Basic Kindness and Grown Ass Adults
When I was a child, one of my favorite memories was from when I was sixteen. It was winter, and, like clockwork, I was sick. So, so, sick. Sore throat, fever, stuffy nose; your basic Nyquil commercial. I was in bed surrounded by one million used kleenex.
I couldn’t sleep, but being awake was the worst. And I was lying there just wishing I could perish (dramatic per the usual) half asleep/half awake/100% miserable. And my mom came in, laid down on the bed with me and just held me. She put her cold hand on my forehead and I remember closing my eyes and feeling better. She didn’t say a word, just stayed.
It’s been almost thirty years since that night, and I can still remember the complicated sweetness of that night. Right before I came down with the plague, my parents and I had been arguing. All the time arguing. I was probably grounded and there had been hard words said by both sides. When my mom came in my room that evening, I remember being worried I was going to be lectured, or shamed. And I felt like death. I had no fight in me.
When she held me though, and just stayed, I remember not feeling worthy of this love. This kindness. (And I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m sick it’s like the BIGGEST pity party ever thrown in the history of the world. “Poor me” doesn’t even scratch the surface of the depth of self inflicted angst that swirls – and I live with depression, so that’s really saying something)
But there it was.
Covid has shown me exactly what we do as Doulas. Now that we’ve participated in many virtual births, what we bring to your birth is clear. And I will never hesitate in answering this question again.
We bring kindness. And we treat you like an adult.
We sort of knew that before, but when we could be in person, it was far easier to buffer efficiency from the staff with our touch and having our voices close to your ears. We could add the element of kindness to the hospital verbiage. To the hospital procedures.
In terms of kindness, in the hundreds of births I’ve been to, I have never been able to succinctly put my finger on it before. But this is what it is. And in those hundreds of births I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen a hospital care provider bring true warmth to a patient interaction. To touch a mother on the shoulder and say, “Dear one, I know that massaging your uterus is difficult. I need to take care of you though, it’s important. I see that it hurts you though, and I’m trying to be gentle”.
To be fair, It’s not their job.
You know what it is also not their job? Treating you like children and talking to you in a condescending manner.
Now I’ve been a parent for seventeen years. And I know EXACTLY the tone of voice that can come out when I talk to a child about an arbitrary decision that I feel isn’t the best for them. Or when I want them to do what I want, even if they don’t want to. And I know exactly how to expertly use a passive aggressive tone (I’m not proud of this, but I’m aware) and have an undercurrent of shame expressed.
I also know this does not make my children respect me, nor does it strengthen our relationship, nor does mean they do what I want with joy and acceptance.
No. It builds resentment and gaps and means they are less likely to listen me when things really matter.
I listen to your births now and here is what is clear.
You are not treated like an adult. You also don’t express to your care providers that you are an adult.
For example: Perhaps you don’t want a routine IV. Your care providers will repeatedly ask you if you understand the risks, they will use aggressive, inflammatory language about the risks of not having a routine IV. Every interaction they have with you will include a verbal dig about how you are making the wrong decision and could die because you have not accepted a routine IV. This will continue until you leave the hospital. It will come up during birth in EVERY interaction you have. Immediately after the birth it will be tossed out in every interaction as though you tempted fate with irresponsible behavior and weren’t you lucky. And in postpartum you will hear surprised comments of “Oh, you didn’t have an IV. Interesting. Well. That’s not what I would have chosen”
Can I please offer a reframing? I want you to imagine the staff in these situations as your Mother In Law. Offering side comments about how you are not capable to possibly make an informed decision about… anything. And then I want you to remember that you are Grown Ass Adult.
You can say to staff “I understand the decision I have made. I am an adult of sound mind.” (Interestingly, if care providers don’t trust you to be able to make a decision about your care, they can’t do anything to you – even touch you – without the consent of someone who can make decisions on your behalf.)
In the past we could remind you with gentle words and respect that this is your body. We could talk to about the actual benefits and risks based on the context of what was happening. Knowing that you are looking for guidance. Knowing that at the end of this, we want to build connection and respect. Knowing that for you to have the confidence of making decisions for your baby, you have to start to build this muscle now.
You are not treated with radical kindness. The voices are not gentle, there is no hand on the forehead, there are no physical comfort measures through contractions. There are only position changes and adjustments.
I have never before felt so clear about what it is that I do as a Doula.