Helene Vadeboncoeur

Hélène Vadeboncoeur

Many years after having children, Hélène Vadeboncoeur discovered that ever since her maternal great-great-grandmother gave birth in Ivy Bridge (England), most of the women she knew, as well as her direct ancestors, had had some serious problems while giving birth. Her own mother had had to fight in order to not be put asleep while having her first baby. Pondering these issues and considering her own experiences, in her early 40s Hélène decided to become a childbirth researcher.

Before having children Hélène had worked in the field of education, teaching children with learning disabilities. After having her own children, her priorities changed and she started working as a freelance researcher and consultant, mostly in the field of childbirth. One of her first contracts was to write a long article on VBAC for the Quebec women’s magazine Naissance- Renaissance, L’Une à L’Autre [meaning ’Birth-Rebirth, Woman to Woman’]. This article won her a prize from a Canadian association of specialised journalists and Hélène later expanded the original article into a book on VBAC, addressing women directly. It was, and still is, the only book ever published in French on VBAC and was the basis for a second edition and also for this book, which has been adapted for Britain.

All along, Hélène has been preoccupied by the lack of informed choice women seem to have when facing childbirth. In an attempt to explore reasons and options, when Hélène was in her early 40s she decided to go back to university to learn more about evidence-based obstetrics, which was at that time a relatively new preoccupation in the field of birth.

While studying for an MSc in Public Health, Hélène worked for five years for the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services and part of her work involved setting up out-of-hospital birthing centres. For her dissertation, Hélène did a comparative study on what had led two Canadian provinces to take very different approaches to the legalisation of midwifery. (Quebec had chosen to run pilot projects, while Ontario had chosen to legalise midwifery immediately.) Hélène then did a PhD in Applied Social Sciences at the University of Montreal and this time, she focused on the ‘humanisation’ of childbirth, doing an ethnographic study in a progressive hospital. (In case you don’t know, ethnography is the study of people and cultures and usually involves research techniques such as participant observation, interviews and questionnaires.) While she was doing her PhD, Hélène also taught on the new university midwifery training programme in Quebec and she taught a course on research at the University of Montreal. Over that period, she also went on several overseas trips to find out more about birth practices around the world. As part of this research, she spent some time at the University of Sheffield, at the research centre of the School of Nursing and Midwifery, and she visited a few other British and Brazilian centres, often making presentations on her visits. She also visited several progressive obstetric wards and birthing centres, and exchanged information with many fellow researchers.

Hélène eventually concluded that although in the last few decades some positive changes have occurred—for example midwifery has been legalised in some places where it was previously illegal, birth centres have been set up, and many obstetric wards have been renovated—the approach in many hospitals still seems to be based on the biomedical model of birth. In other words, she feels that birth is still seen as an event which needs to be medically managed and decisions are too often only made by caregivers while in fact—in her view—it should really be seen as a multidimensional and physiological event with the birthing woman well informed and at the centre of the decisionmaking process.

Hélène’s current work includes teaching doulas and participation in research projects, some of which are being carried out on an international level. In recent years, she has continued to coordinate studies at an innovative new centre in Montreal, which is providing health and social services to vulnerable pregnant immigrants who are also new mothers and she acts as a consultant to a local grassroots VBAC organisation. She is on the Board of Directors of the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization (the IMBCO), is involved in the Quebec public health association, and also sits on several scientific committees for birth conferences. She is regularly interviewed by the media about caesareans and VBAC and often speaks at childbirth conferences around the world. Her published work includes many articles for scientific journals, in both French and English.

In case you’re wondering where Hélène lives, it’s in a beautiful spot by a lake in Canada. She loves to swim in the summer and skate, snowshoe or cross-country ski in the winter. It’s an inspiring setting for her work on birth.

Birthing Normally After a Caesarean or Two offers an extremely comprehensive overview of risks, her discussion being based entirely on the latest research. The book also provides 27 birth stories and guidance on how to prepare for and deal with labour and birth for any reader who decides - having reviewed all the evidence - that she does, after all, want to give birth naturally.