Did you feel heard during your birth?
During your pregnancy, did you feel respected and safe?
Were options provided for you, and were those presented as actual options?
I wanted to start a dialogue about this issue of “choice” as it relates to childbirth. The more work I do in birth, the more women I meet and the more homes with which I am invited, I am reminded of the importance of this topic. I am reminded how any discourse that suggests to women how strong and capable they are should never be diminished.
As a birth worker, and an artist, I constantly see these intersections of women (and women in real life) coming face-to-face with a struggle. Women become pregnant, choose to have their baby, not realizing that from the moment they become a maternal being, they are subjected to an entirely different set of life rules. These rules are governed by what society thinks each women in pregnancy should or should not do; they are governed by the medical institutions that decides for the woman, what is the “safe” way to proceed with her changing body. These rules are internalized by women subconsciously.
I will resist a feminist rant here about women’s bodies and their subjugation (and inherent lack of agency due to pregnancy). Instead, I will just mention that once a woman is considered pregnant, her needs and desires become secondary to those of her baby. And what is wrong with that? Nothing! Because, well, any system that was concerned for the welfare of my soon-to-be-born child was pretty good in my opinion. As a pregnant new-to-mothering woman, I felt safe and protected by the medical system that had my baby’s best interests in mind. I would be crazy to not respect and appreciate that.
Until I didn’t.
Until I realized that – hold up! – did anyone ask me if I wanted procedure xyz? Was I offered an unbiased option and given a choice? Was every choice I made the result of a fear-based decision? It did seem that every test that was “standard” was one I was subjected to: If I didn’t take each test, or each screening, I was risking the health of my unborn child. Sound familiar?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that everyone takes these tests, everyone screens for these things, every woman should just get used to be poked and prodded. Why question the proverbial: “this is how it is done“? All of this prenatal time is a good warm-up to the actual birthing time.
What we really need to be talking about is two-fold: How do we stop pathologizing normal pregnancy and birth? And, how do we ensure women are really being offered options and choices? Women need to know that everything happening to them medically is a choice. When a caregiver prescribes an exam, that is a choice. Every option has benefits and risks. It is okay to ask. It is important to raise questions. It doesn’t make you a trouble-maker (well, maybe it does a little bit but this, too, is allowed and OK).
What raising questions does is inform you. The most important knowledge you will glean when asking questions is the knowledge, or evidence of your ability to feel trust. And, with this, assurance that your needs and desires are being heard and respected. You should have a relationship with your care provider and your birth team with which you feel trust, respect and your birth feels normalized. If it feels like your values and visions don’t align, consider a change in care providers. Changing your birth team and organizing with those who share and respect your values is okay and allowed – encouraged, even.
To borrow the cliche analogy: you wouldn’t hire a wedding planner without interviewing him or her. The same can be said of your birth team. This experience of your birth is one you will always remember. Always. Don’t allow yourself to feel regret for not going with your gut instinct and for not giving yourself permission to know what you want. This is a warm-up for parenting and starting now is perfect.
As you move into your birth, owning your experience by spending your pregnancy learning all you can: asking questions, defining how you want to birth your baby, and making each of those choices will make you strong and educated. You own your body, you own your choices and if you can step into your birthing space knowing that ability, you can feel empowered.
Hiring a doula is a really good way to help you process what questions you really do need to ask your caregiver. Questions like: “What risks are associated with this procedure?” Or, “What happens if I choose not to do this?”
Personally, as a doula, during labour, and most often in hospital environments, my very favourite question to hear from my client is: “Can I have a minute to talk with my partner?”
“Can I think about this for a minute?”
When suggestions are made during birth, rarely are these situations emergency choices or decisions (sometimes they are, and in those cases, of course, they will need to be made right away). For the most part, taking a moment to talk with your team (your partner, your doula) can make all the difference between feeling like an agent in your birth or not.
When you go into your birthing space, it is yours. The people around you are there to help you and support you, but you are doing what women have been doing forever. What you are doing is miraculous and fierce and no one should stand in your way, especially you. No apologies, no allowing things that don’t feel right, no inviting in extra noise. Just you, and your options, your choices. Your birth, your way.
Kathleen Baker, Birth Journey Doula