorry plight of most women and girls, and the immediate need to change that if we want healthy societies.


2)   Much is now being done by WHO (World Health Organization) and by Amnesty International and smaller groups (some religious, some not) to get girls and women access to knowledge about reproductive health and family planning and to get them contraception and information about the care of (and self-care for!) their bodies and reproductive capacity, including menstruation as well as birth and menopause.


I was surprised that the focus for Amnesty International at FIGO was the de-criminalization of abortion, and that they didn't have anything at their booth about high maternal and infant mortality in the USA. But I understand why they are focusing on abortion, because of the limited ability most women worldwide have to controlling their reproductive lives and the horrors they face when they seek abortion for any reason. Safe and accessible abortion was also a key focus of the WHO exhibit, in addition to education and family planning and access to safe contraception of all kinds.


Note:  Availability of, and access too, safe abortion is critical, no matter how you personally might feel about the ethics and morality of abortion. It's right up there with genital mutilation, an issue which, interestingly enough, I did not see anything about in the exhibit hall, though it is still a practice being done to girls in many countries. Why is abortion such a big issue for FIGO's health professionals? Because so many women die or their reproductive organs are  permanently injured by unsafe abortion.


FIGO was a global and world class event, with 7,500 people from every continent attending and many more people of color there than "white" folks. It is held every 3 years, each time on a different continent. The next FIGO Congress will be in Rio in Brazil in 2018. BirthKeepers intends to have a booth there!


The women and men who came to the exhibit hall included not only OB-GYNs  and heads of physician training programs but also some professional midwives, nurses and many high level officials in public health and policy and practices, and women and children's health and maternity care.


!!!   A number of med school professors and high-level public health policy folks came to our humble but brightly prayer flag-decorated booth and engaged in discussion. Most of them came from Africa , Asia & Latin America and were in full agreement with the need to help women have physiologically normal births, as well as the importance for full brain development and bonding, and the vision of every baby being a wanted, planned and prepared for child...and for every mother  -  and father - to be supported in their critical work of raising the next generation. We are not the only ones who hold this consciousness about the importance of the Primal Continuum of Human Development (which is the name we BirthKeepers have coined). And not only women, but a number of men, were right on the same page with us!  WOW.


It was striking that FIGO had very little big pharma presence - mostly Bayer - a striking comparison to ACOG's annual meeting, but then, ACOG is clearly a "trade" organization and its annual conference is dominated by big pharma and high tech companies and their huge booths, a sign of how much $$ equals power in the US world of OB-GYN.


Doctors Without Borders, the international humanitarian group was very present and one of their emergency tents was set up directly across from our booth. So we were constantly visually reminded of what our country (the USA) did in bombing the hospital in Afghanistan and killings of patients plus 13 DWB staff! The USA deserve to be tried in The Hague for War Crimes re that incident and that may happen!  In Vancouver, there were people on many street corners educating passersby about DWB and raising $$ for their good work!


In closing, I want to tell you how important it is that we in the US go to events that are international in scope, and that we understanding the impact our personal decisions have on women in other parts of the world, who see us something to model themselves after. We are far too isolated and insular in our thinking and need to understand what women, mothers and babies are facing worldwide.


The issues around the world are at the core very similar: too much ignorance, lack of understanding of the issues, and lack of caring and appropriate care. Most of the world does not yet suffer from the over-medicalization of fertility & infertility and childbirth, but it is there in the big cities - with high levels of unnecessary cesarean being the biggest issue, along with separation of mothers and babies, starting at birth. And the role that Nestle’s and other formula manufacturers play in destroying health by getting women to NOT breastfeed is enormous.


The concept of Birth Trauma and Preventing and Healing Trauma in the "Primal Continuum of Human Development", which is the main focus of BirthKeepers, has not yet come into common parlance.


We who consider ourselves BirthKeepers have such an important role to play in the wellbeing of women, the mother-baby dyad, fathers and the family, and the future of humanity. And it comes down to very practical, do-able changes that must be made from the grassroots level up and from the systemic level down...if we want to create a humanity no longer based in fear and defense, which shows up as conflict, greed, anxiety and loneliness. 


A few words about all the Canadians I met, in every kind of situation and at every level: they are a very different people from we Americans in the USA. Thoughtful, kind and generous to everyone, from the people who stopped to converse with the legless man seated on the sidewalk to the older man who stopped to talk to a pigeon with a lame leg....


Deb, Barb, Sandra and myself gave 100% at FIGO and had to raise our own funds to get and stay there. We left quite exhausted. But we know we planted many seeds. We inspired the people who came to our booth to think of themselves as "BirthKeepers" and they liked that!


We hope you will begin referring to yourself as a "BirthKeeper", regardless of the work you are doing, because it is a state of mind as well as a commitment to action.


I know we learned a great deal and that what we learned will be reflected in the next international event we attend. It will also be reflected in our upcoming 2nd BirthKeeper International Summit events in Washington DC next May 12-16th - focused on the critical issues in childbearing and the Primal Continuum of Human Development - as well as a legislative/health policy daylong “teach-in” that we're planning to educate legislators and public health people, and the demonstration we'll be having at ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists) that we will be putting on in conjunction with their next annual meeting.


Stay tuned!  Check often the Birthkeepers blog & website.

Mark your calendar to be in Washington, as soon as we announce the exact dates in mid-May 2016. We’ve just become a tax deductible nonprofit-charity, and your donations are welcome.


BirthKeepers will also be having our 1st invitational Working Retreat (for 50-70 people to come together at a beautiful retreat center in Virginia (called Seven Oaks) the last weekend in September 2016, next year. We’ll be collaborating in the creation of this international grassroots movement and how to work effectively with agencies, governments, physicians, etc.


That's all folks. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I've attached a couple of photos I took in Canada at FIGO.


With Love fromSuzanne Arms,

Founder-Director of Birthing The Future®

And a member of the BirthKeeper™ Council

Starting L to R, Sandra Bardsley, Suzanne Arms, Deb Puterbaugh