Today I had an experience that has changed my whole practice.
I met with a young woman, under the age of 20, who is 33 weeks pregnant. No big deal for a birth doula, right?
Except that she knew nothing about what was going to happen when she goes into labour.
No-one, not even her doctor or midwives, has sat down with her and explained what happens to your body and what to expect when you’re heading into labour. She didn’t know what contractions were, what the cervix is, and gave me a blank look when I mentioned the word ‘uterus’. Because no-one had told her.
I asked if she’d been to see a doctor or a midwife yet, and she told me she’d been to see a midwife twice. But she didn’t really know what a midwife was, either. And no-one had discussed her options with her, whether she’d want an epidural or go naturally or anything like that.
What is happening with our education system?! Why are we letting these beautiful young people down?
We need to be educating our young people, especially women, about their bodies. If you aren’t taught, how do you know what’s happening within yourself?
The public education system tells us all about contraception, about preventing pregnancy and STDs, which is obviously great; but we don’t get taught about what happens when you find yourself pregnant, and how that baby will eventually come out into the world.
I personally feel this all surrounds a concept called ‘control‘, that some health care providers like to have. They like to know what’s going on, and keeping their patients in the dark (particularly young, disadvantaged women) is a means of maintaining control. If they know what’s going on but their patient doesn’t, then they have control and can influence us more easily. It’s easier to say to someone, “This epidural will take away the pain” at a time when someone is at their most vulnerable and can’t make an informed decision.
I can sense that, if I hadn’t seen this young woman, she would have gone into labour, freaked the fuck out, and immediately opted for all pain relief available without knowing any risks. Now, she has information about what her body will be doing, interventions, inductions, and why knowing these things is important. It saddens me that for this one woman, there are probably dozens more going through the same thing without the same education.
I demonstrated labour with a balloon and a ping-pong ball, just like Liz Chalmers demonstrates below, and I believe it helped her understand how the uterus works, how contractions bring baby down, and how the effacement and dilation of the cervix works.
And I only spent half an hour with this individual – half an hour out of my entire day to explain, as she told me after, way more than she knew before. To spend 30 minutes with someone to explain what happens within their own bodies is not an enormous amount of time.
This is why I feel my role in educating is changing. I’m not just someone here to help you during birth; I’m here as a resource before, during and after your pregnancy.
Please, please ask your health care providers to tell you what is going to happen; and if they don’t, seek out information yourself. You can never be too prepared.