It has been a long process turning dreams into reality. The idea that women labouring in hospital need a piece of furniture to give them more control over the positions they adopt for labour and for birth came to me in a flash while I was researching kneeling chairs to help relieve back pain. In the back of my mind I had an image of a kneeling stool that I had come across way back in the early 1980s while working on Physiotherpy, the journal of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. I Googled images of kneeling chair and up popped a picture of a piece of furniture designed by Peter Opsvik, a designer who designs chairs, not by looks alone, but according to the way people move and fidget to stay comfortable. There were two platforms, one to sit on and one for the knees.
I wanted my chair to have three platforms so that women could adopt positions I found useful in my own labours: standing, kneeling up and kneeling down/on all fours. I also wanted to it to function like a birth stool so that women could give birth while sitting. I spent hours messing about with balsa wood, Lego, Meccano and my son made me a lovely chair out of a bent wire coat hanger which I finished off with a foam sanding block for the 'standing' platform and sticky tape to make a kneeling platform. Infection control is the biggest problem in maternity units so a friend suggested making the chair in fibreglass which is strong and easy to clean. I went along with this version for a couple of years and it was trialled in my local hospital for a year. However, while the midwives wanted it wider, helping women to give birth to breech babies in the kneeling position, it proved too big and heavy. The answer was the "Flipping Chair". We made a prototype in wood and experimented with various heights and sizes until we came up with one that incorporated the three platforms and looked good. Designing the cushions to be seam free and infection-proof took a long time, as did designing suitable clips.
The version we have ended up with is manufactured out of tubular steel which can be placed in one of two positions. There are snap-on/snap-off cushions, which are sealed against infection and easily removed for cleaning. No seams, no visible staples, no visible wood.
We have ended up with a versatile piece of furniture that women can use in labour even if they have fetal monitoring straps and a light epidural in place. The idea is that women should be able to choose comfortable positions - and what is more, get themselves into comfortable positions without midwives and partners risking straining their backs.