Charlotte Williamson looks at the 90s and the article that she felt most defined AIMS
Twenty years ago, Nancy Stewart wrote that the aims of AIMS were to provide information and support for individual women and to try to influence the system. Then, as now, AIMS provided information and inspiration through the Journal's articles, reviews of books, reports on what is happening, critiques of research, analyses of official policies and pronouncements, and women's vivid accounts of good and bad maternity care, as they judged it.
Then, as now, AIMS equipped women to think about and to act in the interests of their babies, themselves and their families, as they define those interests. (In 1965, alerted by AIMS, I asked to have my husband present at the birth of our baby and was the first woman who wasn't a doctor's wife to succeed, so letting in all other non-doctors' wives.) Then, as now, AIMS equipped women to sit on local and national professional, ethics, advisory and governance bodies. Without that inspiration and information, the background support that we take for granted, we would be ill-equipped to take part in discussions and debates about maternity care.
These personal and political activities are connected to each other. It is what women tell AIMS about their experiences of maternity care, linked to AIMS' members' knowledge and experience, that makes AIMS an effective patient organisation. An effective organisation and its voice are ever more necessary as obstetric and midwifery practice change in ways that should sometimes be challenged, sometimes supported by us; as some midwives seem unable to distinguish between interventionist and non-interventionist childbirth; as financial constraints increase; and as other interest groups and interests become more numerous and sometimes more oppressive.
AIMS' strength lies in its members' passion and in the expertise they build up. AIMS benefits from a mix of long-term members' dedication and short-term members' freshness of approach. (Some voluntary organisations limit members' terms, so fail to build up expertise and a coherent set of beliefs and objectives. Others allow a few long-serving members to dominate the organisation.) AIMS also probably benefits from its lack of paid staff. Paid staff have their careers to think about and necessarily have different interests from those of the voluntary members. Some staff may be less keen than volunteers to rock the boat. Many organisations that started out as radical challengers to the status quo fade into conformity with it, as they appoint professional staff, paid to do what volunteers did from moral conviction. AIMS also benefits by refusing to ask for money from the government or drug companies. Nothing can harm a voluntary organisation's reputation more than accepting money from suspect sources, however hard it is to work without adequate funds.
In avoiding these traps, AIMS has remained the same radical organisation that it started from, tackling new issues and persevering with old ones, undeterred by disappointment and opposition. Nancy Stewart's definition of the aims of AIMS is as true today as it was when she wrote it. We have not yet achieved those aims: our work is as important as ever.
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