Join us this International Day of the Girl as we sit down for a quick chat with Herstory Maker Milli Hill, ground-breaking feminist, founder of The Positive Birth Movement and author of The Positive Birth Book, Give Birth Like A Feminist and My Period…
Q1. What was your main motivation for writing your new pre-teen book, My Period? Was it in any way inspired by things you wish you had known when you were a girl?
Yes absolutely it was!
I felt there was actually quite a disconnect between how we teach girls about periods and how women then feel about pregnancy and birth – even though these two things are so obviously connected, we don’t always join up the dots! So we teach about periods – without necessarily meaning to – as something rather gross and dysfunctional, a kind of penalty for being female, that we all just have to put up with. We don’t enter into the topic much, or explore the entire menstrual cycle – often because like so many other areas of women’s health, we don’t actually know very much about it! So it’s just ‘it’s blood, it’s once a month, you can use a pad or a tampon’. There is not much ‘womanly wisdom’ or sense of power or mystery.
I wanted to convey this in a book for young girls, but make it accessible. Get them thinking about their bodies in more positive ways, and understanding more about the entire cycle, how charting and tuning into the cycle can help them, and how their periods can be a real barometer for their overall health. And I truly believe that this ‘reframe’ will come with them through life, maybe into pregnancy and birth, or maybe other related areas, such as sexuality, or even menopause!
Q2. Your organisation, The Positive Birth Movement, seeks to “challenge the epidemic of negativity and fear that surrounds modern birth”. What to you, seem to be the most prevalent negative depictions and understandings related to birth, and where do you think they stem from?
In my book Give Birth like a Feminist I’ve drawn the parallel between how women used to be taught about sex: ‘lie back, open your legs, and endure it, in order to produce healthy babies’, and how they are now taught about birth, ‘lie back…etc’.
We are not taught that giving birth can be pleasurable or celebratory. We are not taught that it can be a moment of extreme power. We are not taught that it can ‘upgrade’ us in some way, as women, in the sense that, if it is a powerful experience, we can take this forward with us into other areas of our lives. It is a rite of passage that can be transformative. And I think the lack of positive messages about birth stem from this – because I think that, in the same way as previously happened with sexuality, keeping women from their birth power can be a way of holding them back and sustaining patriarchy.
Q3. You are also the writer of the bestselling The Positive Birth Book and Give Birth like a Feminist. If you wish readers to take away just one key message from both books, what would that message be?
That you have rights and choices in birth, just as you do in all other areas of your life. You have full bodily autonomy. In the birth room, you are the permission giver, not the permission seeker.
Q4. Describe in four words, your journey to becoming an author.
Vocation – Doubt – Battle – Triumph! LOL.
Q5. If you could meet any Herstory Maker in history, who would you travel back in time to meet and why?
Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Her book Women who Run with the Wolves completely changed my life, and I’ve love to spend an evening by the fire with her and her wisdom – or just thank her really! That book showed me how a transformative a non fiction book can be. I can only dream of creating something of similar beauty and value.
Q6. What’s the saying you live your life by?
I have lots of little sayings that all come from my dad, who is sadly no longer with us. In our family we call them ‘Gilisms’ (his name was Gil). I think the fun my dad had with words, all the little poems and sayings and song lyrics he would come out with, in some way really set me up to love and appreciate words.
There are some Gilisms that I can’t repeat to you, for example the toast he would do that begins, ‘Here’s to the girl who lives on the hill’, and some that he would never even fully say to me, for example a song that began, ‘I love Mary-Lou, Queen of all the Acrobats’ – he never did tell me how the rest of that went!
But there were some lovely ones too, for instance, ‘Love many, trust few, learn to paddle your own canoe’, or ‘Everybody makes mistakes – that’s why God puts rubbers on the ends of pencils’ (he was an atheist but still!) There really is a Gilism for every occasion, from practical life advice like, “Water on Wood – No Good”, to classic song lyrics like, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again”, or, “You gotta Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In Between”.
The right Gilism always appears in your brain just when you need it!