Their Birth, Their Way: Nikki Macfarlane

By OBOS — April 23, 2009

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrant: Lynne F.

Nominee: Nikki Macfarlane, Founder of Childbirth International

Nikki Macfarlane advocates for informed choice. She believes we have the right to make personal choices about our health and we make better decisions when we understand the implications – pros and cons – of the choices available to us.

Nikki’s professional work has focused for many years on pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. She helps women and their partners discover all their options and make informed choices that lead to their own best possible physical, emotional, and spiritual health as they go through perhaps the most important transformation of their lives: giving birth and then becoming parents.

Nikki’s work began as she trained to be a childbirth educator, helping women truly have “their birth, their way.” Nikki listened to women demoralized by impersonal and routine approaches to maternity care and developed tools to help women gain the skills and acquire the knowledge they needed to make their births personal, healthy and free of unnecessary and unwanted interventions.

Nikki’s approach to helping parents prepare for birth and parenthood was unique – she emphasized communication skills, decision-making skills, reflection, and assertiveness skills. These were unconventional topics for a childbirth class at the time, but stemmed from the realization that traditional classes were not enough to help women reach their goals. Women needed more than just facts and figures. They needed to take charge of their own health care decisions and work with their caregivers rather than just learn “what to expect.”

And so Nikki created Childbirth International (CBI). It offers the most comprehensive training and certification programs for birth doulas, postpartum doulas, childbirth educators, and breastfeeding counselors anywhere in the world. With CBI, Nikki’s vision of preparation for birth as a time for parents to discover their own power and abilities can reach many more women through each doula and each educator trained.

CBI’s message is that birth is about physical health as well as emotional discovery, self-reliance as well as developing a community, and personal growth as well as family connection. CBI’s students come from over 60 countries across the globe, helping each student connect her local birth culture to the traditions of the wider world. Her initiatives have already affected thousands of women globally.

Beyond CBI, Nikki:

  • Created large and thriving online forums where birth professionals and interested others can express their ideas and exchange important health information with a worldwide community.
  • Worked within the hospital system in her former home in Singapore to make positive changes for birthing women (introducing the first professional doula service in Singapore, developing the first labor pool in a hospital, establishing relationships between the medical community and women wanting more choices in birth).
  • Taught self awareness in schools to pre-adolescents to encourage them to respect their own bodies and minds as well as those of their partners and peers.
  • Continues to work on ways to provide education for women in developing countries about nutrition and about the harmful effects of many of the chemicals they use in their daily lives have on themselves and their children, born and unborn.
  • Is collaborating with indigenous women to preserve important health knowledge and local cultural perspectives on health and wellbeing, wisdom that is no longer being passed from generation to generation as faithfully as it was in the past.
  • Created a special memorial in a town in England for women to visit who had experienced a miscarriage: a statue was erected and a seat installed in a corner of the local park. This memorial raised awareness of the impact pregnancy loss can have on families.
  • Coordinated a peaceful but dramatic protest in Singapore against a local coffeeshop whose staff asked a woman to leave when she began to breastfeed her baby while sitting at a table. The protest received widespread press coverage and was one of the first events to draw attention to the importance of social support for breastfeeding.
  • Was involved in creating an art exhibition focusing on the customs and traditions of birthing women around the world to bring about an awareness that for most women in the world birth is normal and natural, and focuses on the needs of mother and child.

Nikki lives her commitment to helping women all over the world discover their ability to make positive change in their health and the health of their families, through pregnancy and birth and all parts of their lives!

63 responses to “Their Birth, Their Way: Nikki Macfarlane”

  1. Nikki is a wonderful inspiration as a mother, a doula, childbirth educator, business woman and teacher. Through her actions I am sure hundreds of thousands of woman have felt empowered through childbirth.

  2. Without Nikki I would never know the things that I do about childbirth and all that it could be. Her knowlege is always shared in a precise, comprehensive and caring way. She has inspired me and countless others to be empowered.

