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"It is best to learn as we go, not go as we have learned."

I have been contemplating this blog for a while now but haven’t been sure exactly what to say or how to say it. I guess I still am not sure…. I had mentioned in a prior post about feeling very disconnected from the “birthy” world and I know that there are many reasons contributing to that but the one that I wanted to blog about is one that feels almost wrong to talk about. Like I am breaking an unspoken rule. Hence, why it has taken me so long to do this. I feel like if there is any hope of moving forward and retaining some of my past birthy self, then I need to start working through and processing my feelings.

I have lived and breathed birth for the past four years. It has been a passion. It has been an obsession. Educating myself, feeling empowered by that and then working with families to inspire empowerment. There used to be nothing more exciting for me than watching a couple have an AHA moment. What has changed that?

I am not really sure what set off this round of negativity I am on at the moment, as it is recent. If I look to the past though, the very first time I had small doubts about my work was during my pregnancy with Addison. I was reading around on an unassisted childbirth site and happened across the opinion of someone who doesn’t think doulas are a good thing. At the time the idea kinda shocked me. I mean, how could doulas not be a good thing? She went on about how doulas, while their intentions are good, serve the purpose of being a tool of the system. That ultimately what a doula accomplishes is to make women feel good about their births. Isn’t that the point? Her point was that women that would have been traumatized by their births will leave the hospital having positive memories even when traumatic things were done to them. That in the end doulas are helping keep women in line for the doctors and further making sure that they don’t question the paradigm of medical thinking.

I don’t completely agree with this assement. I am not in any way saying that I think women should not have doulas, so that when they get worked over by the hospital, the nurses, the doctors or midwives that they damn well know they got screwed. ย Or even at their homebirth because as much as we all jump on the homebirth wagon, not all homebirths are without trauma or unnecessary interference. I guess what I am feeling is that maybe it isn’t all good or bad.ย Which then lends me to think that maybe most things are a little good and a little bad.

When I first considered this, my first thought was that maybe the solution was in education. Good education. Arm them with information! Tell them about their options! Or hell! Just tell them that they actually DO have options. Talk about how important a “good” careprovider is to their birth. Talk about benefits vs. risks and evidence based medicine… then they won’t need a doula to make them feel good about their birth. They wouldn’t need that because their birth will be good. Right? Or is it?

I remember reading the book Pushed by Jennifer Block and running across a quote from the author of the book, The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. I wish I had a copy of the book so I could actually quote it exactly but she had something to say that really got me thinking. It was along the lines that childbirth education has the negative effect of setting women up for disappointment with their births. We spend so much time telling women, “You have options!” All the while sending them into a system that they are very unlikely to get the birth that they want. The one that we help them want. Does that make sense?

Of course we talk about acceptance and flexibility. We talk about how there are no guarantees in birth and that most of the time birth won’t go exactly how you hope that it will. How you envision it. Still. There is that underlying message. The one about choices and how if you make good ones, especially prenatally, then you are placing odds in your favor that things will more likely go that way. No one really believes they will be the one to get screwed. Do they?

It makes me think about my birth with Haden. What a cluster fuck of interventions. But the ME of 5 years ago had no expectations about my birth. I had no preconceived ideals on what I wanted my birth to be or how I SHOULD be giving birth. I just wanted my baby. So now, although I look back at it with irritation because of the things I know now, there is no trauma in that birth for me. How differently would I have felt if I had something completely different in mind?

There is no safety in a “good” careprovider. I used to believe that there was but then I used to believe a lot of things. There is a handful of “good” providers in the Atlanta area and really they have been known to practice their fair share of non-evidence based medicine. Isn’t that what lead me to go to the opposite end of the birth spectrum to have an unassisted birth with Addison? Fear of this intervention. Well, and many other strongly held beliefs that maybe aren’t so strong anymore…

Ignorance is bliss, so they say and I sure do believe it. Does this mean that I think women are better off knowing nothing so that they won’t be disappointed in the results? No. However, it does mean that while I know ย I have helped many women in my career, I also wonder how many have I also hurt?

I know this is a terribly cynical post of me. I don’t mean to offend anyone with it, although the first person it should offend would be me. Since this is my life.

