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I Just Want Women to Think!

(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.

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Reader Comments (22)

Hear hear! This is one of the best pieces I've seen on this subject. This is why I've pulled back from some of my previously-frequented "support" boards. So much harsh judgement and lack of love and understanding for someone who is most certainly NOT living life in your shoes. We say "boohoo, they always talk about us in this light or that way" and then turn around and spout the same ignorant, stereotypical crapload. "If only she knew" this and "If only she had read" that. Bah!

I do agree on reaching the younger (or just pre-baby) crowd though with ideas that will make them consider their options. Part of why I do like to bring up my homebirth or at the very least, not hide it. Because even if the hearer is aghast, that thought is in there, and again I'm not hoping that they will automatically choose a this or that birth/parenting option, but maybe it will inspire them to look more closely at the options given them when the time comes.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStassja

It always surprises me when I hear some of the statements like what you used as examples above. We always talk about how opinionated and single world view OB's and other providers are, but we are JUST as single minded as they are sometimes. Our way ISN'T the right way for everyone, nor should we assume it is. I think this is a lesson that each person has to learn on their own time, in their own way. Good post.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersabbath d

Thanks. I appreciated being reminded about just how useful a crusading attitude is. There's something very fundamental to the struggle of wanting people to "Be like me." I haven't quite put my finger on what it's all about, but I do know when I find myself motivated by the "be like me" impule (which is often) I'm not actually giving folks the space to "be as you are."

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTatiana

Awesome, thank you for this thoughtful, insightful post.

I think another way of thinking about these issues is to realize that actions might be more appropriate on the level of the institution or community, rather than the individual. Not only is institution-level action addressing the undergirding causes of the problems, but it totally sidesteps all of the victim-blaming, judgmental, evangelical problems that we can encounter when we interact with individuals.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJMT

I guess you could say I'm at the beginning of my 'birthy incarnation' and while I'm pretty fired up about birth (I'm an advocate, not a doula or midwife), I work constantly to offer information non-judgmentally.

My best friend recently had her first. I sent her Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, the Thinking Woman's Guide, and dozens of websites and articles. We watched BOBB together. Each time I sent or said something, I was afraid that I was being too forward even by offering resources.

Just before her beautiful, healthy son was born by c/s for breech, she sent me a thank you note. It said "thank you for all the support and information you've offered to me throughout this pregnancy. You opened my eyes to a world I really didn't know much about. I love how strong and confident all this knowledge made me feel." This was absolutely the happiest I could have been.

She's already asked me for info about pursuing a VBAC with her next baby.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca S

Fantastic, Rebecca. Glad it worked out wonderfully for you.

I've learned to ask, "May I send/recommend some books?" and that gives them the option to say no thanks.

And, I've found that the closer the person, the more challenging it is to let them do what they want/choose to do. My sister? Pushed her to try a VBAC and it nearly killed her (she'd had a crushed pelvis previously) with pain. I am now approaching my kids having kids and, oh, my... it's gonna be TOUGH to leave them alone!

(They're laughing as they read this. I know this post will be posted on their front door when I go to visit the grandbabies.)

February 20, 2010 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I've always thought, in some way, that the conversation around birth choices is mysognistic. Why can't we trust women to be educated to make the choices that are right for them? Why is there always the assumption that women's choice is based on being uneducated and uninformed? Yes, there are women who are under-educated and trust blindly in their doctors, but why do people act like this is aways the case? It IS possible to have access to and have read all the pertinent information and STILL make a different choice and be JUST as wonderful a parent as someone who made the choices we may or may not agree with.

Do we really think so poorly of other women that we think they are incapable of making their own choices without others interfering or judging them on it?

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Good post, Barbara!
40 years as a CNM have taught me that childbirth is like eating in a cafeteria. Not everyone has the same food tastes, or appetite, and the "art" of midwifery/obstetrics is to have a wide variety of foods available and to match the meal to the person eating it.

BTW, is there any progress on your intention to go for a CNM?

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAntigonos

i'm perfectly okay with having strong opinions on birth & child rearing. as a decade-long vegetarian, i have had many years of practice keeping my opinions to myself unless asked, but to say that i don't care whether or not a woman breast feeds, vaccinates or circumcises her child would be a ginormous lie. i care deeply, because i've observed that our species is going in a dangerous direction. i've been trying to figure out where i fit into the birthing world, with my passionate opinions & desire to help more babies be born drug-free into peace & stay that way. i was initially studying to become a childbirth educator, but with much reflection over the last 6 months, i have to admit to myself that i am simply too biased to remain neutrally supportive. there is room for all of us, we just need to figure out how we fit together. if everyone were apathetic & neutral, effective change could not happen.
as an aside, i think the careless use of the term "nazi" is offensive & inaccurate - unless you are, in fact, a white supremacist member of hitler's nazi party.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterI-dra

:) One of the things I've started telling the fanatics on the breastfeeding board that I moderate is "While you're here trying to make this mom feel bad for giving some formula feeds, there's a mom in another thread that is struggling with sore nipples. She doesn't want to formula feed today, but she might two weeks from now. Go help HER. She's desperate to make it work." as well as "If you feel so passionately that formula is so horrid, pump and donate." (I paid my admission fee on that one. :p I truly do believe that infant formula is quite horrid, but I don't think that is the fault of moms that formula feed. I think it's the fault of the companies that manufacture infant formula, the doctors and nurses that subtly push mom into failing after she spent her entire pregnancy hearing "breast is best", and all the others that actually have "blame".)