  3. Nikik truly deserves this nomination. She is an inspiration to women not only through her writing and teaching but most importantly through her actions. Nikki walks the talk – in the way she communicates, the way she listens without judging, the way she challlenges and inspires, and the way she takes action to make change a reality. Nikki is never afraid to stand up for what she believes in but she does so in an open, respectful and loving way. I was lucky enough to meet Nikki when she was my doula at the birth of my first daughter which was a truly life changing experience. From that beginning a friendship developed and she inspired me to become a doula and childbirth educator myself and to help her in the early days of setting up CBI. From humble beginnings she has created a truly world class organisation that reaches out to make real changes for hundreds if not thousands of women across the whole world. She is creating a global community of women advocating for informed choice and through this great changes can surely come. In countries where doulas are unheard of and birth choices are limited Nikki’s teaching is enabling women to go out and make a difference in their communities. I truly cannot say enough good things about Nikki. Please vote for her and help to recognise her achievements.

  4. Nikki is a wonderful person. As busy as she is, she will take the time to answer all your questions, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. She loves her mission and you can tell by CBI. It is a wonderfull organiztion and it is due to her hard work and determination and her love for moms everywhere.

  5. The work Nikki has done creating Childbirth International goes a long way to caring for women globally – it creates access to information regardless of nationality that will enable women to make their own choices about their bodies, their babies and themselves.

  6. Nikki is an amazing woman. She’ll meet you where you are with no judgment. I appreciate all of the hard work that she has done for women, birth, and families!

  7. I am so thankful for Nikki. Through Childbirth International I was able to become a certified doula. Besides Nikki helping women through their birth, she has helped countless woman learn how to support women. She is an inspiration!

  8. Nikki not only helped me discover ways for me to empower women through childbirth education, she inspired me to be empowered myself. She has done so much to help so many women, and has really put together a wonderful program.

  9. Nikki,

    I am grateful and proud to be a member and graduate of CBI. Nikki you have given women the opportunity and amazing gift of knowledge in order to help others and help themselves!!!

    Keep doing all these great things!!

    Maria Lameiro.

  10. Nikki has accomplished so much and had done a wonderful job! She is a truly amazing woman, who is always busy creating more amazing women.

  11. Nikki is fantastic!

    She’s truly concerned about her CBI students as well as mothers accross the globe. A ganuine revolutionary!

  12. Nikki is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. She completely changed the way I look at birth and empowerment and health in general. Just thinking about it, I realize how different my life would be if I had never met Nikki. I am so proud and honored to count her as a friend and can’t think of anyone that deserves this honor more.

  13. Nikki deserves this nomination. She is an amazing wealth of knowledge and source of support for all of the doulas and childbirth educators in her Childbirth International training program. She does amazing work and I, for one, have been positively impacted by her life and her presence in the world.

  14. CBI is a great online education system. I find it very user friendly and full of tools for students to stay connected to other students and trainers.

    The content is quite easy to grasp and the certification requirements fit into my lifestyle better than all the other Doula courses.

    I’m glad someone like Nikki had the innovative mind to bring this into fruition.

  15. Nikki is a remarkable woman and a true inspiration. I am proud to be part of CBI alumni and look for opportunities to empower women to choose how they wish to give birth and nurture their babies. Thank you Nikki for helping me achieve my goal.

  16. Without Nikki I would never have had the opportunity to achieve my dream of becoming a certified doula. Her compassion and knowledge are very evident in the organization (CBI) she has created. Thank you, Nikki!!

  17. Nikki has demonstrated countless times her caring and respect for women, their right to choose, their education, and the birth process. Through the years I have learned much from her…her words are always filled with wisdom and encouragement, and I am a better doula and a better person because of her efforts to create the best training materials, and her ongoing support.
    Although Nikki has accomplished so much, she doesn’t rest on her laurels, but continues striving for better pregnancy and parenthood choices, and a thorough education for herself and her students, always striving to reflect and utilize the latest research while maintaining the very high standards I’ve come to expect from CBI.
    Nikki truly deserves this award, and many others as well. Kudos to you, Nikki; I’m proud to be a CBI graduate!

  18. Nikki has truly been an inspiration to me. She is a leader among women and has a heart that reaches out to those in need. She really deserves this nomination for all of her work for women everywhere.

