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Respect is not just for people who make the same choices as you

by lizzi (follow)
Helping plant the seeds of positive birth. www.sproutbirthing.com.au
Respect is an amazing thing and so important in our journeys to parenting. Respect builds a person up and it leaves them feeling good about themselves and confident in their abilities and choices. Respect can be the difference between a mum feeling great about herself and feeling terrible about herself. It honours the differences between us all and the individual journeys that we are on.

Respect doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. It is entirely possible to respect someone AND disagree with them. I have engaged in MANY respectful disagreements over the years. Respect means that it’s okay to disagree. Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t mean they hate you or that they think you are a bad mum – it means that they have different ideas, values, beliefs, customs, experiences and knowledge which has led them to different conclusions. Which is a good thing – can you imagine how boring life would be if we were all the same?!

So, your friend / acquaintance / random person in a facebook group poses this: “Hey, I’ve decided that: I’m not going to have a nuchal translucency scan / I’m not going to do the GTT / I’m going to have an elective caesarean / I’m having an induction / I’m not allowing an induction until I’m at least 44 weeks / I’m having a VBAC / I’m having a VBAMC / I’m having a homebirth / I’m having a freebirth / I’m going to eat sushi and drink coffee followed by a soft serve ice cream” or some variation of one of these and all you can think is “OMG WHY?!?!?!?!” Saying that would NOT be respectful. Here are some examples of other non respectful responses:



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Planning a home water birth often results in many disrespectful comments. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


“I can’t believe you would risk your baby like that”
“Don’t you know how dangerous that is?”
“I have a friend / sister / boyfriend’s cousin’s next door neighbour who did that and their baby died”
“I thought about doing that but decided not to risk it”
“OMG your baby could die!”

Suggesting that a woman is willing to risk her baby’s wellbeing is downright rude. Unless the woman says something like “I don’t care about my baby” you can pretty safely assume that she has the wellbeing of her baby and herself as a top priority. The thing about risk is that it is VERY individual. What one person considers “risky” another will consider perfectly safe. The mother is the only person qualified to decide how she feels about the risks that pertain to her particular situation.


“I can’t believe that your doctor will let you do that!”
“What does your doctor say about that?”

This is disrespectful because it completely ignores the fact that the mother is the decision maker in all aspects of her care. The doctor is not legally allowed to make decisions in regards to a woman’s pregnancy and birthing care. It also implies that the doctor is better able to assess what risks a woman should be willing to accept for herself and her baby. No one has the power to “let” or “not let” a woman do something during pregnancy and birth – not her doctor, not her partner, not her mother and not a bunch a facebook acquaintances.


“All that matters is a healthy baby”
“It’s not about you, it’s about the baby”
“Being a mother is about making sacrifices. So you should just do whatever the doctor says”

Yes the baby is the number one reason why women get pregnant. But birth is not just about the baby. Birth is about the birthing woman – the woman who will go on to mother the baby. And doesn’t that healthy baby deserve a healthy mum? Mums deserve recognition for the amazing work they do bringing babies into the world and deserve to be treated as important pieces of the birthing journey. Women do make many sacrifices when they choose to become a mother – but I think suggesting that a woman sacrifice her human rights is a bit much?


“It’s just a simple test / procedure. It’s no big deal.”

No test or procedure is risk free. And just because you found it to be “no big deal” doesn’t mean that is actually is no big deal for everyone. Take something as simple as a blood test – surely there’s no risks associated with that? My big tough partner was once carted off to hospital by ambulance following a blood test – he collapsed on the floor of the collection centre – there's a risk right there! Then take a woman who has a fear of needles – getting a blood test may well be an incredibly traumatic part of her pregnancy and birthing journey. And by telling her that it is no big deal you are telling her that her fears and her feelings don’t matter. Every woman’s feelings are important – even when they are different to yours.



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Continuous CTG is routinely recommended for vbac, but many women are declining it as they are not comfortable with the risks of this seemingly innocuous procedure. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


But, hey, you want to learn more about this woman’s choice? You’re not sure if she has seen the latest research on this topic or are concerned that she may have overlooked an option? Are there respectful ways to find out more? Of course there are! Simply asking a question is NOT disrespectful and judgemental. Unless the question is: “What sort of idiot are you?!” you can generally be assured that just because someone is asking you about your choice (which you have just freely shared, remember!) or offering other information doesn’t mean they are judging you.

Respectful ways to ask for or offer further information include:

“I’m not familiar with that. Could you tell me a bit more?”
“That sounds confusing / scary / interesting / unusual. How do you feel about that?”
“Have you read [this article]? I found it really useful when I had to make this decision.”
“Have you considered this particular [risk, benefit, alternative]?”
“Are you aware of these other options?”
“Did you know…?”

It is entirely possible to let women know of risks or negative experiences without it being disrespectful. If your aim is to help a woman to empower herself with knowledge then please feel free to share your experiences and information – usually your aim will come through in how you word your information. If your aim is to frighten a woman, then that will also come through in your wording and is very disrespectful.

Then there is the big issue of self respect. If you are going to be upset if someone asks you questions or disagrees with you or offers further information then please do yourself a favour and DON’T post the comment or question on the internet. Seriously – the internet is a big place filled with a really huge variety of people. There’s an exceptionally good chance that your post will be read by someone who will question you or disagree with you.

Please also keep in mind any topics that trigger you. If you are posting or talking about a topic that is a trigger for you please ensure that you THINK before you speak. For example I know that induction is a huge trigger topic for me so I always make sure that I am in a calm and thoughtful frame of mind before I comment on that topic. Otherwise I simply avoid the topic altogether.



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Respect is not just for people who agree with us. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


It’s always important to remember that we all bring different “background” information to our decision making: different knowledge but also different cultures, values, beliefs, experiences, hopes and dreams and fears. It’s okay for my choice to be different to your choice – it doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong, just that we are different. It’s okay for you to offer me information or to ask questions about my choices – in fact I would encourage that we ask more questions of each other, because this is how we learn new things! We need to trust in the universe – we are all on the path that we need to be on to become the best parents we can be for our children.

Make your choice and celebrate your choice and let other women make and celebrate their choices. There’s room in the world for more than one type of story.

Further reading:

Informed decision making

The maternity care revolution

Women are not just vessels

Birth is not just one day

Freebirthers deserve respect!
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