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7 Comments

  1. Well written, Crystal. I didn't take my birth class with you, but I WAS one of those women who thought I knew my options and knew enough, and yet I still ended up on that OR table and had my baby pulled out of me like a gutted fish. I remember my husband and I doing one of the activities in our IB class and choosing CS as the worst possible thing, and yet, it happened.

    I got my redemptive birth, but I will never be able to get over my first birth. I don't blame my instructor. I don't feel like she failed me or hurt me. I think she taught me to make the best possible decisions I could. She taught me to not be so scared of one intervention that I would choose something far worse just to avoid it.

    It takes a lot of guts to be able to openly examine your feelings like this. You are a very strong woman.

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  2. This is somewhat hard for me to read, simply because I wonder the same thing so often. It's a big part of why my path has changed so much. I'm seriously considering not renewing my doula certification next year.

    I know without a doubt for me that the trauma of Mellie's birth would have been so much worse if I'd gone along out of ignorance and found out later how unnecessary it all was. She would have been so early. She would have been moderately premature or very premature, depending on how off my due date was.

    Point being, keep in mind that sometimes an educated woman can have an unnecessarily traumatic birth that is still far better than it would have been if she hadn't been educated.

    Or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

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  3. I remember the thing about doulas being an instrument of the system. If I agreed with that, I wouldn't recommend them, and as you know, I'm a UCer too. What I see with doulas is parents being treated more respectfully by hospital staff; parents knowing their options and having someone help them make decisions in the moment; parents feeling supported instead of alone to sink or swim. The fact is, parents are still choosing hospital birth. So they're choosing to be in the system, and a doula makes the system more tolerable, easier to navigate, etc. So yeah. I don't think the answer is making sure women don't have doulas, so that they feel unsupported and have terrible experiences and choose homebirth next time. I really believe hospital birth should be humanized, made into something better for the women (98 or so percent of them) who want to be there, or have to be there.

    As far as teaching goes, sure, there are going to be women who don't have a great experience, and know it because of having taken a good class. I don't think ignorance is bliss though. More and more women are realizing that birth doesn't have to be scary or traumatic, that they can make choices to have a better birth. Sometimes they have to learn that the hard way (ie, by having a less than wonderful experience themselves). Sometimes not. I'm guessing if you polled your students, you'd find they felt your class helped, almost across the board. Even when things don't go as planned, women who are educated usually feel more in control and empowered in the decision-making process. That really counts for something!

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  4. I don't disagree. I am not ignoring the positives of our professions. Those are well known and the very reason why I became what I am. This is more about my personal journey and acknowledging the fact that our actions do hold the potential for consequences and working through MY hang ups around that. I think that moving forward it will change the way that I think about and view my students and how I approach the things that I teach. I am sure if I were to poll all of my students most of them would not agree that I am "to blame" for anything that happened to them in regards to their births or the emotions that they experienced because of it. Especially since I have formed very close relationships with many of my students. However, I also think that it would never occur to them to have thought about their births from that context and to do so would mean questioning the paradigm of "their world", which is no easy thing.

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  5. I wrote a long response on FB and it got eaten (ugh!). I'll try to sum it up here.

    I went through something like this some years back – not exactly like yours but VERY similar. Sometimes it's tempting to run and hide in a cave for a while (and sometimes necessary in order to assess these things) but then we have to decide whether we want to run away or turn and face these things and let them change us. I had Laura (and Becky) as my sounding board back then. I think, without that, I may have collapsed in on myself because of the enormous paradox I faced. We've been through a lot, seen a lot, and heard a lot. You may be surprised that we have some wisdom and perspective to offer on this exact issue.

    It sounds like you are growing as a teacher. Now comes the part where you realize what is and what isn't your responsibility. This is when it begins to shape HOW you teach. It shapes your ability to REALLY empower people – by helping them empower themselves. There is no one size fits all solution. So we have to teach them how to sew ๐Ÿ˜‰ Or try. Some people just won't be happy no matter what – and that is NOT your fault.

    I have a LOT more to say (much of which got eaten!). We should get together for coffee sometime soon ๐Ÿ™‚ You may find that you aren't alone at all. This journey isn't easy. We're here if you need us ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. I would LOVE coffee! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And to talk. You know where I miss going? Rev coffee!

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