  19. Finding CBI has made certification as a CBE and Birth Doula possible for me. I am grateful to Nikki for her insight and know that if we all strive to share her perspective with women in small corners of the world, the global birth climate will be forever changed. Nikki McFarlane is living proof of the “starfish” effect; one person having a huge impact, one life at a time.

  20. Nikki deserves plenty of accolades for all that she has achieved and how it has made the lives of so many women (and men!) far better and richer in real ways. Her work has touched many and her commitment is second to none. Congratulations on what you have already done and for your on-going success. Another vote for Nikki!

  21. Thanks to Nikki’s dedication, I was able to get certified while I was still an active, involved parent with my very young children. She is a very dedicated and very deserving person. I vote for Nikki.

  22. In the midst of the difficult birth of my daughter, Nikki’s voice and hands gave me the rest I so sorely needed. I will never forget her touch.

    She is an immensely skilled and inspiring woman who deserves all the praise displayed on this page – and more.

  23. I had been attending births for nearly 20 years when I found Nikki Macfarlane and CBI. The strength of her convictions and her vast knowledge are inspirational. But for me, her greatest strength is in the clarity of her thinking. She never loses her focus on the mother; she is so amazingly able to keep her own “stuff” out of the process. She’s an extraordinary teacher and mentor.

  24. All your work and dedication has left a huge mark on many women´s life.


    Anne Contreras

  25. As a student of Childbirth International, I have experienced first hand the awesome work of Nikki Macfarlane. She gets my vote!

  26. The wealth of information and education provided by Nikki and CBI is astounding. While I have completed my Labor Doula course in 2007, I continue to learn from her as well as the other educators and doulas world-wide who participate in the email list for CBI. I find this connection, this trading of information and experience to be so educational and inspiring… every day ior makes me a better doula and future Childbirth Educator.

    Thank you Nikki & CBI!

  27. I have been working for O&G and baby Drs, and am supporting women and babies for more than 10 years. I am glad that am part of CBI and thank Nikki that she created a wonderful organization for us who want to support other women!!

  28. I am priviledged to have had Nikki as a mentor and I am truly blessed to have her as a friend. I could go on for hours writing about her and the difference she is making for women all over the world through her work but I think it can be summed up below.

    Gandhi once said “you have to be the change you wish to see in the world.”

    Nikki is that change. Nikki, you are to the birthing community what Barack Obama is to politics.
    You definitely get my vote!

  29. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a student of CBI, the organization Nikki founded. She is an amazing woman, and deserves a bit of recognition for all of the work around the world she has done to help women.

  30. Nikki not only deserves an award for what she has achieved herself, but even more so for everything she has done to help others reach their goals and dreams.

  31. Nikki is truly an inspiration to all who know her. She has touched the lives of countless women and families with her expertise, compassion, and humility. Her selfless commitment to seeing the humanization of birth resounds in everything she does. She is changing the world of maternity care through her her program Childbirth International and I am so honored to be a student of her work and life. She MORE THAN deserves such an award and recognition!

  32. I believe that Nikki created the best training program for childbirth educator. I am proud to be one of CBI students. Nikki gets my vote!!!

  33. I say again what so many others have said: Nikki’s true brilliance is in using her superlative skills to help each of us find the skills and abilities within ourselves. She is always self-effacing about her own role in making CBI what it is, and making her other work what IT is. Yes, the key to success in any arena is all of us working together, but I will take this moment to say that what Nikki brings to the table is special. It is the rare chemical catalyst that brings out the light in us all. That road to finding our own light would be harder without Nikki around!

    You have done amazing work, Nikki. A thousand congratulations is not enough. But I’ll send them anyway!

  34. Nikki is so passionate about what she does and many, many women have benefited from her commitment and dedication to this important area of womens health.

  35. To truly make a difference in this world, not pay ‘lip service’, is rare. Nikki is that rare person.

  36. I can never be thankful enough for the knowledge and skills CBI have taught me. Using them I hope to empower many couples to get their birth, their way. Thanks to Nikki and the whole CBI team the work you do is helping many woman all over the world.

    Keep up the amazing work!!!!

