I think I am becoming more pernickety in my old age. I really care about the language used around birth to the point that my own family tease me relentlessly – they’ve cottoned on to the fact that I hate the word “delivery” and will therefore take every chance to use it in front of me, hoping to provoke a reaction. Most of the time I try to ignore it – sometimes I take the bait and the teasing persists! Much has been written about the use of the words delivery and deliver when it comes to birth – how galling for a mother who has been labouring for hours to have someone come in and say “I’m going to deliver your baby now”. What does that imply she has been doing? Does it say that her body is somehow less than and it requires someone else to get involved for the main event? Does it reduce birth to something akin to pizza or parcel postage?
Yesterday I was listening to a Marie Forleo video blog where she talked about research that has been done around the difference between “I don’t” and “I can’t”. Apparently those that say “I don’t” are far more empowered and likely to stick to a resolution rather than those who say “I can’t”, so if I am trying to avoid eating more chocolate (I’m not – that would be crazy) I should say “I don’t eat chocolate” rather than “I can’t”. The power that two different letters makes is significant.
Empowering is one of the key words we discuss on our doula courses and we talk a lot about how a doula’s behaviour and language can disempower a woman or couple. Let’s take advice-giving for example. If someone says to their doula “what do you advise?” that immediately puts the doula in the position of authority – raises her up on to a pedestal of sorts. To my mind there are three possible scenarios if a doula gives advice.
- The client takes the advice, follows it through and finds it to be the answer to all her prayers.
- The client takes the advice, follows through but the results are not positive or helpful
- The client doesn’t take the advice and chooses a different path.
It’s easy to look at scenarios 2 and 3 and see how those situations might be detrimental to the doula-client relationship, but what about the first? Some might say, “fantastic, job done, everyone’s happy”. But is it really? I’m not so sure. How has the client been empowered and supported in that situation. If clients reach out to the doula for increasingly more advice they start to lose or not trust their own instincts and abilities to come to an answer that is right for them. The doula is placed in the “expert” role and the client takes less responsibility for decisions which might have a long-term effect on their lives and relationships.
Being an expert implies that you are an authority on a subject, that you know a great deal. As a doula I love to learn, to read, to take courses and workshops, to discuss all things pregnancy, birth and postnatal with others who share my interest. But, over time I have come to realise that there is a vast difference between theory and practice. Just because someone has written the ultimate book on parenting doesn’t mean that they will have the right answers for you and your baby, particularly as the baby won’t have read the book! I have also come to a place of feeling that the more I read the less I know. Each topic I explore opens new doors for further investigation. So it is not with false modesty that I say “don’t ask me for advice”. I invite conversation on a topic, I want to know what you know and what you think, what you believe and where those beliefs come from. I want to signpost information for you to explore options and choices, and ultimately I want to support you in making the decision which feels right for you. My feelings on a subject don’t matter – the decision is not being made for me, but for you, your family and your baby.
So, don’t call me an expert – the only person who is an expert on the baby is the parent/primary care-giver. I may be there in a supportive capacity, but my ultimate role is to empower the true expert in the picture.
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