“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
We’ve probably all been told that a thousand times over, for as long as we can remember.… and we’ve probably all done a decent job of it, right? –but have we done a good job?
This principle smacked me in the face, recently, in the arena of modern medicine. I enjoy dabbling in alternative approaches to healthcare – homeopathy, acupuncture, ayurveda, to mention a few examples. I’ve been a big fan of babies since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. (If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or have perused old articles, you might recall my statement in a July 2015 piece: “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be just like you: nothing.” This, if you aren’t fluent in kid-speak, meant that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, as opposed to a career woman; I wanted to stay home with babies of my own!)
In the late ’90s I thought about becoming a midwife – another somewhat alternative, albeit historically traditional, healthcare modality, at least in North America – but abandoned that ship when I realised that it would conflict more with my own family life than I wanted it to. When that didn’t pan out, I considered becoming a doula – a woman who mothers the mother through her pregnancy, childbirth and early days postpartum – but left that by the wayside, too, to focus on my own family. In late 2021, though, after years of mothering and fighting the doula bug, I finally bit the bullet, took the bull by the horns and decided that I was ready and that doula-ing really was my calling.
In my training last year (2022), I was taught by experienced doulas who were similarly into alternative approaches to healthcare (as anyone who’s remotely interested in doulas probably is; let’s be honest, most people have never even heard the word ‘doula’ before!). Among the topics we covered was one around the subject of ‘what to expect at a hospital birth’ (in Australia, where I live). Being of my alternative inclination, I was familiar with some of the ways in which a hospital experience could be less than ideal, but these ladies opened my eyes to just how ugly it could get – things like, “They might perform some procedures without even really getting the woman’s consent” – procedures such as sweeping of membranes to induce labour, episiotomies to broaden birth canal openings, synthetic oxytocin for managing the birth of the placenta – without explicitly obtaining the woman’s informed consent. One of a doula’s jobs is to be aware of what might be offered in hospital, and to help birthing women understand what procedure is being proposed, if the medical staff isn’t being forthright about it. It was all a little scary, and I came out of there with my dukes up, ready to fight!
Part of our doula training entailed at least two birth experiences, in which we worked with women during their pregnancies and supported them through their labours and births, as well as postnatally. Upon reflecting on my two student birth experiences, at two different public hospitals, I marvel at how well the hospital staff communicated with each childbearing woman! There was very little sneakiness, as far as I could tell: they were very clear about the benefits and risks of epidurals, for example, and checked and double-checked with the women about their preferences around episiotomies, newborn procedures and the like. (….I do think there was one kinda sneaky thing, which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time; it’s been a good lesson to me to be informed, as I am becoming, and to pay close attention!)
Through these experiences, as well as others in my life involving alternative approaches to healthcare, I’ve come to observe that there are alternative approaches, and then there are radical, deep-diving, anti-medical-establishment alternative approaches. I’m all for alternative therapies, to try to manage situations in as natural a way as possible, but I’m coming to realise just how important it is to keep an open mind and give ‘the other side’ the benefit of the doubt, or at least a chance to prove me wrong.
So far, my (albeit only two student doula) hospital birth experiences have been positive ones. I’m still glad to have had a home water birth for my son, umpteen years ago, but that was my choice, and each birthing woman makes her own choices. The women that I’ve worked with have chosen hospital births (largely for financial reasons, no doubt, but nevertheless ) and, depending on their depth of interest in the natural childbearing process, medicated deliveries — but these were their choices, they weren’t hoodwinked into anything they didn’t want.
So….. I guess I just want to say, give the other side a chance; get to know what you’re dealing with before jumping to any conclusions; read a chapter or two before deciding whether you like the literature or not – don’t judge a book by its cover.