“Oh, this baby is at least seven pounds. How big was your last one? Six pounds? And you pushed for two hours? Oh, then this one’s not coming out that way. We need to take you back for a c-section, right now.” (Said to a natural-birthing mother with no complications at near-complete dilation)
“You were 5 centimeters two hours ago. I’m going to check you now, and if you’re not at least 7 or 8, it’s time for a section.” (This was said immediately prior to an internal exam. The exam showed that she was 7, progressing normally, and delivered vaginally in a few hours)
“Your due date was yesterday. You’re not in labor. That means I want to get an induction going. Sure, everything is fine now, but there are no guarantees. Why wait until something is wrong? You do it my way, and you lose your birth plan. Do it your way, you could lose your baby.”
“You got here four hours ago. You were 7 centimeters. Your baby isn’t here yet. Your labor is taking too long.” (Mama was completely effaced and dilated, just beginning to have an urge to push.)
“These American women. Always want their way.”
“Look, you’re at the hospital because you want people to help you. If you keep saying ‘no” to the things I offer, you’re not letting me help. I don’t appreciate this.” (Doctor had offered morphine and an epidural to a mama who wished to birth without pain medicine.)
“No, you can’t squat. This isn’t a field in Africa. Lie down. On your back, now.”
“Sure, we can wait another hour. But do you want to take a live baby home?”
These are only a few of thousands of discouraging and disparaging statements made to laboring women by their trusted care providers. These are ones that I have heard personally, with my own ears. They were said to women having normal births with no complications. They were said to intimidate, to exert power over, to control. They were said to bully and manipulate through fear, and it worked.
No woman in her right mind could hear these things and continue to make rational decisions. Hardly any woman could be faced with this and continue to be an active participant in her own care. She could hardly even be expected to hear any words that came next.
When a mama hears them, she feels frightened. The pain that she has been coping with beautifully is suddenly more than she can bear. She cries. She loses it. She screams and grabs for the hand of her partner like a drowning woman clinging on for life. She loses faith in her body, her baby, and herself. Her only thought becomes that of rescue. “Help me! Save me! Save my baby!”
When I hear them, I feel angry. I feel my blood boil, my hands shake, and my jaw go tight. My teeth clench closed, to bite back the words that are flying to my tongue.
What I want to say is, “Don’t you see what you’re doing to her?”
What I want to say is, “Who taught you to say that?”
What I want to say is, “Are you even listening to yourself?”
What I want to say is, “Why are you doing this?”
What I want to say is, “What do you have against a woman trusting her own body to handle the pain?”
What I do say is nothing. I plant my feet. I pray in my head. I take a breath. I urge my mama to do the same. I use my voice to pull her out of the other-world she has just dropped into. “Look at me. Right here. Breathe. Good. You’re ok. You’ve got this. I’ve got you. Feel my hand here? Good. Look at me. Breathe. You’re ok. You’re safe. Stay here with us. Let’s hear what the doctor wants to say. What do you want to ask?”
It shouldn’t be this way. Not for this mama, not for any mama.
Some people become OBs because they love birthing women, and want to provide excellent care for them. Some, it seems, become OBs because they hate women, and they’re the only one who knows how to fix what’s wrong with them. Shut them up. Make them obey. Do as they’re told. There are few official repercussions for this – babies get born, mamas are still alive and physically well. Emotional wreckage isn’t medically significant. There’s no way to measure it, or even prove that it happened. But ask the mama – her story is real. It is painful, and lasting.
I’m just the doula. I’m not there to have an opinion. I’m not there for medical judgement calls – that’s way over my head. I’m there for comfort.
No woman should have to be comforted after a fear-inducing verbal assault from a person she has chosen to trust.
This is not a medical opinion, it’s a human opinion. It may be true, in that moment, that something seems not right. Sometimes birth needs help. No one questions that interventions, including cesarean birth, have saved countless lives. Normal, healthy and sane women don’t typically say, “No, I don’t care about my baby, so just do this my way.” The very notion of that is ridiculous. It doesn’t need to happen this way – not when kindness is an option.
So I bite my tongue. I comfort. I do what I can to pick up the pieces and move forward.
Sometimes, it’s a doula’s job to show up, listen, observe, and be the one to witness that yes, that was wrong. That should never have happened. I’m sorry that it did. I wish I could change it. Yes, it’s ok to feel what you’re feeling, and it’s ok if you need to feel through that for a little while, or for a long time.
I take time to thank every practitioner I know who moves through their work with integrity, respect, dignity for all, and a remarkable capacity to continue to care. Thank you for doing it right. Thank you for giving it your best. Thank you for remembering, always, that though you may have attended hundreds of births, this is a mama’s first baby, and her story matters.
And I write it down so others may learn, because it’s what I know how to do.