This post was most recently updated on August 11th, 2021
‘She’s so kind, she spent 20 minutes telling me about why the induction is the best choice. I should do it really. I wouldn’t want to disappoint her’.
‘He was so gentle and caring and understanding. I’m sure what he says must be for the best’.
‘She’s told me that it would be dangerous to stay at home…but she was really kind and explained that the Delivery Suite isn’t so bad, really’.
‘He said he wouldn’t let his wife do that and he looked so concerned we didn’t want to worry him anymore, so we agreed to his recommendations’.
‘She said that she had done that when she was having her baby and it had all gone wrong. There were tears in her eyes. She really cares’.
‘She reminded us what a precious baby this is and after all the trauma we’ve gone through to get this far…she’s right, a healthy baby is all that matters’.
‘He looked after us so beautifully last time. I owe him so much’.
”He listened so beautifully to all our concerns and answered all our questions and reminded us that it’s silly to be thinking about my experience more than the safety of the baby and he’s right of course, we wouldn’t want to do anything risky’.
These are the kinds of things I hear parents saying quite a bit and they always remind me that being kind is just not enough. Meaning well is just not enough. Smiling and speaking gently is Just. Not. Enough.
There is a lot of talk in health care about compassion. And so there should be. It should pretty much be a core quality of anyone working in a caring role. Compassion means having a deep understanding and sympathy for another’s suffering. It also means wanting to do something to fix that suffering and take it away.
The problem is, compassion on its own can be a problem. If we believe we can make this all better, if we believe we know better, if we can’t bear to see present or potential future suffering, if even the idea of risk is frightening, then compassion can be dangerous.
Compassion needs to be tempered and balanced with empathy. The ability to enter into another person’s feelings, to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It is this ability that allows us not to get caught up in our own emotions and not get swayed by our own assumptions as to what might be right or wrong for this person. It is empathy which allows us to step outside of ourselves, just a little, and make space to really listen – and more than listen, understand WHY someone might feel the way they do.
So my plea to you wonderful, compassionate practitioners out there, whether you are doctors or midwives or nurses or lay supporters like doulas: Please try not to coerce with your kindness. Is this mother doing as she’s told because you’re so kind and she doesn’t want to upset you, or is she making a fully informed decision? Are you laying YOUR stuff on her or are you truly holding the space while she looks at the benefits and risks of all her options and then follows her heart? True kindness and care means trusting that those we care for can make safe, appropriate decisions for themselves, even if we disagree with them.
If you are a new parent navigating maternity care, I will remind you that you have the right to make decisions about the way you give birth and parent without being coerced. Coercion and persuasion can take many forms, but watch out for coercion through kindness, patronising platitudes and paternalistic persuasion.
If you’d like to continue this conversation, why not join me (Maddie), Verina Henchy and Emma Ashworth for our workshop for birthworkers – a session to ensure you are au fait with the law around maternity rights and tooled up to provide the best support to your clients. Book here: https://developingdoulas.co.uk/product/consent-rights-in-childbirth/