(But, do I want them to think like me?)
In the beginning of my birthy incarnation, I was a rabid… what is a good word? Natural Birth Advocate (NBA)? Crunchy Nazi? I was like any new convert; you could not shut me up about birth and breastfeeding. I am sure I annoyed more than a few people, excluding my family whom I infuriated!
With time, I learned to temper that wildly pinging energy, gradually “advising” less and less as the years went by. I’ve watched the familiar dogmatic high in others many, many times over the last 25 years. It usually tempers with time, but some women become so wrapped up in their beliefs, their lovely experiences turn to outright anger at others who make different choices. What is it that moves us from living in our world to trying to meddle in others’?
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this statement:
“If women knew their options, they’d make different choices.”
The first is the assumption that she doesn’t/didn’t know her options, the belief that if she just knew them, she would have made different (my) choices. It’s interesting, watching a NBA scan the friend/woman on tv/their sister/the stranger in the park and come up with The Answer (to whatever the “problem” was).
“Oh, I know. She just didn’t know she shouldn’t have had an epidural because it increases the risk of having a cesarean. If she knew that, she might not have had a cesarean.”
“Ohhh! Her pediatrician surely didn’t give her all the pros and cons of circumcision. If she knew what they were, she would have made a different choice.”
Many times, you won’t hear the “If she knew…” line, but if you listen closely, it’s there. Another line you can faintly hear is, “If she’d only talked to me. I could have saved her belly/son’s foreskin/breastfeeding experience/from having birth trauma/from postpartum depression/etc.”
Another part of this is the (probably inherent) desire to help someone – usually by encouraging them to do it our way (read: the right way). Even when we try to be non-committal about the outcome, it’s very, very hard to not let our own biases seep into the energy of the situation. When we’re asked, “What did you do?”, our answers disclose our lifestyle/birthing choices and then opens the door to her asking probing questions.
Probably the main issue I have is when we aren’t asked what we would do, yet offer The Answer to the question she didn’t even know she had. What is it in NBAs that make them think the other side hasn’t examined the issue thoroughly? Isn’t that what the Medical side thinks of us? Is what we are doing, seeing things alllll one way, the same thing they do to us? What makes us think she even cares to look at the pros and cons?
I’ve heard women say, “But, I never knew that VBAC was even an option until I read about it in the paper/talked to that woman in the store/watched my friend have one/etc., so why shouldn’t I mention it to the lady in front of me who said she just had a cesarean?” I think mentioning the idea is a whole lot different than dissecting her recent birth experience. If she wants more information, be available to her. (This is a great reason to have business cards made that say something simple like, “Learn about VBACs” or “Need to learn how to use a sling?”… something benign like that. If she steps into your world on her own, then it’s all fair game – until she lets you know to stop.)
Being a midwife, women do step into my world and with that comes a bucket of information from prenatal testing to potty-learning. I still try hard to wait until asked, but can’t help myself when, for example, I know mom is buying “things” for the baby and a sling isn’t one of those things. “Oh! Is someone already buying you a sling?” can open that conversation up. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when women tell me they’re getting a crib or a swing or a bouncy chair. They’re reading the Dr. Sears books (getting the Attachment Parenting [AP] side of things), but they already know what they want to do. If they aren't being abusive or neglectful, the best I can do is be supportive.
My sweet midwife friend Michelle Wilbert (Kneelingwoman) tells of her choice to stop telling women what to do altogether.
“For most of the last 10 years, I've assumed competence on the part of my clients, meaning simply that I only offer information that they ask me for. I assume that they know how they want to parent, and if they don't, that they'll start asking questions of me, or of others, and find the resources they need. I've given up ‘classes’ that focus on ‘selling’ one style of parenting and I've focused exclusively on giving good care. I have zero tolerance for anyone's opinions about anyone's parenting because the variations of normal are too broad. I can't deal with small boxes anymore. I don't get concerned if a woman doesn't want to breastfeed, or co sleep, or vaccinates her kids because it's none of my business! I'm a midwife, not the parenting police. She/they are coming to me for a set of skills and a knowledge base and a relationship; they are not coming to me to micromanage their lives and I've seen a great deal of none-too-subtle manipulation of parents by Midwives who can't get unattached about others choices. If Midwifery wants to be mainstream, it will need to understand that mainstream choices vary a great deal.”
We don’t live in a world (in the developed world) where we learn how to parent by watching the village elders anymore. We learn by watching the television (ew, we know how awful those examples are!), reading magazines and books, or, more commonly, how our parents parented us. Subconscious parenting shifts into consciousness with a burning desire to do things differently. (And I know from talking to thousands of AP families that most of us purposefully parent differently than we were raised.) But, none of us is ready to change until we are ready to change.
One last note. I believe it could be quite helpful to share our ideas and beliefs to young men and women who haven’t even begun to form a question to ask. Speaking to Sex Ed. classes, Sociology classes in high school or college, Women’s Studies majors or even Psychology classes when they talk about lifestyles can all begin the dialogue we seem to ache to do. Midwives can’t do this outreach alone. We need help! If you think, “We have to reach our young girls before they get pregnant,” ask if you are doing anything to help that happen.
This conscious living, thinking before we speak and accepting others where they are can be a huge challenge, but I know that, when the energy comes the other way, it is exactly what I hope the will do for me.