“The effort to separate the physical experience of childbirth from the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of this event has served to disempower and violate women.” –Mary Rucklos Hampton
Related to my recent birth consumer post, I wanted to write a little bit more about the word “let.” One of my strongest birth-related pet peeves is the use of the word “let” when applied to birthing women. Women and providers and even doulas and CBEs often use terminology like “well, they let me get up for a while and walk around” or “my doctor is going to let me go to 41 weeks” or “the nurse let her get off the monitor for about 30 minutes” or “my husband won’t let me have a homebirth.” I do not like this phrase because of the “victim” mentality I feel like it conveys—-that women are passive and things are being “done to” them and they have no power of their own. I feel like it removes autonomy and empowerment and women’s control over their own bodies and births.
I often remind people that birth is not a time in a woman’s life when she should have to fight for anything. I also like to gently remind clients that no one can “let” them do anything. With colleagues, I occasionally have to clarify or explain my perception of the term as disempowering. Though in the end, sometimes I need to let (!) it go and realize that some people are perfectly satisfied with the term. And, I also have to acknowledge that the word DOES accurately describe many women’s experiences-—they are “let” or “not let” to do things even if I think it should be different and think they should have more power and control during their own births!
Though it may not often seem so, birth is a consumer issue. When speaking about their experiences with labor and birth, it is very common to hear women say, “they won’t let you do that here” (such as regarding active birth–moving during labor). They seem to have forgotten that they are customers receiving a service, hiring a service provider not a “boss.” If you went to a grocery store and were told at the entrance that you couldn’t bring your list in with you, that the expert shopping professional would choose your items for you, would you continue to shop in that store? No! If you hired a plumber to fix your toilet and he refused and said he was just going to work on your shower instead, would you pay him, or hire him to work for you again? No! In birth as in the rest of life, YOU are the expert on your own life. In this case, the expert on your body, your labor, your birth, and your baby. The rest are “paid consultants,” not experts whose opinions, ideas, and preferences override your own.
There are several helpful ways to become an informed birth consumer:
Read great books such as Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth or Pushed by Jennifer Block.
Hire an Independent Childbirth Educator (someone who works independently and is hired by you, not by a hospital). Some organizations that certify childbirth educators are Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals Association (CAPPA), BirthWorks, Bradley, Birthing From Within, Lamaze, and Childbirth International. Regardless of the certifying organization, it is important to take classes from an independent educator who does not teach in a hospital. (I’m sure there are lots of great educators who work in hospitals, but in order to make sure you are not getting a “co-opted” class that is based on “hospital obedience training” rather than informed choice, an independent educator is a good bet.)
Consider hiring a doula—a doula is an experienced non-medical labor support provider who offers her continuous emotional and physical presence during your labor and birth. Organizations that train doulas include CAPPA, DONA, and Birth Arts.
Talk to other women in your community. Ask them what they liked about their births and about their care providers. Ask them what they wish had been different.
Ask your provider questions. Ask lots of questions. Make sure your philosophies align. If it isn’t a match, switch care providers. This is not the time for misplaced loyalty. Your baby will only be born once, don’t dismiss concerns your may have over the care you receive or decide that you can make different choices “next time.”
Remember that birth is YOURS—it is not the exclusive territory of the doctor, the hospital, the nurse, the midwife, the doula, or the childbirth educator. These people are all paid consultants—hired by you to help you (and what helps you, helps your baby!).