In the shoes of … | Helen Calvert: Mother, Campaigner, Parent Advocate and Facebook Group Lead

Are you following #MatExp? – the Twitter hashtag for our fabulous campaign to improve maternity experience?

Are you following our #MatExp alphabet, initiated by my #MatExp partner in crime, consultant obstetrician Florence Wilcock, known affectionately in our community as ‘FabObs Flo’?

We have been posting one letter per day and tweeting relevant words associated with good practice or things that need to change.

So today, May the 4th, is letter U.     May the Fourth go with you 😉

U is for unusual. A great day to tell you about the unusual and indeed inspirational activities of Helen Calvert, a.k.a @heartmummy.

Day 266It is unusual for a young mum to take it upon herself to design, run, analyse and report on a survey of healthcare professionals. U-u-using Survey Monkey.

Within about 10 days, there were 150 responses from midwives, student midwives, independent midwives, doulas, obstetricians, anaesthetists, antenatal teachers and other birth professionals, offering real insights into blocks and barriers to best practice.

We often include links in blogs but to appreciate and make sense of this story you really need to click on the link to Helen’s survey and read it. It is a truly amazing piece of work and totally in keeping with the JFDI, inclusive, ‘anyone can do anything’ approach we are adopting throughout what is now, thanks to people like Helen and our other fantastic contributors, a social movement rather than just a campaign.

From the beginning, we became aware of Helen as one of the passionate, challenging mums on Twitter. She posted a tweet that perhaps revealed her original preconceptions about NHS staff and stereotypical roles – something Helen would be the first to admit.

We have all learnt so much along the way. Fast forward to a comment Helen made a couple of weeks ago.

I think this honesty and willingness to learn and understand different perspectives has been absolutely phenomenal and has brought us all together is a very strong community of diverse thinkers but with the common aim of improving things for women everywhere. We have worked together, grown together and become a group of friends with shared purpose.

Helen has a very powerful story of her own. Her younger son, David, was born with the congenital heart defect Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. I strongly recommend that you visit her blog to find out more. It is an amazing story.

Helen runs a Facebook Group of about 1600 Mums ‘telling it like it is’ and feeding through real stories which have helped fuel discussions at our Whose Shoes? sessions across London and now spreading wider.   Helen has shared some of these in her powerful blog series, using the #MatExp hashtag and helping to spread awareness. For example, #MatExp – The Good, The Bad and The Unacceptable.

Helen became one of the Mums stepping forward to lead one of the key actions of our #MatExp #NHSChange Day campaign – promoting breastfeeding with Emma-Jane Sasaru.

As you can see, Helen’s story and what drives her are central to #MatExp but the JFDI nature of Helen’s survey of healthcare professionals took things to the next level.
I invited Helen to write the story of what drove her to do this.

Helen was really keen but asked me to come up with a few questions to help her thinking. This is what transpired:

Why did you conduct the #MatExp HCP survey?

I had already used my blog to post a few anonymous birth experiences from mums in my Facebook group, and I’ve got lots more feedback to come on #MatExp, #hospitalbreastfeeding, health visiting…..
I didn’t want to be the parent voice that is always slamming the health service or pointing out its flaws without giving the professionals a chance to reply. I have so much to be grateful to the NHS for myself.

The fact that the feedback I am publishing is anonymous makes mums far more likely to be honest, so I wanted to give birth professionals the same option. As I don’t have a Facebook group for birth professionals, a survey seemed the quickest way to get their views. I had already used Survey Monkey professionally in a previous life so knew it was the tool for the job.

What were you hoping to achieve?

I pretty soon realised it would be a great way to publicise #MatExp so I built in the themes and actions and then I ran it past you and Florence. Flo asked me to tweak it to make sure I was asking people what they personally could actually DO to address issues, in the true spirit of #MatExp.
So I was hoping to get lots of good information for a blog post “from the other side” as it were, plus publicise #MatExp into the bargain.

Were you surprised in any way by what you found out?

Not really – I knew that short staffing and professional tensions would be big themes, and unfortunately I have also come to be aware of the culture of bullying that lurks beneath the surface of the NHS. What was lovely though was the passion of everyone involved in maternity care, everyone gave the impression of genuinely caring about the women they work with, even if they differ in their opinions of how best to care for those women!

How has getting to know more health professionals through our Twitter network changed your perception/ contributed to your mission?

I think you’ve already seen my quote in Andrea Johns’ blog about that 🙂 – quoted above

Your survey was brilliantly JFDI but obviously the result of quite a build up. What helped you feel so empowered?

This is the question I struggle with. Why would anyone NOT feel empowered to do something like that? I was only asking questions after all, I wasn’t even passing comment! I’ve thought about this a lot and I think there are a few elements to this. Firstly, who I am. I have always been happy to communicate with people, I truly believe that the more people talk to each other, and the more they talk across professions, demographics, age groups etc the more can be achieved.

Secondly, the #MatExp community itself. We all chat daily about these issues and we talk on a non-hierarchical basis. Twitter encourages contact straight to the top, out to the sides and down to the bottom. If you’re on Twitter then you’re fair game – I can contact you and tag you in and ask you questions without fear of being told to mind my own business.

Thirdly, my position. I do not work for anybody, I am responsible to no one, and that is a fabulous and fortunate position to be in. It essentially means I can do what I like. This brings me back to my initial thought though. Why would anyone NOT feel empowered? Well I guess they would feel like they couldn’t do these things if they worked for an organisation that created a culture of fear, where you might get “told off” for saying the wrong thing or even for ASKING the wrong thing. If this is the NHS that some people experience then no wonder people start talking about feeling “empowered”. Coz the truth is, I didn’t feel empowered. It just didn’t occur to me that anyone would mind. The NHS belongs to everyone. Of course I should be able to question its staff.

