I am Catherine Bell
The Birth Cartographer, author of The Birth Map: boldly going where no birth plan has gone before and creator of The Game of Birth.
I was a mother-in-waiting for three years, but it was not until I was in ‘the club’ that I became privy to specific knowledge – after I needed it. There have been so many ‘if I knew then’ moments!
By the time my third was born, I had completed my Master in Science Communication, which I had begun before having children and trained as a birth doula and as a breastfeeding educator and counsellor (with the Australian Breastfeeding Association). The training revealed the lost information that all mothers need and drove me to improve the woeful communication in maternity services.
My website was born out of my drive to share this knowledge. I was frustrated at the need-to-know nature of the maternity system and the limited information provided when facing decisions.
To provide all women with the means to make informed decisions regarding their pregnancy care, labour, birth and parenting
The doula training had provided me with a ‘birth plan’ template, which was to guide preparations and decision making for childbearing women. However, I found this template inadequate and restrictive, so I expanded it and accidently wrote a book, which forms the intervention of this study, called The Birth Map. This book evolved out of the questions I wish I had asked, and the questions my mother-friends shared: if I had known X, I would have made a different decision. I developed a process around the book called Birth Cartography, which gave some structure, in a way that the birth plan did not. Women needed to understand that they could (and were expected to) make decisions during pregnancy, labour and birth, and beyond. They needed to know what they didn’t know!
The next phase in my mission is to test my hypothesis, that Birth Cartography is the bridge to facilitating communication and informed decision making, with a PhD study. The anecdotal evidence suggests that Birth Cartography has the potential to improve birth for women, their partners and the care providers. A simple revolution which takes us from an informed consent model into an informed decision making one. Woman-led Maternity: where care providers work together to support women, assist as needed and honour and respect the immensity of matrescence.
I have been summed up in three words: birth, death and playgrounds. In addition to being a birth doula, I completed Death Walker training with Zenith Virago, after seeing the parallels with birth care. I now sit on the board for Tender Funerals Canberra Region, where I see an alignment with birth cartography in the importance of the experience of dying and death is embraced and the options explained and supported. I am also an active maternity consumer advocate, with Maternity Choices Australia.
And the playgrounds? With the Braidwood Community Association, I helped secure a fabulous new intergenerational playground: a combination of community spirit, diplomacy and grant success. We repeated this success with the Braidwood’ Respect’ Skatepark, where I undertook the treasurer role in my capacity with Braidwood Youth Performing Arts Association.
Life Before Children
Becoming a Mother changes us. Significantly. In my Life Before Children, I was becoming a Marine Biologist – a marine mammal researcher. I was on the cusp of a PhD chasing killer whales around the Aleutian Islands (Alaska) when my biological clock started booming – months after the trip of a lifetime to the Antarctic. It was like I had ticked off my childhood dreams and was ready for adulthood. I replaced all thoughts of whales and PhDs (previously an intense passion) with visions of babies. It was a long-awaited pregnancy when it finally came, and in becoming a Mother, I transformed. I re-evaluated what mattered and found my scientific brain turning to breastfeeding knowledge and birth physiology. I channelled all my previous experience in new ways toward my current journey as The Birth Cartographer and the PhD about facilitating communication and maternal decision making in birth preparation.
I am still that Catherine from before. She is a part of me, but sometimes it is like she was a completely different person, someone I knew once, an old friend fondly remembered but not a part of my life any more. I still have her collection of Bryan Adams tapes and CDs.