Good intensions are not enough. The method of delivery determines how information is received. Sometimes, in our quest to promote alternatives to the mainstream like breastfeeding (especially extended breastfeeding or nursing in public) or natural childbirth we can come off so strongly to the person we are trying to help/inform that they are turned off and tune out. That is when the backlash comments like "lactation nazis" and ideas of "us and them" gain momentum. It reinforces the idea that there are only two choices instead of a spectrum: breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, c-section or homebirth, etc.
Every time I hear someone refer to a lactation consultant as a "lactation nazi" I cringe. I cringe for many reasons, not the least of which is the trivialization of "nazi", but mainly because that LC missed the boat with the person they were trying to help. Why did they come off as bullying or so ultra gung-ho that the woman didn't feel supported, but felt attacked? I think part of the problem is that LCs have to deal with the misinformation being spread from all sources, but most notoriously, doctors, and they are angry and so fail to meet the woman where she is and deliver the assistance and information in a way that they can receive it.
On the other hand, you want to make sure that you give enough information in a direct enough fashion that a woman can make a proper choice. You don't want to be wishy-washy and downplay your advice/recommendations to the point that the person doesn't take it seriously, but you can't overplay it, either so that you scare or scold or humiliate the person.
My recent post about planning your "best birth" the first time around got me thinking. Though, I thought I was prepared and making the only choices that I could at the time, I did have other options that might have allowed me to avoid my c-section. As I said in that post, some people tried to tell me, but I didn't listen for a few reasons: my doctors said all the right things and I believed them and I didn't feel like I had any concrete, practical alternatives.
After my c-section, my wiser self started thinking about what they could have said to me that would have possibly changed the outcome? I don't think hysterical anti-c-section rants would have gotten through to me. However, positive experiences with ECV or recommendations of providers who had done breech births who were nearby would have helped. The problem was that they didn't know of alternatives and they wanted to support me. I had a great c-section experience because I was supported. But, I wanted to change the outcomes for others. Maybe that is why my baby#2 was breech so I could experience a successful, easy ECV and spread the word so people would be willing to try it before giving up and scheduling a c-section.
Though I had a good c-section and recovery, I still had some processing to do about it because I felt like I really didn't have a choice. The more I learned about what my choices were and what the risks really were, the more strongly I felt the need to save people from my fate. At a playgroup event, a woman (36 weeks along with her 2nd baby) said she just moved to the area and was going to the OB practice that did my c-section. I immediately launched into a very strong speech about their reputation for being very surgical and their high induction rate (an L&D nurse said it was about 90%, could that possibly be true?) and that she should switch immediately!
"It's not too late to switch,"I said.
I said this to a woman who was new to the area and very near the end of her pregnancy. I said it to with urgency and fear and after I'd done it, I knew I was wrong, that I hadn't helped her and might have hurt her, by scaring her. I didn't have a great alternative to offer, either, because all the practices in that area were very conservative. I was definitely working my own issues out on her and don't think I helped. I never saw her again and don't know what happened or how she took what I said to her, maybe it didn't bother at all, but I do know that is not how I want to communicate. It is not how I would have liked to recieve the message, if I were in her shoes.
Another example is that of a close friend who has several medical problems (migraines and a blood disorder). As soon as she said she was pregnant and was talking about her high risk OB and all the specialists I said,"Your going to have a c-section for sure!"
I wanting to slap myself right after I blurted it out especially because she said,"I hope not." I was able to back track a little with her because it was a longer, continuous phone conversation instead of a chat between chasing toddlers at a playgroup, but again, not how I want to communicate. Then, I sent her a book and some links to resources, which I think was a positive step, but, my initial comment caused me to compensate and leave out some factual information that might have made a difference. I got an e-mail from her after her 39 week visit saying,"I wasn't dilated or effaced at all and the baby is going to be huge so they are scheduling me for an induction The doctor even joked that the baby was just too comfortable in there (how many times have I heard that one leading up to an induction)".
I wanted to scream,"No! Not the "Big Baby Card", don't let them induce you with an unfavorable cervix for that! You'll end up with a c-section!"
But, I didn't. I wrote the e-mail a few times and deleted it a few times. It seemed as if she had made up her mind and was happy with the decision. I wanted to say something, though, so I just wrote,"You know, the sonograms can be wrong, and often are, by a few pounds." I started to go into Bishop's Score, but I deleted that and just sent the one comment.
