I recently wrote a post about some of the things that are said to parents to cajole, manipulate or threaten them into accepting interventions. This is a widespread problem but the last thing I would want is for my readers to think that I have an unrelentingly negative view and experience of the way health professionals speak to women. In fact, in our travels with clients through the corridors of maternity care, we overhear many examples of words that are used for good.
Words that lift up
Words that create partnership
Words that foster trust
Words that empower
Words that inspire
Words that are spoken with kindness, genuine interest in our clients beliefs and motivations, that put the decision-making firmly in their hands and which show that the professional has a deep understanding of the power dynamic and how it can be used for good, or ill.
Most of all, we love it when we hear our clients being spoken to with kindness and empathy.
We would like to share some examples here, and, when we have the clients’ permission, we will be naming the health care provider whose words made our clients feel so warm, safe and understood.
When I search my doula memories for examples of wonderful care, the one that always comes up first is the Obstetrician who kneeled at my client’s side, put his hand on her arm, looked her in the eye and said gently, “What do you need from me?”
The fact that this simple act brought tears to my eyes speaks volumes. I was used to an entirely different modus operandi.
But these gems exist. Against the backdrop of under staffing, risk-aversion, under-funding, burn out, bad pay, over time, lack of breaks, lack of continuity and relationship based care and sometimes toxic, bullying workplace cultures, these practitioners shine like diamonds in the darkness.
One of the problems is that these treasures are so often hidden. Their light shines in rooms with the doors closed. It’s human nature to complain loudly and publicly about things we think were bad, but we can all too often take good care for granted. Or if we do realise the value of what we have received, the most we usually is do is send a thank you note or card. I and my fellow doulas feel these gems need to see the light of day. So we are shining a light on some of the most gorgeous, loving interactions we have witnessed. Enjoy!
‘I can see how important this is for you, I will do everything in my power to help you achieve it’
‘Thank you for coming to this appointment prepared to talk about your choices. I respect that you have given this a lot of thought’ Witnessed by doula Meghann Horner-Smith
“A homebirth I supported who was doing so against medical advice – when she called in labour, no one was able to come out to her. She ‘stood her ground’ and refused to come in. Low & behold 2 midwives arrived.
Afterwards, the 1st midwife thanked the birthing woman for ‘standing her ground’, so that she could provide support for the birth that she so clearly needed and deserved’. Witnessed by doula Meghann Horner-Smith
When doula Julie Ann Crowley was pregnant with her second child, she had an appointment with a Consultant. She was 40+ weeks, with high BMI and planning a homebirth. The consultant said, “I don’t want to see you again! Unless you want to see me. Go have an amazing birth!”
Doula Becky Young overheard a midwife saying to her client: ‘You’re hearing a lot of amazing things about yourself today. I hope they stay with you always’This was a midwife called Nicky, in the Rosie Birth Centre, Cambridge.
My client was transferred from home to hospital and the consultant was a dream. Everyone was telling her to stop pushing (waiting for kiwi ventouse and episiotomy) and the consultant said ‘but why? She’s the one doing all the fantastic work. Keep pushing as you may push your baby out without any assistance’. All with a gorgeous smile on her face. Story from doula Azeeta Nielsen.
Sian Young is a doula but also tells a story about when she herself was pregnant.
This midwife, she heard me, she just did what I needed, no fuss, no ifs no buts. (Backstory: i was being booked in for a csec at 40+5 instead of 40+12 because of the Easter holidays):
I had been thinking about the c-section all weekend and I was just not happy about having it at 40+5 for no reason other than admin. I spoke to my midwife and she suggested that I try to talk to a consultant when I went in for my pre-op blood test.
So on Monday I trekked over to the hospital with the boys in tow and asked the receptionist at the maternity unit if I could speak to a doctor about changing the c-section date. While she wasn’t horrible, she kept telling me that I couldn’t change the date. She told me there was no one there that could talk to me and suggested I go to the Day Assessment Unit instead.
The boys were starting to act up and I was losing my confidence, so by the time I got upstairs to the DAU I was an absolute state. I was crying so hard I couldn’t even speak. Full on ugly crying. This total angel of a midwife came over, calm as anything, and asked me if I was okay. Through sobs I explained that my C-section was tomorrow, that it was a week earlier than it should have been, that I really didn’t want to have it so early if I could avoid it and that I just wanted to know if there was a later slot I could move to.
She took my notes and told me to sit down while she phoned down to CLU to see what could be done. I sat there sniffling away for a few minutes before she returned.
