Welcome to my Wonderful Women series featuring (yup you’ve guessed it) a whole lot of wonderful women.
I’m talking totally kick-ass, awe-inspiring women who are literally helping to change the world.
This week I’m speaking to Rebecca Schiller who is a writer, campaigner and occasional doula whose work centres around women’s rights in childbirth.
She’s CEO of the high-profile human rights in childbirth charity Birthrights, writes freelance for The Guardian, The Pool and others and her latest book Why Human Rights in Childbirth Matter was published in September.
She has two children and lives by the sea.
Describe a typical day for you?
Every day is different with the ever-present themes of mild chaos, juggling and not enough hours in the day. I work from home (except when I don’t) so after the school-run dash (which my husband and I share) I usually tackle the email mountain.
Some days I’ll be preparing for a conference, working with my colleagues at Birthrights, others researching an article or pitching ideas to an editor. Sometimes the train to London is often my office, others I’m trying to have a phone call from the park at the bottom of the road while pleading with my son not to wee on the slide.
There isn’t really a typical day – they are all weird and wonderful!
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
Some days getting anything done and not shouting at anyone feels like an achievement. If I’m dressed and everyone’s alive I reckon I’ve done a good job.
But on a big-picture level I’m hugely proud of what Birthrights is achieving: how many midwives and doctors are being reached and how many women are being helped. I’ve also got a big kick out of hearing from people who are reading my book around the world and realising the depth of human rights issues in childbirth that exist.
When midwives, doctors and student midwives are sharing pictures of bookclubs they have held to read the book, and little post-it notes saying things like “women matter during childbirth” and “we have to respect women’s choices even if we wouldn’t have made that choice for ourselves” I get a real thrill.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
I’m mainly using my Patagonia rucksack at the moment as my usual giant-but-stylish handbag that fits my laptop plus 12 nappies, 100 rice cakes and 20 toy cars is broken. I bought the rucksack to take to Tanzania earlier this year when I was visiting maternal health projects in very remote rural areas. I think it still has some of the red dust from the bumpy roads we travelled along inside.
In addition there’s my laptop (which I must clean as it seems to be smeared in porridge), three discarded name badges, a make-up bag and tiny hairbrush, phone charger, notebook and pen, giant purse filled with everything but money, 2 pairs of toddler-sized pants, felt pens, a kids bead necklace, 2 pints of milk and a loaf of bread. I must remember to take the milk out when I get home.
What are your ambitions in life?
I’d like to write more books, travel to more places in the world and meet more inspiring women. I want to know so much more than I know now and to have time to think creatively and academically.
But I also want to be at home, to be content with all the brilliant things in my life, to grow vegetables, live more sustainably and continue to create our own little world for our family. And ultimately I’d like to find a way to do both of those things without having a nervous breakdown!
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
That you don’t have to choose a career. Mine has meandered around in to so many areas and I could never have predicted that this is where I would end up. I didn’t plan to be a writer or a journalist. I didn’t think I’d work as a doula, or care about reproductive rights. I think I wish I’d known it would all be OK if I followed what I was interested in and was happy to do things because I cared about them and not just for money. That I could relax and just go with it sometimes.
What advice do you know now, you wish you had pre-kids?
That no-one else has been you, with your kids, in your situation. Other people’s experiences are just that: other people’s. And while it’s helpful sometimes to share those experiences with others people want support not opinions. If you listen to yourself you’ll be fine!
As a doula I’ve got much better at just listening and realising that often women don’t get heard very much. So I try and be that person, someone who doesn’t judge and who doesn’t they they have the answers. Everyone needs a person like that.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Honestly, I have no clue. I know I should have a five year plan but I’m too immersed in what’s happening right now. I’d like my writing to reach more people and to see Birthrights having grown and flourished further. And I’d like to have a jumpsuit for every occasion.
What advice would you give a budding author?
Start writing. Don’t worry if it’s rubbish, just get something down. That’s the hardest part and once you’ve got something down on paper you can always make it better. Also, you can write even if you haven’t got much time. I didn’t start writing until I had children and very little childcare.
Finally, happiness is…
…a bath with a book, reading to my children, hearing that my work has done some good and a frolicking around the Welsh hillsides at Fforest with my kids and my husband last summer.