Last week I attended a webinar about the ethics of childbirth. The presenter, sociologist Raymond De Vries, noted that choice is central to each of the ethical questions surrounding birth and then made the point that the problem with choice is that information does not equal knowledge. (He also mentioned the “ritual” of informed consent.) In the context of the webinar, the point was being made about ethical issues of prenatal testing, birth planning, and asking women to make decisions while in labor, but I think it has broader implications for our work as childbirth educators as well. We spend a lot of time informing and educating women about their choices surrounding birth and are often then surprised that this apparent information does not translate into experience once in the birth room. Obviously, this is partially because the birth room is a context impacted by a large number of social, cultural, psychological, and environmental factors, but I believe it is also because with all of our information we still haven’t managed to help parents develop knowledge and the two are not the same. Parents are often not able to recall or to mobilize information resources while actually embroiled in the birth experience. They need an inner knowing and inner resources to draw on for coping.
While I have known this for a long time, I still find it difficult to translate my conviction into practice. How do people develop knowledge about an experience that is ultimately unknowable until they are in it?
I do think that within the field of childbirth education, Birthing from Within is the method that most attempts to address this issue and I really value these two quotes from Pam England:
“A knowledgeable childbirth teacher can inform mothers about birth, physiology, hospital policies and technology. But that kind of information doesn’t touch what a mother actually experiences IN labor, or what she needs to know as a mother (not a patient) in this rite of passage.”
“While all of your (birth) planning may spin a cocoon of security, in actuality, the course of your labor is unknowable…your critical task is to prepare for a birth that has NO script.”
Personally, though, even with the practices and ideas offered by wonderful resources like Birthing from Within, I find I am still working on the actual execution of the how in my classes of translating information into knowledge…
Edited to add…I’m working on resolving this discrepancy through my new plan to offer birth workshops as part of a birth network, rather than as an independent educator.