What drives you to get involved so passionately in improving maternity experience?

I guess I see birth stories and birth experiences everyday on my Facebook group and I talk to birth professionals all the time on Twitter so it seems obvious to try to bring the two things together. It’s not my passion, it’s more that I am a conduit for other people’s: birth professionals passionately want things to improve, mothers passionately want to have positive birth experiences, I am just the pinch in the hour glass bringing one side to the other! Everyone wants to tell their story, I just want to bring those stories to a wider audience.

What is your perception of the #MatExp campaign?

The campaign is so successful because it was started by a female obstetrician. Talk about right person, right place, right time! If it was midwife-led, it would be seen as another “fluffy” natural-birth obsessed campaign that everyone would end up arguing about. If led by a male obstetrician it would be seen as over medicalised and anti feminist. Florence Wilcock is ideally placed to bring together women who have given birth and medical professionals because she is both. She is clearly both compassionate and professional, this shines through, so she takes the wind out of the sails of anyone who wants to claim either that obstetricians don’t care or that women aren’t scientifically minded.

This has created an environment where everyone can genuinely have their say. I love to see the obstetricians getting involved, and the independent midwives, and the doulas, and the parents who have their own agendas based on their personal experiences – everyone is piling in and having their say and that is how change happens.

Thank you for coming to the Whose Shoes? ‘Train the Facilitator’ session!

Coming down to London for the ‘Train the facilitator’ workshop was fab because I got to meet so many Twitter pals in person and confirm you’re all as lovely as you seem! It introduced me to the Whose Shoes? game and I could see what a powerful tool that is.

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It also helped me to see that healthcare is not “us” and “them” in terms of patients and medical professionals – there are factions within factions and everyone has their own “team” and anxieties. That’s empowering in itself because you realise that your “team” can just be the people who want change, and that was everyone in that room. So forget professional hierarchies – if you’re on Team Change you’re all part of the same gang 🙂

What encouraged you to take a leadership role in the #MatExp NHS Change Day campaign and in the #MatExp ‘6Cs webinar’?

I didn’t take a leadership role in the Change Day campaign, a leadership role was thrust upon me – Flo forgot to mention our champion roles before putting Emma and I onto the page 😀 :D.  It was, and is, an absolute honour though, I was so flattered and feel really privileged to be involved.
As her NHS Change Day action, Helen is also doing a weekly #FF on Twitter linking together 1 midwife, 1 health visitor, 1 doctor, 1 nurse and 1 parent:

Heartmummy - quote re MatExp session

Helen talked about her experience of participating in the Whose Shoes? ‘Train the Facilitator’ session on the #MatExp 6Cs webinar.

The 6Cs webinar was brilliant too, again it was clearly just a group of people having a giggle, finding our way through the technology together and trying to do something wonderful. No standing on ceremony, no worrying about who was “in charge” or what the “rules” were, just getting on with it. Like friends really. It just feels like a group of friends.

People can be quick to think that nothing is of real value unless it is prescribed by the NHS or part of some specific system or structure.
What would you say to the ‘naysayers’?

The key is constant and inclusive. Twitter enables “constant” as we’re on everyday – the ABC was a brilliant idea, it means there is more involvement than ever. So people can jump in whenever they are available, #MatExp is always there to get involved in, you won’t “miss it” or have to be there on a particular day or at a particular time.

In terms of inclusive, this is down to you and Florence as well. You are not territorial. You let everyone do with it what they will – no one is made to feel they have overstepped the mark, taken it in the wrong direction, done something inappropriate or whatever. You don’t seem to want to reinvent the wheel – if MSLCs are doing good work then let them do it, if midwifery societies are having conferences then great. It’s all part of the wind of change, and you are happy to discuss it all even though it’s not all Whose Shoes? based. I really think this is a massive strength, as it stops silo thinking or the idea that “we” are doing something that is different from what “they” are doing.

I would like to see everything subsumed into #MatExp so that eventually it is just an ongoing national conversation about maternity care.

Which, incidentally, is why the Maternity Review needs to link up with #MatExp. They’re a bit late to the party, but we’ve warmed up the dancefloor for them. 😉


The #MatExp story shows that anybody can do anything and people just need to be passionate and to come forward in their own right. In the true spirit of NHS Change Day, Helen, and so many others, have done fantastic things without asking anyone’s permission. We are constantly finding and supporting other leaders at all levels both within and outside the NHS and building #MatExp as a social movement rather than a top down initiative.

We love the energy of #MatExp. We are proud of the diversity of the group – women and health care proferssionals coming together as equals. The campaign is inclusive, important and yet fun. The #MatExp ABC has been a brilliant example of this. I am hoping to do a bit of a round-up to share some of this but the easiest is just to join in on Twitter.

#MatExp is attracting interest and support from the more ‘formal’ parts of the system and we look forward to linking the knowledge, skills and expertise of the group into the Maternity Review. Exciting times and huge potential to ensure that every woman matters; every baby matters. The campaign is very action focused – both the Whose Shoes? workshops and the social media campaign are leading to real change.

We are looking forward to the forthcoming evaluation of the progress so far and finding as many ways as we can to share the learning.

What can you do to help?

About Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes?

Passionate about personalisation in health & social care. Creator of Whose Shoes? - an imaginative approach to helping people work together to improve lives.
This entry was posted in Blogs, co-production, community engagement, compassion, education, Guest blog, maternity, mental health, personalisation, safeguarding, well-being and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to In the shoes of … | Helen Calvert: Mother, Campaigner, Parent Advocate and Facebook Group Lead

  1. Pingback: The #MatExp month of ACTION begins today. Why women everywhere need the Maternity Review Team to engage! | Whose Shoes? A catalyst for change in health and social care

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