Do you ever wonder how women who KNOW their birthing rights end up handing their power over to their care providers? How women who know the risks of stretch and sweeps, AROM and other interventions end up with them? How a woman who planned to not even discuss induction until 43 weeks ended up starting induction procedures at 42 weeks 2 days?
If you are anything like me you see it a lot and keep asking WHY? Why are women giving up their power? Why are they suddenly changing their decisions despite no change in their health status or their baby’s condition? Why are they making decisions that are the polar opposite of everything they know?
Let me introduce you to the culprit – Cultural Conditioning.
Ever since I heard Michel Odent talk about cultural conditioning at a conference back in May, I have been slightly obsessed with this term and how it relates to birthing. I’ve always been pretty judgemental (ie: had an opinion) of women who made choices that were wrong. Not just choices that I thought were wrong, but choices that they themselves had deemed to be wrong. Like the woman who was adamant that she would not be induced until 43 weeks, who started having stretch and sweeps at 42 weeks 2days and ended up with her waters ruptured 3 days later. She knew that the decision to have stretch and sweeps was wrong for her. She knew that she would likely regret it. But she did it anyway. (DISCLAIMER: that woman is me in my second pregnancy.)
What does your cultural conditioning tell you about this? Is it okay to refuse a procedure your care provider recommends? Image courtesy of Hypnobirthing Centre WA.
So just how does cultural conditioning come in and completely undermine a woman’s power?
Think of all the messages we are bombarded with over the course of our lives and our childbearing years:
• Doctors are experts • We praise small children when they do as the doctor says
• Women who want a good birth experience are selfish • We need “help” to have a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth
• Just think of the baby
• All that matters is a healthy baby • Do you want to go back to the time when women and babies died all the time
• Doctors wouldn’t perform a procedure on you that was risky
• Your care provider will tell you everything that you need to know
These messages all influence our decision making to varying degrees.
Of course there are also people out there working hard to spread positive messages. As a Hypnobirthing practitioner I understand the power of positive thought and the philosophy of reprogramming “old tapes”. We use positive messages, woman-focused education, affirmations and the belief in birth as a positive experience to help women come to a place where they understand and reclaim their birthing power and can overcome their cultural conditioning. As more and more women take up positive, independent childbirth education classes these messages of positivity are spreading. But they are far from becoming our new cultural paradigm.
Doing my bit to help spread a message of positivity at a recent pregnancy and birthing expo. Author's own image.
I know that many educators feel sad when we see our clients, who we KNOW know better, make choices they were so set on not making. We feel like we failed. What did we do wrong? What information did we not give them? Why didn’t they listen?
We forget what we are up against. We can pass on all the positivity that we can, but when a woman walks into an appointment at 42 weeks 4 days and, after 2 weeks of induction talk, is told by 3 different “care” providers in the space of half an hour:
The staff will be traumatised if you baby dies because you declined an induction
You must want a vaginal birth more than a live baby
I haven’t been able to sleep all week because I’m so scared your baby is going to die
I will say that, while the “dead baby card” is a very nefarious ploy and unethical on so many levels it certainly gets results. “Your baby will die”. Those words, spoken by an “expert”, to a woman who is at the end of her pregnancy and has no support person with her will override any messages of positivity she has been exposed to over the course of her pregnancy. Those words will override her sense of reason. They will sit in her mind as she realises: If my baby dies, for ANY reason now, it will be my fault.
With so much to overcome it’s easy to feel like the fight is too big. How can we make a difference against such a huge system? A system that has legal department’s with million dollar budgets? A system that doesn’t want women to achieve their power?
Dandelions on the wind. Beautiful! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Remember that every seed of positivity that you plant has the potential to spread like a dandelion seed on the wind. We are kicking cultural conditioning’s butt – one woman, one birth, one hospital, one myth at a time.
Instead of bemoaning the times when cultural conditioning wins, let's really celebrate the times that it's overcome - especially since we know how tough that is!
Here’s to the birthing revolution – may women realise their power, take back their births and overcome their cultural conditioning.
I hadnt really considered that as a big deal, but you are right it is. It is so difficult to fight it, despite what your intellect tells you is the right thing (or wrong thing as the case may be). We are so conditioned not to make a fuss, not to scream and shout and stamp our feet and demand that we get what we want - because that would be selfish wouldnt it. But if we dont demand the birth we want, we get the birth that someone else wants and that doesn't suit us, it suits them. We pay the price for someone else's choices. Its so messed up.