There has been a lot of attention given lately to the topic of people judging other people’s choices when it comes to birth and parenting. The Similac “mommy wars” commercial, the “You Don’t Get to Have an Opinion on How Anyone Gives Birth. Ever.” article and others emphasize that we need to stop judging each other’s choices around birth and parenting, especially on an interpersonal level. We wholeheartedly agree. Parents should be free to make their own decisions regarding their birth experiences and parenting choices and it is disheartening that as a culture, we have become very divided. It is easy, especially when it comes to sharing on social media or talking with other friends, to be harsh and defensive regarding someone else’s birth choices, especially if they differ from our own perception of what is “best.”
We agree with the general idea to stop judging others, as it can be harmful and divisive. However, admonishing people to “never having an opinion” seems to be calling for everyone to keep quiet all of the time and in any circumstance. If you are an experienced mother or a birth professional who has access to information and experience that may benefit someone, such as a friend who is navigating pregnancy and birth for the first time, you may be her best (or only) gateway to information that could be extremely helpful to her. One could argue that keeping quiet, especially in the face of blatant misinformation, denies people their basic human right of access to information.
Since its inception in 2011, the Plumtree Baby foundation has been that parents, as consumers and as the ultimate parties responsible for the decisions made in pregnancy, birth and parenting have a basic human right to all the information that they need to make thoughtful and informed decisions. We feel very strongly that education and information is a key element to some of the foundational, systematic changes that are so desperately needed in maternity care in the United States.
Because of this deeply held belief of ours that education and information are essential and the potentially damaging results that keeping quiet can have, perhaps applying these principles to our conversations with parents may provide a more effective and healthy approach:
Consider your relationship with this person
Very few people eagerly welcome passionate, convicted conversation with strangers. A conversation with your best friend will look different than a conversation with someone you just met at the grocery store. It is not your right to approach every pregnant woman you see and give her a packet of fliers and your business card or tell her that she needs to birth or parent in a certain way.
Is this person asking for information or opinions or do they seem open to information?
Does she say things like “I don’t know if…” “I wish I could…” I’m not sure…” when you talk to her? Ask her how she feels about a particular subject and listen to her answer. If in doubt, wait to be asked, especially if someone is aware that you are involved in the birth business somehow and hasn’t asked you directly for information.
Be aware of your motivation
Do you care deeply about this person and want to make sure she is not bullied, coerced, or otherwise mistreated? Are you a crusader for systematic change and want to tackle this task one woman at a time using any means possible? Before looking deeply into someone else’s heart and mind, look at your own and figure out the best way to truly make a difference.
Recognize the difference between opinion and information
Some of your beliefs are based on factual information and can be helpful if shared with the right audience. Other beliefs are just your opinions and/or simply anecdotal. Before saying anything, figure out which one it is and explain the foundation for your beliefs so that others can weigh the information for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
Know when, where and how to share
Employ your interpersonal skills and always consider how your words and actions may affect others. The mom who is a week past a traumatic birth experience and sharing it with you in tears is not the mom who needs advice or to be crammed with information about “next time” or what she could have done differently to prevent this from happening. She needs you to listen, be kind, patient and gentle, and give her a safe space to process what happened. There are times to wear your educator/professional hat, and times to wear your loving, gentle friend hat. Discerning this regularly (prior to every time you speak about birth and parenting choices) will take you down a very healthy and wise path.
To illustrate further, here are a few examples:
Friend: “I would love to use a midwife but I want to give birth at a hospital.”
Harmful response: Staying silent.
Helpful response: “Actually, there are several different kinds of midwives, some who attend home births and some who attend hospital births. If you’d like, I’d be more than happy to give you some names of midwives who do hospital birth, and they’re often covered by insurance too.”
Friend: “Well, I really don’t want to be induced but my doctor says the baby is over 8 pounds and he doesn’t want me to go past my due date.”
Harmful response: Staying silent. Or “You don’t have to do anything your doctors says because he doesn’t know what he is talking about. My cousin birthed a 12 pound baby four weeks past her due date alone in the woods and it was totally fine.”
Helpful response: “If you really would prefer to avoid induction, I’d be happy to share a good evidence-based article with you about inductions and big babies that might help you discuss some alternatives with your doctor.”
Friend: “I just don’t know what happened. My pregnancy was so smooth and easy and then they only let me labor for 12 hours before they said I wasn’t progressing and needed a c-section. I only got to 3 centimeters. I guess my body just doesn’t know how to dilate.”
Harmful response: “That was totally unnecessary surgery! They just wanted more money and scared you into it.” OR “Well, I was only in labor for six hours when they did my induction and then my baby almost died so you’re lucky that your baby is even alive.”
Helpful response: “I’m so sorry that that happened to you. I’m here to help however I can. If you want, when you’re ready, I’d be happy to talk with you about this more in the future and maybe see if there is anything that might make the next experience more positive for you.”
The bottom line
Use good judgment before speaking to discern if your wisdom is welcome, but don’t be afraid to speak up if the circumstances are appropriate and you can help. Always, before you share, put yourself in the other person’s position and consider how your words and actions will affect her.
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