  37. I can think of no better person to receive this honor than Nikki.

    Words can not begin to express my feelings about Nikki and the CBI organization. She has opened my eyes and made me think out side the box and my own little world.

    I am so gratful to CBI and Nikki. I will continue to share information regarding CBI every chance I get.

  38. Thanks for all of the support that you have given me through my education process. It has truly been a great experience and I owe many thanks to you!

  39. As a CBI student, I have appreciated Nikki’s encouragement and help. Her experience, knowledge, and joy shine through! Thank you Nikki!

  40. Meeting Nikki in person for the first time was unlike any meeting I’ve ever experienced; her vigor for her work, her affection for her students and staff, and her warmth and intensity were impossible to miss, and these beautiful qualities have always been so evident in every work I have seen her undertake, as though each work she does is her lifework. She throws herself, body and soul, into what she believes in, and as a result has been blessed with the unique ability to accomplish phenomenal things while never losing sight of the individual.

    She has seen us all grow and bloom like flowers under her tutelage, and it is our humble privelege to stand as colorful witnesses, across cultural, religious, political, and geographical boundaries, to her astonishing achievements.

    Well done, Nikki. And thank you.


  41. Nikki has left a footprint through her work and the passion she puts into it since I know her from my time in Asia. She stands more than 100% behind her believes and made her vision come true.

    Well done, Nikki

  42. Linda and I have never met Nikki but are close friends of her parents Ron and Lynne. I think it is unfortunate, but particularly here in the USA, science has made the whole birth process very sterile and less human. I think Nikki’s work is fantastic and amazing in how many lives it will touch!…..Tom Dew

  43. Nikki is committed to a vision of true and lasting empowerment for women the world over and is dedicated to creating true health and wholeness for all.

    She is a unique and inspiring woman – born to make a difference.

  44. I want to vote for Nikki.

    I think she is an amazing woman. For me, what she is doing with her vision for birth is very precious for every woman in the world. Terima Kasih Ibu Nikki

  45. Nikki’s contribution to the birth world is innovative, creative, insightful and straight from the hip. Under her direction Childbirth International (CBI) is creating an entire new generation of excellent educators and doulas who are creating change world wide!! I am proud to call her both “friend” and “colleague”. Not only does she educate…she inspires!

  46. I believe that Nikki has truly earnt this honor with her dedication, passion and overwhelming knowledge of childbirth education. I am honoured to count Nikki as a close friend and her strength, insight and commitment constantly inspire those around her. You go girl ! ………………

  47. Nikki is an inspirational woman & deserves to be recognised for her incredible achievements & contributions to childbirth. Through her work she is helping to create a community of empowered women who are feeling more in control of their pregnancies and births & whom are enjoying the journey. Here’s to that! Thanks Nikki.

  48. To Nikki

    These arms held you the day you were born
    Felt your heart beat as you lay at my breast
    When you needed comfort my arms embraced you…
    And opened wide when you chose to fly

    These eyes gazed in wonder at your inner beauty
    Feigned surprise when the tooth fairy came
    They shone at your every achievement…
    And cried as you walked down the aisle

    These lips kissed you goodnight
    Taught you to have a voice that would be heard
    They shared in your secrets…
    And smiled when you too became a mother

    These hands guided your first steps
    Soothed your brow when you were sick
    Turned the pages of books we read together…
    And clapped loudly as you danced through our lives

    This heart has loved you every second
    Felt your joy and shared your sorrow
    I applaud you as a woman equal to all others…
    Who is not afraid to stand up for her principles

    Now I see you teaching so many others to soar
    Your message resonates for all women
    To find their own voice that they may learn not to fear
    When I look into your heart I am grateful & truly proud

    Your Mum

  49. Conception is a wonder, the birth of a child the wonder that grew.

    Carrying a new being and its birth are holy times.

    We need all our nowledge, all our intuition, all our love to welcome this wonder. Each birthday we remember that the planet received another being and experinece of the wonder of birth needs to remain all of the years one accompanies a child to its adulthood.

    We need women lie you Nikkie who will show us that we are whole beings who are not just powerless patients, we are parents.

    I plant my wishes for your work, with my love Maayken

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