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Respectful Trust

The discussion goes like this:

I trust birth.

That means I inherently believe birth is normal and without flaw. As a midwife, I am able to sit quietly, witnessing the beauty of birth as it unfolds the way nature intended. While variations on the norm might occur, they are rare and usually resolve by leaving well enough alone. Birth is as safe as life gets.

When I question the “trust birth” philosophy (dogma?), I am generally considered a heretic… on the “other” side that believes birth is to be dis-trusted. It seems that either one trusts birth or one doesn’t – no middle ground, no grey area.

Needless to say, I disagree.

Various definitions of trust abound and include:

- Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something

- Dependence on something future or contingent

- A charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship

- Reliance on something in the future; hope

- Implies depth and assurance of feeling that is often based on inconclusive evidence

- To feel that (something) is safe and reliable

- To believe that (someone) is likely to do something safely and reliably

- To expect with assurance; assume

SYNONYMS: Trust, faith, confidence, reliance, dependence

These nouns denote a feeling of certainty that a person or thing will not fail. Trust implies depth and assurance of feeling that is often based on inconclusive evidence

I find that, for me, using the words, “I respect birth” fits better.

Definitions of the word respect include:

- A feeling of appreciative, often deferential regard; esteem.

- The state of being regarded with honor or esteem.

- Willingness to show consideration or appreciation.

- The act of noticing with attention; the giving particular consideration to; hence, care; caution.

- An expression of respect of deference

- The act of noticing with attention; the giving particular consideration to; hence, care; caution.

- To feel or show honor or esteem for; hold in high regard

- To consider or treat with deference or dutiful regard

- To show consideration for; avoid intruding upon or interfering with

SYNONYMS: Esteem; regard; consideration; honor

- Esteem: a feeling or attitude of admiration and deference toward somebody or something

- State of being admired deferentially

- Consideration or thoughtfulness

Using these words, it is hard to imagine anyone would have issue with the word “respect,” but I know it exists.

We “respect” authority. We respect our elders. We respect those that impress us with their integrity and honesty.

How can birth be respected and not trusted at the same time?

To me, the definitions speak for themselves. I believe the nuances of the meanings we put behind the words are incredibly important, too.

Trust is to be earned, not just given. Respect, too, has to be earned.

Looking at birth, which mindset repeats as labor and delivery unfolds?

In order to build trust, it takes time, experience, the ups and downs of a relationship and the ultimate belief that, with that one person or experience, for now, the person can be trusted.

As we know, trust can be rescinded because of a circumstance, an experience or because new information has surfaced.

It is thus so in birth. While entire conferences and belief systems revolve around the “Trust Birth” concept, I believe that, in knowing birth, in developing a relationship with each individual woman, only then can a trusting situation occur. It’s important to me to develop a trusting relationship with my clients. I want the relationship to be so ingrained, so deep that if an emergency should arise during the birth and I ask something of my client, she says, “Okay” and does it, not expending time asking if there are alternatives. I want her to know, during the pregnancy, that I will have used all the alternatives by the time I ask the seemingly impossible of her.

As the table is turned, I implicitly trust my client as well and if she tells me something – she feels poorly or she needs to go into the hospital – I hear her and believe her.

But, what if she tells me something like she doesn’t want to eat, but she’s nauseous after not eating for 8 hours? What then? Do I push through and insist she eat? What if I feel she needs a vaginal exam and she says, “No?” Do I coerce her to accept one?

This is part of the trust aspect. I trust that she has asked me to be her care provider and in that, I am being asked to do what I do best – oversee her labor and birth, working to keep homeostasis so she can deliver her baby in the most wonderful – and safest – way.

What ends up happening when I suggest something like a vaginal exam, the women already know I wouldn’t want to do one unless there was a real issue to examine… something going on that needs more information and the exam is the method in which to find it.

But, the trust I really mean is when I ask a comfortable woman to turn over/get up/move because the heart rate is down. To put oxygen on now for the baby. That we are going to the hospital via an ambulance because she is bleeding too much and we need more help. That pushing just isn’t working and we need to transfer in order to facilitate the delivery. These are the circumstances that all the trust-building during pregnancy leads up to.

I am particular about who I take as a client. I want to have clients that also want to build a trusting relationship with me. I’ve had my share of tentative clients, ones that question every move/decision/thought and never are comfortable with my answers. It’s a precarious place, serving women who don’t believe in the basics of prenatal care and monitoring the labor, birth and postpartum in the way I am trained and believe in. I choose not to do it anymore.