‘It’s all sorted’, she said, ‘you’ve been added on to the 18th. There will just be four electives that day instead of three. Now go home and do the opposite of what you’re doing now, and this baby will come.’
Doula Jessica Slender attended a meeting with a consultant midwife with her client. Her client was told: “There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t birth in water. I have every confidence in you. I support your choices and I’m signing off your plan.” (Jan Butler, Consultant MW at The Rosie, Cambridge)
Doula Dawn Styles tells us: “I went with my HBAC (Homebirth After Cesarean) client to see a new consultant who had been recommended by a fabulous midwife. Some of the phrases he said to my client were ‘we will support you no matter what you decide’, ‘no one loves this baby more than you do, so your choices are priority’ and ‘I am just a passive spectator…. this is your birth’, ‘we need a full hour meeting on a day of your choice next week with midwives present so that everyone is on the same page for your birth’. I literally was welling up with happiness and gratitude for this amazing consultant. He even hugged my client at the end of the appointment!!”
I want to shout out to midwives Jayne Sari and Cathy Bevan at the Rosie hospital in Cambridge. Jayne should run a masterclass on how to bring the real spirit of the Birth Centre into the Obstetric Unit. She really listened and had faith in my client’s ability to make grown up decisions for herself. She didn’t show that she had any fear or try to persuade her to follow guidelines, but provided information and respected her choices. She developed a warm rapport with the parents and as the doula, I felt welcomed, respected and included. Because of Jayne and the support she had from the senior midwife on shift that day, Cathy, my client was able to have a straightforward birth, as close as possible to the homebirth she had originally planned. Jayne stayed beyond the end of her shift to greet the baby and was full of praise for the way my client had navigated her birth, saying “you stood your ground and trusted your instincts” What I witnessed was creative midwifery at it’s finest.
Here is another one from doula Pippa Moss
I was with my birth client at Bedford MLU this week and the Midwife (Becky) was extremely respectful, really took on board my client had had a traumatic first birth experience and as per the birth plan (which she asked for and read through thoroughly) communicated through me for any requests, before speaking to her directly when necessary and only with my clients permission e.g. To discuss any examinations and monitoring. Some time after the birth, the Midwife’s shift was over and she said goodbye to my client, adding “thank you for being so amazing”.
Sarah Budden: …Basically I desperately wanted a no intervention home birth but at term+17 reluctantly accepted induction for practical reasons (husband working away) and because actually I think I couldn’t properly switch off at home with 4 other kids for long enough to give birth. Anyway same induction midwife from start of process from the morning calls: ‘Are you sure you’re ready to come in?’ ‘I know you have other children to think about’. Fast forward, only need a whiff of propess to kick labour off.
Midwife: ‘I’m coming with you to delivery, I want to stay with you.’ ‘I know you want a pool birth there isn’t
one on MWL but I have the delivery suite one – I promise no doctors will intervene without your consent, it will be just like MWL.’ The best bit….
Things speed up, birth partner and doula furiously gathering belongings…Midwife says: ‘Where is that [laminated] birth plan I need to get this right for you.’ Megann Bowran QMC – she was an utter legend.
Hayley Shing: At my own midwife appointment another midwife standing in (Julia Goulson) was lovely at reassuring me of my choices and when I decided to decline a test but was worried about the pressure to have it done, she said “it’s ok if something just doesn’t sit right with you, I can call them to cancel it for you if you like?” music to my ears.
This box of treasures I opened up when I asked online for positive stories reminds me that, amongst the doom and gloom of maternity care, there are diamonds. Jewels who are providing holistic, woman-centred care. And by care, I really mean care.
They make families feel like they really are emotionally invested in them and their desires.
They meet a family where they are and take them as close as possible to where they want to go.
They put their head above the parapet for women’s choices.
They understand true meaning of consent.
They touch the human within, with warm words, simple touch and eye contact.
They understand that contractions require all of a birthing person’s attention, so know not to speak while one is happening.
They try not to disturb the process of labour, by standing back and allowing it all to unfold, yet somehow ensuring the women does not feel lonely or abandoned.
They think of the birthing partner(s) too and tend to their needs.
They remember this woman is a whole person, who is birthing in the context of her life, work and family.
They keep their promises.
They don’t keep people waiting, or, if they have to, they tell you why.
They don’t side with colleagues against a person in labour.
They don’t use the words risk and danger to persuade people.
They speak gently.
They use praise generously.
And I hope against hope that they look after themselves, because they are precious.
Do you want to name a wonderful midwife? Feel free to leave a comment!