I will call this The Game of Birth.
In reading through the literature on birth plans, I discovered this undertone. The language women are expected to use, to signify their place beneath the authority, includes ‘being polite’ and using ‘preferences’ or ‘requests’…or even ‘wishes’. Women must be ‘flexible’, which is code for obedient or compliant.
We often hear that a ‘birth plan’ should use polite language, not be ‘adversarial’, and be concise. The argument being that staff do not have time to read it, and suggesting that anything other than polite is a declaration of war…which will be gladly accepted (!).
to communicate a woman’s informed decisions.
Why is a woman simply stating her informed decisions considered impolite, or adversarial, or defensive? Why must women continually step aside, and make room for the feelings of others, whilst her own are utterly disregarded?
All that matters is a healthy (alive) baby…apparently.
THE GAME STATES: A woman who attempts to experience birth is selfish, or irrational. She is not thinking of the baby’s safety. She can not be trusted, and is not worthy of respect.
This illogical statement is a human rights violation.
Women are expected to carry this burden of everyone’s needs, and yet are not trusted with it.
This catch 22, is wrapped up in the concept of informed consent.
At no point in the game is a woman issued with instructions or guidance. At no point are any clues given.
This is called woman-centred care.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
It is known that in Continuity of Midwifery Care models, that outcomes (physical and emotional) for women (and their partners, the babies, and care providers) are better. Mounting peer-reviewed research tells us this. And yet, the game has not changed. Those women who know about birth centres, and continuity of care programs know to book in early. They also seem to know about independent childbirth classes, and doulas, and normal birth physiology.
Balancing the power does not diminish the power of the care provider. It simply means acknowledging the power of the woman. This is a matter of respect. Of communication (ie care providers listening) and expressing informed decisions for various scenarios in advance. By having these conversations in advance, and giving women time and space to understand the landscape of modern maternity care, we increase their power. Instead of woman-centred care, we have woman-led care in partnership with care providers. Leadership is not about dominance and meets the requirements of The Game of Birth, where all needs are considered. The roles and strength of each member of the team come into play. The woman determines the best way forward, she is respected and acknowledged.
This shifts the game from superficial politeness, or negative politeness as described by Kim Hensley Owens in her book Writing Childbirth, to respectful communication. It levels the playing field. Key to this shift is a change in language.
Instead of telling women to be ‘flexible’, we encourage them to ‘know their options’. And to place those options into context rather than in isolation.
Options are often presented in a smorgasbord way, or a pick and mix…but this does not reflect reality. There are distinct pathways, and the way choices will work will depend on the previous choice.
There is no one way. It is easier to determine the best way if you have a map.