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Us and Them; We or They

I heard it again today, “They won’t let me….” Whenever I hear someone talking about “they” or “them,” my ears begin to perk up because I know there is more to the story than I am being told.  Here are the things that go through my mind.

1. Does this woman understand what she was told and why? I don’t ask that to be smug, but out of real concern about miscommunication.  It can be easy to believe everything you hear, even if what you heard was not what was said.  It is also easy to believe things you hear from individuals who are not in a position to be decision makers.  If a friend tells you the hospital doesn’t do water birth, you are much less likely to ask about the option on a tour. If you don’t ask, you won’t find out that they only have two water birth rooms so if you are interested in a water birth you need to tell someone on admission.

2. Is this woman making assumptions due to misinformation? If you were to believe everything you read, every doctor, nurse and midwife is out to make sure you have a terrible birth experience that hinders your breastfeeding and bonding. The good news is that most health care providers are NOT like the stories you hear.  In fact, each health care provider is a unique individual, just like every mother.  Individuals have strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad days, get tired and will even have opinions. Sometimes the opinions of other individuals will be different from yours.  But you cannot know this unless you ask.  Making sweeping generalizations about everyone within a profession is stereotyping. Not only is it unfair, accepting your assumptions based on stereotypes means you are less likely to ask the questions you need to ask to prepare for the kind of birth you want.

3. Is this woman feeling judged about choices she made and just trying to get out of the conversation? For those with a passion for helping mothers have natural births, it can sometimes be difficult to understand why a woman wouldn’t choose a natural birth – and this can come across as judgmental in conversation. Some women politely smile and nod as you continue explaining the perils of epidural, some will get angry and tell you it is none of your business, and some will blame the decision on someone else so you will leave them alone.

How do I handle these situations?  First, I never assume the mother and I are “on the same side.”  I don’t make assumptions about who she is or what she wanted from birth or how she feels about not having an option.  I don’t argue against the medical establishment, medical techniques or individual caregivers.  Instead, I listen. I let her talk, sharing what she feels is important.  If she needs to know I am listening and not judging I might ask if she can “Tell me more about that?” Instead of deciding for myself how she is feeling, I ask her, “how do you feel about that decision?” Then, I listen.  Because she might be angry the option is gone, but she might be relieved.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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