Lamaze Roundtable Reflection - An Interview with Lamaze International President Maria Brooks

By Sharon Muza

maria-brooks-headshot-2015.jpgAs Lamaze International Board of Directors and staff prepare for the second annual Hill Day later this month, I sat down with Maria Brooks, Lamaze International President to talk about some of the results of that first Hill Day  - the successful roundtable on childbirth education that we hosted in December of 2015. A full detailed report of the results of this roundtable is being finalized for release to Lamaze International members, roundtable participants and the public later next week.  In preparation for that report - Maria shared with me some more information about the roundtable results.

Sharon Muza: How did Lamaze come to the decision to host a roundtable on childbirth education?

Maria Brooks: Last April, Lamaze hosted our first Hill Day, where Board members traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congressional staff to raise awareness about Lamaze and the role that evidence-based childbirth education has in improving childbirth outcomes. The experience was really positive—and a great way to launch our advocacy initiative. It was great to let legislators know Lamaze International is alive and well.

These meetings generated a lot of momentum, so we decided to host a roundtable and invite prenatal and maternity stakeholder groups to discuss the role that quality evidence-based childbirth education has in improving childbirth outcomes.

SM: What did Lamaze hope to achieve by hosting a roundtable?

MB: Lamaze has a distinct role in prenatal care, but we are often overlooked due to the false belief that prenatal education (outside of the midwife or doctor visit) is unnecessary. We are taking our place with other organizations and providers who are joining the call to tackle America’s rising maternal mortality and morbidity—and improve childbirth outcomes in general. Lamaze plays a key part in this effort. 

Improving childbirth outcomes is a multi-faceted initiative, so collaboration is really the best way to go. Lamaze wanted to be that catalysts that brought these powerful groups together. By bringing so many organizations together, we wanted to not only inform them about the growing importance of evidence-based childbirth education, but to start a discussion about how Lamaze can increase access to quality childbirth education for all women in the United States.

SM: Had Lamaze ever done something like this before?

MB: This was our first roundtable and we were really thrilled with the enthusiastic responses from our sister organizations and other groups that we hadn’t had a chance to work with in the past. This was a great step in becoming more involved in the collaborative effort to improve childbirth outcomes that is currently underway.

SM: What were some of the highlights of the Roundtable discussions?

MB: It’s really hard to name just a few. One thing that stuck with me was hearing how Lamaze had impacted everyone around the table. We started the day by asking participants what “Lamaze Is” to them and it was amazing to hear all of the touching—and powerful—responses. Lamaze is relevant. Lamaze is for everyone. Lamaze is fresh... And we who call ourself Lamaze should be very proud.

It was also inspiring to hear from participants about their organizations’ many initiatives that are underway to improve childbirth outcomes. There really is a lot going on—both locally and nationally. We held break-out sessions during the lunch hour and it was humbling to hear all of the ideas these discussions generated.

roundtable 2015 2.jpgI was especially excited to see how eager the participants were to collaborate on current and future efforts. Many of the participants were already familiar with each other—but not everyone. So it was great to see new relationships formed and so many ideas exchanged.

What the gathering group learned is that we are all in this together. And the more we partner and support each other, the more successful each group will be—and the better off women and children will be. I think it was a telling sign that so many participants lingered after we wrapped up for the day to basically continue the conversation. That was really gratifying.  

SM: What did you learn from the Roundtable discussions? What did you learn from the participants?

MB: I learned that collectively, childbirth advocacy has a lot of promising efforts going on. But we still have a long way to go. There isn’t just one solution and the collaborative approach—where each group can use its expertise to contribute to the collective effort, is key. We are stronger together.

SM: Most Roundtable participants were familiar with the Lamaze brand and its role in childbirth education. What were some of the Roundtable participants’ perceptions regarding Lamaze and childbirth education?

MB: Lamaze’s brand is strong. It means something to everyone, whether you’ve participated in Lamaze’s classes, whether your mom did, whether you wish you did—everyone knows Lamaze. One of the challenges Lamaze has is to ensure that everyone knows Lamaze as it is today—it’s more than a breathing technique—we’re on the frontlines of childbirth education; we’re innovative and always looking forward. Our Lamaze Certified Educators (LCCE) bring quality parent education to the table.

SM: Did these perceptions change by the end of the day?

MB: I think Lamaze showed the potential we have as an organization to make a difference in the collective childbirth outcomes campaign. We’re educators foremost, but stepping up and into the national and state advocacy worlds is something we need to do reach women who either can’t reach us or don’t know the importance of comprehensive childbirth education.

SM: What would you say was the key Roundtable takeaway for Lamaze and the Roundtable participants?

MB: The collective potential of everyone at the Roundtable. There was so much talent present and it was rejuvenating to see just how much energy that the discussions generated.  

SM: How will Lamaze make a difference in the multi-stakeholder efforts to improve childbirth outcomes in the United States?

MB: It’s an expansive effort and we play a very specific—and critical—role. Our Roundtable report outlines our strategies for becoming more of a consumer resource; generating evidence that shows the benefits of Lamaze’s curriculum; working with other groups and organizations; and reaching out to midwives, doctors, hospitals, birth centers, and insurance companies to really get the word out on how Lamaze education improves childbirth outcomes.

SM: What are some of the next steps for Lamaze’s advocacy efforts?

MB: Lamaze’s Board has another Hill Day this April, where we’ll meet with Congressional offices to continue to raise awareness about the importance of evidence-based childbirth education and to discuss Lamaze’s strategic role in improving childbirth outcomes. We have a lot to say, so we’ll be busy! With one Hill Day already under our belt and the success of the first Roundtable, we feel unstoppable.

SM: What is Lamaze today and what will Lamaze be in five years?

MB: I like this question because there is so much potential. Lamaze has the benefit of its strong brand, but we also need to evolve to stay relevant and accessible to ALL women and ALL families. Going forward, I think we’ll have a stronger voice in the state and national discussions on prenatal care and childbirth. But we’ll also be calling on our members to join the effort to promote Lamaze and reach women in every pocket of the country. Lamaze is YOU!

Our goal is to show how Lamaze’s education can uniquely reduce many childbirth complications. We’ll always be true to our mission to educate women and their partners. To do that, we must also educate Congress, midwives, doctors, hospitals, birth centers, and insurance companies on the positive difference that Lamaze makes.

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