Information Overload Surrounding Birth
How much information is too much information?
I’m a great believer in, ‘knowledge is power.’ All through history there are examples of the ‘elite,’ holding back knowledge from the masses as a form of power. Well those days are over – well and truly.
Knowledge is everywhere, at any time, from many sources. Our biggest challenge now is quality and is it worthy of our attention.
I work with many mums who have already sifted through the immense knowledge related to having a baby, and I can usually guarantee their heads are spinning, and most of it has left them more confused and often more fearful about what is ahead.
So much conflicting information surrounding birth and so many versions of the ‘reality of having babies.’
So, what does one focus on?
The experiences of friends and family? Only if they reflect how you would like to be. Follow the advice of those, doing it in a way that looks good to you.
The books? Well that’s a minefield. Good luck with choosing the right ones.
Health professionals? Now that’s an interesting one. These people are the experts in their field, so that includes the midwives and obstetricians and other health professionals. The truth is, we need to listen to them – they are driving the plane that we are on when safely delivering our bubs.
This blog post was prompted by an SBS segment around the NSW policy of ‘Towards normal birth.’ This is a policy that was implemented a few years ago to lower rates of intervention. Intervention is seen as costly, a lot of it unnecessary and hasn’t led to an improvement in outcomes for mothers and babies, hence the initiative ‘towards normal birth’ was born.
The journalist was trying to assess whether it was a good policy or not. It struck me when watching,
‘how do people make decisions when even the health professionals disagree on how to approach birth?’
Whilst the journalist did her best to be inclusive, recording the responses of a childbirth educator, Midwifery professor, an Obstetrician, and a woman who had a difficult post birth recovery. What she ultimately uncovered was a chasm between the health professionals that highlight how difficult it is to know who to listen to.
- The childbirth educator said; “Women don’t need to be faced with all the potential risks and complications when making a decision about the way to go.” I would add, they just need to know that the people supporting them know what to look out for. A head full of risks will result in a body full of tension, more pain and working against the normal birth process.
- The doctor said; “We need to tell women the complications they may be facing, and yes we may need to scare people.” This is inherent to the way they practice, if they don’t want to be sued. It also leaves little room for women’s choice or grey areas when it comes to making the best decision. Let’s face it, we don’t want to make the wrong decision and we surely don’t like our doctors getting it wrong or – off to the law courts we go. Some of us prefer to do what we are told, rather than question the ultimate gods of birth. It’s certainly understandable.
- The midwife said; “Women fear birth and they are passing that fear onto other women. Information needs to be given to women, the highest level of evidence and information, not the ones you picked to suit the agenda of the health professional.” Midwives know that fear changes her labour and her rate of progress. She bases her practice on the woman, her choices and how she wants to approach birth. If the labouring woman needs help, then she has the doctor to back her up.
- The mother said; “We empower women with knowledge, how can women make a decision without knowing the full risks of both modes of delivery.” I would argue, if you were to fully comprehend the full risks of having a baby in any mode of delivery, you would never have one!;
Health professionals may give conflicting advice
All health professionals have their own perceptions and opinions on the ‘reality,’ of helping mothers to get their babies here safely. They all have their filters on information that is relevant, or not relevant. They will respond to you according to their professional training, experiences, confidence and knowledge of the latest ‘evidence.’ They are more likely to remember the evidence that supports their own beliefs, because that’s what our personal filters do. This is what leads to conflicting advice. What surprises couples most when entering this stage in their life is this conflicting advice. It is so hard to make decisions when you have opposing ‘realities.’
Personally, I would love to see an unbiased approach to childbirth to treat women as individuals, not one size fits all.
I would also love to see doctors and midwives working more collaboratively, respecting the unique skills of each profession. We are currently not seeing these two camps working together and our health system is structured around the needs of doctors more so than midwives. It can breed a competitive professional atmosphere – me against you. This serves no one. Not the doctors, not the midwives and certainly not the women who may need a combination of both.
To know or not to know? What do you do?
I guide couples towards being able to have conversations with their health care providers that involves choice, respect and includes a recognition of the woman’s needs and what is important to her. In my experience, if they have been included, respected and exercised some degree of involvement and choice where possible – they are always happier with the outcome.
When it comes to being involved in your own birth;
- Be discerning about who and what to listen to.
- Work out what you really need to know, for you to feel informed and involved. That will be different for each woman and partner.
- Work out what your role is, and what your partners role is. Let your health care providers play their role.
- Be careful of fear-based arguments that leave you feeling coerced or scared into submission and look for a second opinion if you feel you need it.
- Learn to ask the right questions that give you a balanced view of the options, not just one side of the equation. This can happen when discussing choices like induction.
- Don’t allow yourself to be treated like a number in a lottery, when examining the research and the evidence. Rather ask the question;
– “What’s happening with my baby and my body in this pregnancy?”
– “What are the risks?”
– “What are the benefits?”
– “What other options do we have in this situation?”
– “What might happen if we waited?”
– “What might happen if we didn’t do the procedure?”
To sum things up, please know this. It’s your body, your baby and your birth. It’s also the start of your journey in being the advocate for your baby, so might as well start now.