Dear Healthcare provider….

Posted by: on Jul 20, 2015 | No Comments

Dear healthcare provider,

Please think very carefully before you say the words you are about to speak. Before you laugh at my birth plan, snigger at my choices, try to bully or trick me (for the safety of my baby), before you insist upon that procedure, before you force yourself on my body with your ‘helpful’ instruments, and before you say even one word more, STOP.

STOP and think what you are about to do or say.

Let me tell you why.

We don’t know each other very well, and there are many many things you could not possibly know about my journey in life so far. You cannot know if I was shamed or bullied about my body, by my parents, siblings, other family members, friends or acquaintances at school, at the vulnerable time of my blossoming. You cannot have any idea the effect this had on me, you cannot know what ideas or teachings I inherited, or how traumatic my entry to womanhood was.

You cannot know if I was touched up by pervy old uncles, a teacher at school, my childhood dentist, or even a closer member of my own family. You cannot know if I had a boyfriend throughout my vulnerable teens, twenties or thirties, who undermined me, cheated on me, criticized, or even beat me.

You cannot possibly know if I was raped or abused, and how utterly utterly horrible it feels having people like you ‘just taking a little look’, and putting things into my vagina, however gently, as if I were a piece of meat. Maybe, just maybe I have had enough of that in my lifetime and I just want my body back. Perhaps I haven’t told you because I have not even been able to tell some of my close friends yet. Perhaps I haven’t told you because I barely know you, and I don’t feel safe to. Perhaps I haven’t told you because I have a toddler in tow at all my appointments, and really do not want to discuss that kind of thing around her. Perhaps I don’t want to tell you because I only just met you five minutes ago. Perhaps you, with your white coat, and air of authority and respectability,  with your letters after your name that are supposed to mean that you are a professional who would never hurt anyone, look a little like the dentist who used to do horrible things when I was five and noone was looking.

And perhaps someone just like you, who meant well, who had the right credentials, the right training, the doctorate, and the confident assured words, gave me some terrible advice last time, which led to a cascade of horrible interventions resulting in a birth that felt like I was being butchered. You will possibly not find out that the full impact of things that might have happened to me because maybe I don’t really want to tell you. Or maybe I don’t have time. You might be just another one of possibly many healthcare providers I might meet in the course of my pregnancy or birth. Do you think I really want to tell every last one of you everything that might possibly have happened to me to date? What do I know about you, really? Apart from your job title? Can you understand my perspective?

Right now, I am carrying a baby inside me, and I want to enjoy this time, in the present moment and not revisit my past. I do not want to invite stress upon my unborn baby. I am an adult now, and I don’t need to be told what to do any more by kindly, paternalistic know-it-alls.

As an adult, I am free to make choices about my body, and my baby. I am going to live with this body for the rest of my life, and whilst my birth is just another out of many you will witness today, or this week, or this year, I will live with that birth for the rest of my life. I will wake up and relive it over and over, for better or worse, and it will still be with me, when I lie on my deathbed.

So please believe me when I say that I do not make my choices flippantly or lightly.

I am planning to carry and give birth to my child the same way I intend to raise them – by listening to others advice and then doing whatever the hell feels like the sensible, intelligent thing to do, according to my own principles and preferences. As the parent of my child, I am responsible for making decisions on their behalf from the word go. Not when you decide. It starts now already. If I say no to something, it is because I have carefully considered and weighed up all the pros and cons, and decided that no is the best choice for us. If I say yes and give my consent, it is also because I have weighed things up and made an educated choice.

I may not have your degree or doctorate. But you know something? The age we live in is making your knowledge less exclusive. We are not in the 1200′s any more. I am part of a savvy, educated movement of women who are curious, who debate, who watch, discuss, and share knowledge. I can read, so have quite possibly, read quite a good many different books about birth. I have the internet, where I can read blogs and websites by midwives, discussing the ins and outs and pros and cons of every minute aspect of birth. I have possibly taken part in discussion threads involving scores, if not hundreds of intelligent commenters, some of whom are healthcare professionals, so are more than qualified to comment, give advice, share information, insights and so on. The beauty of such forums is that women can try on different ideas and hold them up to be examined in the light of others experiences, before making any informed decision about things that will affect their baby or themself.