I am not a tyrant in birth. I don’t ask my clients to remain mute and obsequiously accept my tenets regarding their care. I welcome questions – and ask plenty myself! It really is the only way to move forward, into and through relationship-building. It’s wonderful to verbalize, over and over, how I feel about AFP Screens, Glucose Tolerance Testing, ultrasounds and controlled cord traction. I want to be pressed against the wall. I want to be challenged to think, consider and re-consider beliefs I have. I am not rigid in my care with women, but do utilize my experiences and share that with my clients. They, in turn, share their experiences, what they’ve read and what they believe.

It really is only in the emergent situation that questioning can waste precious time and where I want to move through during the pregnancy so we don’t waste a moment in discussion. The discussion should have already occurred, long before that crucial fulcrum.

But, how does one build trust in birth? Is birth able to rationalize its way through, maintaining its sameness time and time again? Does birth always go the way we hope it does? Is there so much of a rhythm in birth that expectations are met more times than not? Whose expectations? Does trusting birth simply mean we expect/know/believe that birth – THE BIRTH – will happen? That the end result is a baby will come out of the uterus one way or another?

What does “Trust Birth” really mean?

Because trust can be altered with a variety of circumstances… differing opinions that cannot be resolved, actions that are inappropriate or harmful, variations that threaten the health and safety of the individual… I can only trust birth so far.

To me, Respecting Birth is timeless.

I can respect someone when they change their mind after careful consideration, even if it doesn’t agree with my wishes. I can respect those that demonstrate behaviors that fulfill my expectations of integrity.

I can respect, in a different way, the power behind the actions – as in labor. I am deferential to the flow of pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum. I am a witness, yet a watchful witness that has been blessed with skills and the knowledge to nudge Nature back into normalcy should she slip once in awhile. Even as I respect birth, I know that she can falter once in awhile. She certainly rarely unfolds as textbook as any of us would like.

Looking at birth from a hot air balloon versus next to a woman’s AquaDoula are two very different viewpoints of what is happening. From far away, lumping all women together in a great conglomeration of birthing women, I can see how someone would believe in trusting birth. But, when taken individually, when seen close-up and right there, nothing is as mundane as “normally.”

I don’t sit wringing my hands expecting birth to fuck up so I can step in and rescue the woman or the birth. I merely hold the information sometimes needed to recognize when she begins to swirl outside the realm of typical/normal and I quietly, gently nudge her so she can find her center once again. I want to hold the worries and concerns of a mother so she is able to labor, unencumbered by the thoughts that can hinder her labor and birth. Through experience, I am able to hold them quietly and back in the recesses of my mind, yet easily accessible should they begin to present themselves.

Birth moves out of the realm of “typical” so often that implicitly trusting her seems absurd. Even experiences as small as a quicker birth, a baby that needs stimulation to breathe, a mom who needs encouragement to change positions and a uterus that needs massage postpartum can tip the scale out of the “trust birth” category. How can we trust that we won’t have to do something sometimes? Even UCers sometimes have to go to the hospital, be sutured or bury a baby. If we trusted birth because she could be trusted, wouldn’t these things never happen?

It makes so much more sense to me to accept birth where she stands, to acknowledge the swishes and sways she manifests – seeing the subtle nuances only something so ethereal/illusory/ tenuous could create.

To me, respecting birth is very, very different than blanketly unconditionally trusting birth.

It always annoyed me when I, as a doula or childbirth educator, would be told, “You just haven’t seen enough” when I believed complications were more created than something random. And yet, here I am, many years and many birth experiences later, saying that very thing to women-midwives and natural birth advocates alike who insist it is the provider that creates the difficulties and if left alone, birth would be perfect.

It’s not true.

You know how sometimes you hear your mother’s voice coming out of your mouth? Saying those phrases you swore you’d never say? It is like that.

“You just haven’t seen enough.” “The odds aren’t great, but when you are that 1% it is 100% to you.” “The important thing is a healthy mother, a healthy baby.” I don’t always say such phrases, at least that callously and angrily, but I sure do believe them.

Hang around birth long enough and you begin to see she doesn’t do anything by rote. Trends, yes. Meticulousness, no.