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Excellent post.

I've found the older I get (ripe at 28!), the more I take the approach of answering questions with the "Here is what I think and this is why, but you'll have to research it and reach your own conclusion" approach. It seems to work well and I don't think it feels so pushy.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertj

Huh? :P

For me I have realized that when I was a new parent that I was terribly judgmental of other moms, especially those that let their infants watch television (i.e. Baby Einstein). Well, after 5 years I have calmed down and realized maybe it helped that mother be a better mom by giving her a break, and it's better the child watch (urp) television or sit in a johny jump up (and shortening their Achille's tendon) then them being hurt. It's not what I would choose at all, but perhaps it works to a greater good - a child that isn't hurt.

I do know that without a parenting teacher talking about having a VBAC after 2 c-sections I would not have attempted one myself, and as much as I read I also know that there can be a lot of misinformation out there. For me if a study is verified by at least one or two other studies then I don't buy it, and with blog writers I read with skepticism unless they write not in advocate tones but this is what I've read, this is what I have done, seen, and experienced. The way information is presented has a lot of influence on how it's taken - like "Well, have you tried?" Or "Maybe..." Instead of "THIS is how it should happen!"

So, while I tend to be in my head most of the time - I really do, I am pretty aware of my limitations and conscious that others have their own if not the same ones. The big reason I am very impressed with your website is that you present things not as "DO THIS" but "this is what I have experienced", which I value far more, it's a better tool then most use.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthel

Great post! This is a subject that has been on my mind a lot recently and I really appreciate hearing your thoughts about it!

I try very hard to honor women's choices, whether or not I agree with them.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily CNM

Thank you. I agree whole-heartedly and I love all your blog posts.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauraD

This was so true, and so right-on, but man, it's hard to do! I mean... what if we ARE right and we can save someone from misery?! Aaaaaagh! But yes, like you, I'm trying to learn to just live and let others live as they want to, because it's a living battle. The thing about choice is that everyone deserves their own.

But... it's..... so.... hard to be quiet sometimes!

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Clear

I did think and I chose an unassisted birth. Couldn't resist bringing that up because, well, you're not so quiet and tempered about that. Just saying.

February 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaria

And that's when I have to bite my tongue and let your experience unfold.

(And there's SUCH an urge to say, if anything *does* happen, "I told you so." But, I'll try hard to squelch that urge. Dunno if I can.)

See, I still need helpful reminders. Thanks.

February 24, 2010 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Your post should be a warning on all of the Mothering.com forums.

I love you Barb!

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

Regarding one of the last things you said about reaching girls before they are pregnant ("what are you doing to help that?"), as of a few days ago, I have a very clear answer! I am raising three daughters. I have confidence in how the birth process was designed and confidence in my ability to give birth and little by little, I transfer that confidence to my daughters. My own mother did this with me as well.

This very obvious thing was not as clear to me until a few days ago, while contemplating a friend's total lack of confidence in her body's ability to give birth. Her two daughters will likely reap the consequences of her perspective, and that is sad to me.

February 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Thank you, thank you. Your example of the sling did touch me on a raw spot - while I practice a lot of AP, I can't wear my babies. I have hypermobility issues which get exacerbated by pregnancy (and then prolonged by breastfeeding) - I get PGP early on, and after I wound up on crutches during my first pregnancy, I had to have physio every week for a year afterwards. Now I'm four months postpartum again. I look fine, but my joints are a mess, my incision wound from my section still hurts, I have major diastasis which I'm trying slowly to repair, and if ONE MORE WELL-INTENTIONED PERSON tells me that 'everyone' can babywear without pain, I must be doing it wrong, have I tried THEIR sort of sling... gnnnngh. Has anyone successfully gagged someone with their preferred sling of choice?!

February 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTam

I have had 4 home births before I had an unassisted birth 3 1/2 years ago, so I guess it already unfolded. Not saying I would have an unassisted birth again, I can't make that decision until I would be pregnant again, but it was definitely what I needed for this birth. As an abuse survivor, birth has been very very healing for me, and thus for the mother in me. It goes too deep to explain here, but I feel I made the right and informed choice I needed to make. Thanks for your concern though! :-)

February 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaria

Excellent post! Seems like everyone I went to college or grad school with is pregnant or just had a baby, and it's incredibly hard to keep myself from giving unsolicited advice. I'm getting better at it, though! I just have to keep reminding myself that what was right for me (28-hour, unmedicated labor and midwife delivery in a hospital, cloth diapers, AP) won't be right for everyone.

And on a side note, learning about birthing/parenting from TV can sometimes be a good thing! I never would have known about hypnobirthing had I not seen a woman do it successfully on an episode of A Baby Story a few years back. The moment I saw it, I said "I want to do that!" ...and when the time came, I did.

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commentericedancer

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