You don’t have a monopoly on understanding different aspects of birth. You are the expert in the information that you know, and an expert in doing things a particular way, but that does not mean it is the only way, the best way or that I absolutely have to agree to your way. You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to force me to agree with it. You are a service provider, and your job is to serve me. Not the other way round. If what you are offering doesn’t sit right with me, I have every right to say No, and for that to be respected. If you do not like this, and I understand that this can be hard for you to swallow. But it’s the truth.

Every decision I make about my body and my baby has been carefully considered. I love the child that is growing inside me, I will love them their whole life long. I will never stop loving them. My child, my partner and I will also have to live with the consequences of whatever decisions we make on our babies behalf, so believe me when I say that we never make these decisions lightly.

So please don’t you dare wave the ‘dead baby’ card and use this as an excuse to trample over my decisions. If I choose to do something against your advice it can only be because I don’t entirely trust it, based on my own independent enquiries, study, reflection, earlier experiences and discussions around this particular issue, and as I said, this may involve a blow-by-blow dissection of the subject with other midwives, obstetricians, and possibly other mothers who have been in the same position as me and have been able to share their own take on things. Whilst it may smart that I have chosen to disagree with you, and take a different course of action, know it is my right to make that choice and that I am doing it in what I believe to be the highest interests of my baby and myself.

If you assume that I am choosing homebirth simply to have some kind of hippy ‘experience’, without thinking deeply about all the implications of what birth at home means, or that I haven’t weighed up the risks and cons sufficiently, please think again. I am choosing my homebirth because I genuinely, absolutely, believe it is where my body will be relaxed enough to give birth without inviting stress and interventions that I know are so common in hospital. I may well gush about my birth afterwards, I may tell my friends or write online about how it was beautiful, that I enjoyed it and felt ecstatic even. You might mistake this for dangerous wrecklessness and dreamy hippy nonsense. I assure you, it is a happy side-effect of taking an educated choice, after weighing everything up in all seriousness. If I report that I had a healing birth, it may be that an earlier one left me feeling so traumatized that I did not believe birth could be so gentle, and was taken by surprise at how calm being at home felt in comparison. I don’t tell my birth story to spread hippy-schmippy propaganda, but to give hope to others who may also have suffered a brutal, institutional birth, which opened up wounds, caused new ones, or left them bewildered and confused about the role of such ‘helpful’ institutions such as the one you work in.

I know your hours are long. I know your training took many years. I know you believe you are valliantly saving women every day, and in some cases, you do this, and I am grateful that you do. You might even save my baby or my life. If you do, I will be eternally grateful. I do not mean to say that I do not appreciate your work or your role. I am just reminding you of a few things in case you have forgotten along the way who has the ultimate say over my body and my baby.

So, are we clear now? Before you open your mouth and speak to me…. I want you to remember this conversation we will probably never have…. but perhaps you read it online and it made you stop and think before you make assumptions or rude comments about my choices….

Tread softly….. dear healthcare providers.. …tread very softly please.

How society tells women to be aspirational… just not in their birth choices

Posted by: on Jul 10, 2015 | No Comments

I’ve been thinking today about the mixed messages we receive about how and when we women are encouraged to be aspirational, and by contrast, when we’re told to stop whining and suck up our lot.

We are bombarded by aspirational messages every day in the form of advertising, where autonomy, breaking out of the box, being discerning and fearless are positively encouraged. We are almost being dared to push the very limits of what is possible, to not settle for anything less than our best. The Women’s Tennis Association tells us ‘Strong is beautiful’. EA games tell us to ‘challenge everything’. Adidas tell us ‘Impossible is nothing’. Nike tell us to ‘Just do it’. IMAX tells us to ‘Think Big’. Vodaphone say ‘Power to you’. L’oreal tells us we are ‘worth it’. Apple tells us to ‘Think Different’. Sky says ‘Believe in better’. Tag Heuer tells us ‘Success. It’s a mind game’. M&S says ‘The customer is always and completely right’. The Red Cross tell us ‘the biggest tragedy is indifference’. Porsche say ‘There’s no substitute. Ferarri tell us that ‘Only those who dare, truly win’. Audi say ‘Never follow’. We are even encouraged to have full soverienty over our  burger-choices, and told, proudly to ‘Have it your way’.