Birth has shown us that she deserves respect. It is much more infrequent that she implicitly earns trust. Even the most straightforward birth has twists and turns that must be worked around.

The mother in the water gets too warm and she needs to get out because the baby’s heart rate is climbing from the heat.

In a trusting circumstance, one might not have even bothered with listening to fetal heart tones because the baby is assumed to be just fine… and wouldn’t the mom know different if something was wrong?

In a respecting mindset, listening to fetal heart tones demonstrates the vulnerability of the mom and baby and then adjusting accordingly to keep them both safe.

When speaking about respecting birth to clients, I rarely (nowadays) come up against resistance. Unlike some un-natural birth advocates, I understand how important the birth “experience” is. Yet, I believe that most women would sacrifice the experience for the life of themselves or their babies.

I believe first-time moms are more idealistic than second or subsequently delivering moms, yet, in discussions it’s fairly easy to explain the incremental nuances birth can demonstrate. Eventually, most women I work with comprehend that their dream birth really isn’t 100% possible, that “going with the flow” of birth is much more enjoyable than clinging to a hope that probably will never happen. Whether the mom has to have a waterbirth or that she will catch the baby herself, the baby’s dance inside, and on the way out, has much to do with what each birth, exactly, will look like.

Women who’ve had previous traumatic births can grip their upcoming birth dreams tightly – sometimes so tightly that they squish out the cracks of their white-knuckled fingers. Oftentimes, manifesting the vision is impossible – even under ideal circumstances. It’s hard overcoming the disappointment of not achieving the Ideal Birth. Isn’t it better to not have rigid expectations that birth will be “perfect” and instead visualize “wonderful?”

When birth is trusted, she can hardly be blamed when she disappoints. How often is birth exactly as we wish her to be? Rarely.

However, if we respect birth, we can dance with her as she winds her way through her labor and the delivery of the newborn she cradles.

When we respect birth, we can accept her wherever she is – in perfect normalcy or as she foists serious complications upon her lady. Offering her respect, perhaps she will be gentle on us. With us. Giving her respect, we can hardly be disappointed.

Sitting with a woman, watching quietly from across the room, I am awed by her power and strength. She commands respect. Even as I believe/trust that all will be well, I also acknowledge the reality that birth is never a carbon-copy of someone else’s birth. Newer doulas can often super-impose a previous birth onto the woman laboring in front of them. It is a skill to allow each woman’s birth to unfold and to create her own experience and history. It is in this understanding that respect is honored.

In delving deep inside, I see that I respect those that simply allow birth to be all that she can be. Whether they are midwives, nurses or obstetricians. Acknowledging the truth that birth is oftentimes unpredictable (always unpredictable?) is, to me, a sign of maturity in birth and life.

Now, that is someone in whom I can trust.

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Reader Comments (8)

Absolutely well written and so perfect. I truly enjoyed this post and felt the truth in all that you spoke. Thank you for the incredible insight. This is what I have been feeling but have not been able to verbalize as well as you have.

May 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

May 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAubrey

Yes....and yes. This is exactly what I too, have been saying all these months on my blog and for years in midwifery. Birth and nature are "wild"; they are elemental forces and must be respected not only for their inherent ability to be "mild" as the Dutch midwives put it, so very often as to make a species a success but also for the same ability to throw a curveball--a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, tsunami and birth complication or disaster. To respect something, or someone, means to acknowledge, wholistically, all abilities. When we fragment birth, and life, we enter into a form of denial that has the potential to render us unable to act. If we insist on believing, and if we manipulate our clients into believing, that there are no real safety issues to contend with in birth; we are not viewing them, or birth, wholistically and we are not respecting them either.

My recent decision to retire from midwifery altogether is born, largely, out of these very concerns. I am no longer able to "sell" midwifery or to defend the increasing willingness of our profession to promote and protect, denial. Having worked with and lived around "addicts" of one sort or another, I am too familiar with the dynamics of co dependence and of disallowing transparency so as to promote an agenda that serves an often undeclared set of needs in the practioner and client alike. Birth is often "safe" but when it is not, someone is going to get hurt. The trick in creating a maternity care system that works for the majority lies in maximizing safety in all variables: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual and relational. It can be done but it must start with telling the truth. Thank you, Barb, for putting such a gentle, clear and open transcript to this dialogue--beautiful!