When she wrote back that they told her,"she was just so huge that it couldn't possibly be wrong in the negative, that the baby might be even bigger", I just left it at that and knew she was going to have a c-section, but did not say so.
She was induced on her due date and..........drumroll........
c-section 8lbs 5 oz baby 10 days after the sonogram
Now, it is important to point out that she is happy with the birth and feels it was the right decision. Even afterwards, I said, gently,"I should have told you about Bishops Score". She said she still thinks it was the right decision. I have to let it go. Even if I had told her, she was not in a place that she would be comfortable going against her doctors' recommendation. I can't say that she was wrong due to her other medical factors and comfort level.
That story was playing out while I was desperately trying to get Eva to go vertex so I could VBAC. I was trying not to impose my desires on my friend. I do wish I would have sent a calm, factual e-mail about Bishop Score and links on "suspected big baby". I don't think it would have changed her mind due to other factors involved in her decision, but it is the way that I want to communicate with people, especially in the areas of lactation and birthing. I want women to have factual information and practical alternatives so that they can make the best decision for themselves and their babies. Not what I think is the best decision, but what they think. I do wish the birthing culture in the US (and many places in the world) were different, but that won't change overnight.
Instead, my goal is to get the word out in a respectful way. I have done that for many people. I am still enthusiastic in talking about breastfeeding, my VBAC, Hypnobabies, etc., but I try to be positive about the alternatives I'd like people to be aware of and consider instead of negative about the conventional options they may choose to take.
Recently, this was put to the test when, after I'd gone half way around the world plus a two hour drive to have a VBAC, a friend chose to have a repeat c-section in a hospital with some policies that were not mother and baby-friendly such as no husband's in the OR for c-section and baby has to stay in the nursery overnight. She said she was not happy with these policies, but didn't want to change doctors, and I strongly (maybe a little too strongly) encouraged her to change providers because the c-section rate is so high in Korea that all the doctors are very experienced. In the end, she decided to stay with her doctor. Her doctor found her an English-speaking helper to take her to the nursery overnight to breastfeed and she negotiated some other things so that she felt more comfortable accepting the hospital policies and staying with her doctor rather than changing.
She was very happy for my VBAC even though she is making a different choice. She just doesn't feel comfortable doing it in a foreign country where it isn't commonly done. She does not have the option of going to her home country for a variety of reasons. She is a very intelligent woman and she has thought things through. She is doing what she is comfortable with and I made sure to tell her that I supported her, because I want her to feel supported, not judged or criticized.
I may not always be successful, but here is how I try to find the balance:
1. Positive enthusiasm, not negative hysteria
2. Present facts and resources so that if people are interested, they can pursue the topic further and make up their own minds.
3. Present practical, alternative solutions (for example, Holland has a great system for birthing, but it is not practical to tell someone who isn't Dutch or is not living there to "go to Holland". Expense-wise most people can't do that. Even for me, when I was in PA and some suggested going to TN to the Farm. It was too far away for me to go by myself with a 2 year old to wait to go into labor. So start with local alternatives, there may be some people in a position to drive 10 hours to another state or fly to another country, but for most, it will just seem unattainable and make them feel even more pressured and trapped into settling for the induction/section their doctor is advocating.
4. Meet people where they are. Some people are more open to learning about natural childbirth and breastfeeding than others who may not be interested at all. You shouldn't give up on talking to someone who is afraid of natural childbirth, you just have to be aware and approach them differently. My own interest in natural childbirth happened accidentally because when I got pregnant, for some reason, I remembered Ricki Lake talking about doulas. This was years and years ago (before BOBB) when I was very far from having my own children. For some reason, it stuck. I hired a doula for my first pregnancy who introduced me to Ina May Gaskin and Birthing from Within which took away my fear of labor. Though, I didn't experience labor with my first, that educational foundation gave me the confidence to pursue VBAC with my second.
5. Finally, remember that these are not your choices. Respect and accept choices that are different from your own.
This is getting really long. i should stop now. Do you have any stories where you blew it by being too forceful with someone? Any stories where something you said made a difference and someone had a completely different (and positive) experience than they otherwise would have had because of something you said? I love it when that happens, especially when you don't realize you've helped at the time.