Choice seems to be the shiny, glittering prize of our consumerist age. Choice to have it on our own terms, choice to shop around, choice to assert our own personality and feelings. Choice, choice, choice, choice, choice. Choice is literally poured at our feet at every turn. And so long as we are CONSUMING, as long as we are buying into their version of freedom, of carefully branded (pseudo) empowerment, we are treated as captains of our own ship, we reign supreme. Price comparison sites are falling over themselves to help us, the discerning and intelligent public, to enable us to match up our exact requirements, with tickboxes and forms to ensure we are filtering things correctly and end up with exactly what we asked for.

If we travel to a hotel for a couple of nights, a relatively inconsequential event perhaps in contrast to many other life events, we can go and look on a website like trip advisor and get the lowdown on what the place is really like by reading hundreds of reviews and look at photos of the rooms from different angles, then fish around for the best deal we can possibly get before we go.

You might think that in this age when we are encouraged to be so go-getting, to be discerning, to strive for the best, to aim high and take no nonsense from anyone along the way, that women have never had it so good.

But when it comes to REAL choices, are women ‘worth it’ as L’oreal tell us? Or are we only worth trivial choices? Does our autonomy and thinking power only stretch to choosing what car to buy, what lipstick to wear and which brand of clothes wash really does get whites whiter than white?

When it comes to the really big stuff, to life and death, it’s amazing how our choices suddenly shrink. And when no-one stands to make a buck out of us, we are no longer savvy, cool and intelligent women who know their own minds, who are encouraged to ‘Never follow’ or ‘Think different’ or that success is a ‘mind game’.  Strong is no longer beautiful, but instead, if we assert ourselves on those issues that matter, those details  in our lives which really mean something, we are treated like a royal pain in the arse. This is where it all starts to break apart and we see a very different attitude to women… and this attitude is most prevalent when we speaks out about our birth choices. Suddenly, we are now seen in a different light – wanting things our way is a problem.

We might have been a tiger in the gym, or the boardroom, but when it comes to asserting our fundamentally personal birth choices we can suddenly face resistance in different guises:  gentle discouragement, being laughed at, told not to be unrealistic or unreasonable, selfish, or even reckless. It is a rare thing for a woman to state all her birth wishes and for every person along her journey to say – ok, let’s make this happen! It’s even sadder when female staff undermine the woman’s sovereignty and, perhaps worn down by working in an anti-feminist, patriarchal culture, can actually take the mockery of women to a new level – reinforcing a disempowering model.

And of course, those female staff are under enormous pressures and strains to pressure women to conform, comply, fit in with the hospital’s way of doing things so they don’t get into any trouble, and partly perhaps also because of their own trauma and not wanting women to suffer something they believe must be an inevitable consequence of a woman’s ‘unwise’ choice.

This has never been more true than when a woman chooses to give birth in her own home. You might be able to have your sodding burger any way you like it, but having birth your way? Do you know how hard that can be to achieve? The fight so many women have, the obstacles they need to jump through, the ignorance, the comments, the judgement, the warnings, the finger wagging and tutting. And even, outright lies.

If you are in any doubt about this, all I can say is that these are the exact reactions so many women are telling me in real life, and reporting in homebirth discussion forums, where others pipe up with ‘me too’s’. I have heard of midwives say ‘we’ll see about that’ or obstetricians tear up women’s birth plans in their face and laugh. This is how little autonomy women really have, in the so called civilised, developed world, of the free and the upwardly mobile.

I wonder if men gave birth whether there would be such a hoo-ha about their choices? Or would they be having Burger King style births, where every request was respected and met with a “Yes sir, no problem!”

The Red Cross is right, the greatest tragedy IS indifference. This is why it’s up to every woman to stand up for her rights, stand up for her choices and as Nike say, Just do it. Strong truly IS beautiful. On our terms. We really ARE worth it. But we don’t need some advertising brands to sell us that strength or that beauty, or that freedom. It is ours to hold onto and fight for.

We don’t have to tolerate the intolerable. Being pregnant does not invalidate our right to say ‘This is what feels right for me and my baby now can you please respect that and stop bullying me!’

If you want to refuse a certain procedure, like vaginal examinations or induction, you have every right. Find that midwife or doula or advocacy group to give you the courage to stand up for what is really important to you, those who will be your ally. But remember, ultimately it’s YOUR voice that matters most in the birthroom.