Thursday, September 10, 2009

The if only game

I know that I, along with almost everyone else you will talk to about birth choices, urges you to prepare yourself, to educate yourself, to make good choices, to prepare. There's an insidious corollary to all these exhortations: when something does not work out, there is the potential for people to hear or assume it means that you DIDN'T educate yourself and/or prepare properly (aka blaming the victim). I read a blog post recently about this, by Navelgazing Midwife, and I highly recommend reading it. She talks about "birth guilt" and the "If Only" game:

As one birth traumatized mother said to me, “I also have had to hear for four years the questioning of my choices, the searching for blame that other women do. And then the ‘Well, there you go, bingo! That is the one thing you didn’t do that I did and that is why your birth sucked and mine was awesome. It’s not even subtle. I say something like, ‘Well I wanted a natural birth, but it didn’t go so well…” and they say, ‘Oh, well, did you have a doula?’ ‘Yes, I had a doula.’ ‘Did you have a midwife?’ ‘Yes, I had a midwife.’ ‘Well, did you do Bradley?’ ‘Um, no, that wasn’t really my philosophy.’ ‘Oh, yeah, well, you see, we did Bradley and it went just great. I highly recommend it.’ I truly think women want to believe that what they did had an effect, and I mean, it does have an effect, but there is also just luck, too.”

It's true that sometimes when things didn't go the way a person wanted, it's because they didn't prepare. But you can have the best preparation in the world, and things can still not work out like you hoped. (You can also do very little and get very lucky, although that is less common.) And without knowing exactly what happened, isn't it better to assume that a woman did her best to get what she wanted, and things just didn't work out?

As a doula, it's hard not to play the "If Only" game sometimes. I do it with my clients - never with them directly, unless they specifically bring it up, but I Monday-morning-quarterback in my head plenty. Particularly about what I should have done differently. I know I also do it with the stories other people tell me, although unless somebody specifically wants to know from me what I thought could have been different or affected the outcome, I try to validate whatever they experienced that was traumatic, and celebrate whatever was positive, and keep my mouth shut about the rest. I say I try...I probably don't always succeed, and this post reminds me to be mindful of that.

1 comment:

Sheridan said...

I do this too. I never do it with my clients unless they ask, but in my head after the birth, I often go over the different places where different choices could have been made. I am glad I am not the only one!