Recently, I’ve been listening to women. And, you know what strikes me? That really listening to women is a radical act. Believing them without minimizing or dismissing their experiences (even if what they’re saying makes you uneasy) is downright revolutionary. This is especially true when it comes to experiences around pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum journey. In many cases, women are second-guessed in crucial moments of their perinatal experience. There seems to be an inherent mistrust when it comes to a woman expressing and advocating for her own body. I’ll give you a couple examples.
I have birthed two babies in two very different ways. My first was reluctant to emerge. Ten days past her due date, she was still hanging out in there. She likes to do things on her own watch, still. The more you pressure her, the more she resists. Her entrance into the world was no exception. I tried everything, I hiked up a mountain, I ate an entire pineapple, I choked down the spiciest food I could find. Hell, I even went for a run which is not something I recommend doing when you are a week overdue. But, what I didn’t know, is that I could have, and maybe should have, just chilled out and trusted my body. I didn’t know that listening to my own intuition may have been the best choice of all. And when I begged and bartered for a few more days, my doctor didn’t listen. Instead, she presented me with facts and figures until I was scared enough to agree schedule an induction, which led to lots of other medical interventions, me feeling incredibly disconnected from my body and, ultimately, an emergency c-section that felt to me like a monumental failure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful we all survived, but I can’t shake the feeling that things may have gone very differently had I trusted my own instincts, had my doctor given me more space to voice my needs and taken them seriously.
My second is an entirely different story with the same theme. Let’s start with the fact that, in my town, I couldn’t even attempt a Vaginal Delivery After C-section or VBAC. It’s against hospital policy. Let’s continue with the fact that I had to talk my husband into driving an hour and a half in February to the next town over that would allow me to birth my baby the way I wanted to. Let’s go even further to the part where I show up at that hospital in labor, with actively intensifying contractions and the nurse doesn’t believe me. She instructs me to take a hundred laps around the labor and delivery ward to see if I’ll dilate more. I circle around the nurses station and pass by the rooms of real patients, which feels ridiculous and embarrassing considering I’m getting ready to bring a new life into the world. She is unimpressed by my lack of progress. The pain is coming regularly now. She tells us to leave, go out to dinner, maybe come back later but says we’ll probably just have to head back home and try again another day. Go out to dinner? Um, yeah, no thanks. The noise, the smell of food, the niceties, the people all around me just, ya’ know, eating dinner while I’m enduring labor pains? Maybe some other night. So, we check into the Super 8 Motel (that’s currently ongoing construction) but is closest to the hospital and cheap. At least there’s a bathtub, I think to myself. A few hours later, when I can no longer stand the pain and the intensity increases to what feels extremely urgent, we go back to the hospital. They allow me to lay down in the sort of limbo room and check me. Apparently, they aren’t going to let me in to have a baby unless I can prove myself through ample vaginal dilation. I can’t. But after they poke and prod at my most sensitive bits with no sensitivity at all and leave the room to compare notes my water breaks and I think, Well, they can’t turn me away now. I’m in.
All moms have a different birth story, it’s true. But, one thing I hear all too often is, “They just didn’t listen. They just didn’t believe me.” This isn’t right and it isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be normal for women feel bullied, pressured or neglected during labor and delivery (or at any other time in their lives). They shouldn’t have to prove they’re in need of care. They deserve to be heard. They deserve to be trusted and honored. They deserve to be praised and supported in their process. They’re trying to tap into a deeper wisdom than that of policy and procedure. These are our life-givers. Hear them, believe them, please.