May 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKneelingwoman

hmm...well, i definitely trust birth more than healthcare providers. healthcare providers make more mistakes than birthing bodies and babies.

i've worked in a hospital too long to think otherwise.

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterktg

I think this is so well said.

Before I became pregnant, I was very interested in the unassisted childbirth movement and frequently participated in a discussion group on the topic... until I was chastised for suggesting a woman seek the advice of a doctor or midwife because her amniotic fluid was low and her baby had a double nuchal cord. In that moment I realized how horrifically dogmatic the moderators of the group were, because apparently group members were NOT to express opinions that were not wholly supportive of unassisted child birth at all times!

Birth is sacred. It is a force of nature. That definitely demands respect and, like any force of nature, Birth may often be beautiful and gentle, but it is also untamed and potentially dangerous.

So, while I agree that many interventions are unnecessary and can lead to further interventions, I do not believe in giving birth unassisted and I think a midwife is a wonderful medium between the benefits of modern medicine and the wild place where Birth exists.

May 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Great post on a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately. My first baby was born at home. I trusted my midwife, because I knew that she would not hesitate to intervene (transport to the hospital, give pit for bleeding, suction the baby, do heel stick on baby, etc.) *if there was a reason*. In the moment, I would not have questioned her judgement because I knew that she would leave well enough alone, unless there was a reason to intervene. I trusted that any interventions she suggested would be for my safety or the baby's.

I have moved to a part of the country now where there are no midwives, and I have been forced to seek care from an OB and plan a hospital birth for my second baby. I spend a lot of time questioning my Dr's care of me -something he does not seem to enjoy, and I don't like feeling like I can't trust him because he is an OB. I fear that when it comes time for the birth it will be hard to figure out what interventions are done "just because" or if they are truly needed for some reason. This is my main problem with traditional OB/GYN style care. I don't trust them, and it's a hard place for both the patients and the care providers to lack a basic level of trust in each other.

May 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

I continue to be impressed and astounded that midwives such as yourself exist. I chose natural childbirth for all three of my pregnancies, including the fist at the age of 17 (pregnant from my first experience with intercourse) and to a baby I was giving up for adoption. Instinctively, I knew, absolutely knew that I must deliver naturally and without medications and interventions. This was in 1987, and the nursed "hated" seeing anther teenager knocked up (their words to me as I was in labor). Quite frankly, I was allowed natural childbirth because they thought they were punishing me. Seriously! (You would not believe what was said by the nurses and how poorly I was treated). I did it. The high was greater then words can say, I was so humbled, and so fortunate to have this experience at 17. The next day the delivering OB (a male) came to my room with nearly crying. He told me he had never had any women show the grace, maturity and resolve that at 17 I had demonstrated. All of this was because I trusted my body, I believed in myself, and I knew in the end that if something truly tragic (needed c-section) then they could do it in 60 seconds. I didn't know bradly, I didn't attend any birthing classes, but at 17 I had an inner strength that I found and has continued to define me. While I have never had a home birth, I have been blessed with this confidence to trust myself. We have two beautiful children (hospital based natural childbirth) and my last was perfect! Everyone listened to me, everyone knew by now that I can do this, and so I can say that it is 100% perfect to me. I also gave an infertile couple the greatest gift, a life. They gave me a gift too, because I was able to go on and earn a B.A. and and an MPA:HA that as a single mom at 17 and no eduction/income I probably would not have been able to do.

July 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Just a few thoughts:
I guess for me "trust birth" doesn't mean the nothing will ever go wrong. It means to me that, when left alone it most often goes right. By virtue of being human, nothing is ever perfect. We add in risk factors by meddling, where it would have been safer if left alone. It's the default or the basis of care/support: women have got this, and it works wonderfully, albeit life isn't perfect. So if something is to go astray from "normal" then we will notice that easily and be able to offer support, because we have a strong basis for what normal IS because we've left women to their birthing in trust, and aren't messing around creating our own ideas of what normal is based off what we normally do to her.

And a huge part of birth trust to me is, truth. It's about finding the truth through fear. It's about serving women with trust instead of fear. It's about knowing that this birthing thing works so beautifully most of the time, and we don't need to DO anything. And when it isn't going perfectly fine, we have the truth on how to help the situation and can do so without adding a bunch of unneeded fear from us: the imperfect human birthing support.

February 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmber SKye Morrisey

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