Free Our Midwives: A Case Study in Social Media & Birth Activism

by Hillary on July 22, 2011

in Activism, Case Studies

Hillary hadn’t even realized she was pregnant yet when we learned that midwifery in New York was in jeopardy. If new legislation didn’t pass, Hillary’s soon-to-be-planned homebirth would become illegal, right at her due date.

A small group of local birth activists in our community gathered around the kitchen table to take action, late at night after the day jobs were done and all of the kids were in bed. We learned that the statewide midwifery group had hired a lobbyist and gone to the capitol. Legislators told them that, for the bill to pass, moms needed to speak up. The lobbyist told us it would take years to accomplish.

Our local birth group is active, but small.We live in Ithaca, New York, lovingly described as “centrally isolated.” No major statewide effort had been launched in years, there was no master list of supportive moms, and no budget to speak of. So we turned to social media to find, educate, and mobilize a base of mothers.

Over the next nine months, we organized around that kitchen table many, many nights. We launched the Free Our Midwives blog, a facebook page, and a fledging twitter account. We developed strategies, messages and tactics designed to educate and mobilize our audience – moms and legislators.

By using social media, with nearly no budget, we were able to educate more than 14,000 women and activate thousands, not just from Ithaca or even central New York, but from every corner of the state. We even got well-wishes from supporters in Hawaii, Chicago, and Massachusettes. Those amazing women learned the issues and took action – calling, writing, and even visiting their legislators at the capitol. On one critical day, we were able to flood the governor’s office with calls in less than one hour.

Thanks to those efforts — alongside the work of the midwives — the legislation passed, the night before Hillary’s daughter was born, safely at home with her family and her midwife.

All of us who worked around the table were experienced in one way or another with organizing or social media. Hillary was a seasoned blogger and taught us all about social media. Jeanette came out of a communications and community organizing background. And Lauren had been a birth activist on the local and state level for years. But none of us were fully prepared for what would happen if we put those skills all together.

What we hope to share at Birthswell is the power of social media – paired with strategic thinking – to change the face of birth. Whether through influencing policy through efforts like freeourmidwives.org, by educational efforts like Text 4Baby, or through building your practice, social media can be harnessed to improve outcomes for all mothers and babies.

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