In her blog about cultivating inner strength, Carley Hauck (Nov. 2016) posed the question, “When is a time that you realized that you gave away your power?”. Immediately my mind took me to my daughter’s birth.
Carley writes, “We have all had experiences where we spoke honestly about our feelings and needs and it was judged or dismissed—or even worse, resulted in love and/or support taken away. Based on these experiences, some of us move into people-pleasing behaviors and often say yes or nothing at all, when we really want to say no. As a result, we don’t assert or claim what we authentically feel and need, and thus we give away our power”. This quote summarizes my feelings about my first birth experience. My providers were three OB/GYN doctors who shared an office. I rotated seeing each of them at every visit, so I could get a chance to know them and they me, because anyone of them could be on call at the time of my birth. This idea in theory sounded good, but it was flawed. They did not get to know me, nor I them. I spent 90% of my visits repeating information already shared and trying to be heard and seen over the frantic note taking; I knew no one would even read the notes since I would end up reciting the same information at the next visit. Each visit I came prepared. I mentally told myself, “I will not be ignored this time, I am going to make myself heard”. And each visit I would leave the office feeling rushed, frazzled, and confused on how I managed to be ushered out the door with more questions than I had when I entered.
I had done my research, and I had questions. I did what the baby books suggested and wrote down my list to present at each prenatal appointment. Yet my providers were masterful at redirecting focus and energy and before I could finish sharing a thought, I was dismissed. Before the questions could even resonate, my providers would almost systematically be moving on to the next item. I felt rushed and invisible. I wanted to shout. I wanted to cry. I had spent hours reading and formulating these questions and the answers I needed were key components to decisions that could potentially affect every aspect of my future and my child’s life. It was as if my providers had heard these concerns so often in their daily routine that they had grown bored and arrogant. My providers had forgotten the weight carried in a new mother’s heart, a weight that could be shared or even lifted with simply taking the time to listen, to reassure, to discuss, to truly see the woman for the individual she is and respect that this process is new and often scary. I had a feeling of shame whenever I was uncertain or disagreed with my providers. There was no invitation for open communication, no space for a healthy exchange of ideas or self-expression. It felt like I was just a slot that needed to be filled on a schedule so that the bills could be paid to pay the doctors’ salaries and cover office cost.
Why did I allow this treatment? I do not know. There was a sense of loyalty because this had been the only gynecologist office I had every known and I had been going there since I was 11 years old. I was subconsciously buying into the culturally accepted White Coat Syndrome. I put too much trust and faith in the idea that my provider knew all, would make the best decision for myself and my child, and should not be questioned. In retrospect, I don’t even think they knew my name.
The birth of my daughter was beautiful. Despite my heavy heart, I had the exact birth I had dreamed of. But it did not feel that way. I labored at home on my own for three hours; I fed the dogs, gathered my bags, called for a ride, took a long hot relaxing shower, and mentally prepared myself for the next steps. When contractions were strong, steady, and consistent, I transferred to the hospital with the help of my family. I found my rhythm and ritual, and three hours later I delivered my baby. I expected to feel whole, but a small piece was missing. I had needed to be seen, to be heard and to be validated by the people I hired to guide me during this huge transition in my life. Instead, I had to find my inner strength and use my voice in between my contractions. The staff did not seem motivated to hear and see me as a mother who needed support and guidance. It felt much more like I was a mundane daily task that could be handled most efficiently with the convenience of standard procedure. There was a rhythm and comfort level of the staff in direct contrast to that of my own. From the moment I entered triage, I was encouraged to conform to the easy patient model. Before I was even examined, I was asked when I would want my epidural. When I stated that I am attempting a natural birth, but I am open to changing my mind, the attendant was snarky and quick with a witty reply that she will keep the anesthesiologist close for when I DO change my mind.
I am not saying the entire staff was this way. Robin was my breath of fresh air, and my assigned nurse. She was the first person to hold space for me, to acknowledge and show respect for the rite of passage I was partaking in. She gave me hope and inspired me to find my voice and inner strength. She did not question my rhythm and ritual but supported me as I needed in each and every moment. Two hours into my labor at the hospital my husband arrived from work. Robin had other patients, as nurses do, and went to make her rounds. My daughter came faster than anyone expected. I told my husband to get Robin because the baby was coming. He went into the hall and in came a nurse, not Robin. I was told there was no way the baby was coming, I had just been examined a half hour before. My husband left to get me some ice chips. I told the nurse “No, listen to me, the baby is coming”. She walked out and I called again. I was helped from the rocking chair to the bed by my husband. I called again. The nurse came in again and saw the head crowning. The room became hurried and packed as the birthing tables rolled in and the on-call doctor scrubbed up in the corner (My OB was delivering a caesarian down the hall). The baby was indeed coming. I asked to get up and was told no and that I must lay down. Out popped the leg stirrups, and the hand bars. My body wanted me to get up but there was a team of people around me now holding my legs and telling me to push to the count of ten. At that moment, my obstetrician walked in, put gloves on and caught my baby. That was the moment I realized that she was never my birth support, just simply a white coat to catch my baby. Robin hurried into the room moments after the birth of my daughter and comforted me while I received stitches and helped reassure me the baby was latching beautifully. While Zoe was being examined the family members began to pour into the delivery room. No one had known I had already delivered the baby and had just finished stitches. The front desk ignored my request to only allow my husband, mother, and youngest sister in the room. There formed a gathering around Zoe of enthusiastic loud grandmothers, aunts (well, two of the seven) that added to my husband’s excitement, and my stress level began to rise. Robin read my emotions and helped keep me modest, covering my naked body as she accompanied me to the rest room to teach me self-care. When I could not pee due to all the commotion just outside the bathroom, she turned a blind eye and allowed me to shut the door against standard hospital policy. She did not have to do much to earn my deepest gratitude, she merely saw me as a birthing woman.
Upon reflection, I realized I gave my power away throughout my pregnancy but especially during my labor and birth. I did not know at the time I could have changed providers. It did not dawn on me that I should have interviewed my doctors to make sure our values aligned, after all I had been using her office for 13 years. Had I felt more supported during my pregnancy and labor, I would not have felt so torn and confused in postpartum. At the time of my birth, I did not recognize I had been denied the right to my own body autonomy when I wanted to get up while pushing. Not knowing my choices or claiming my voice in that moment made it easy to surrender to make room for the “standard procedure”.
I changed providers immediately after my daughter’s birth. I wanted to find someone who respected my ability to be an active participant in decisions concerning my body, my labor, and my children. My second pregnancy, labor and delivery went even smoother. Emma was born within two hours of the first contraction. Again, my provider barely had time to put gloves on to catch my baby, but this time there was no sense of resentment, no feeling of frustration or neglect. I felt good and empowered by the entire experience.
I was completely baffled three months later when I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so off, so easily triggered. I had a text book pregnancy and birth, yet I felt defeated. I was depressed, and I was in denial. My new provider did all the right things. He called me into the office even before the standard 6 weeks check-up to screen early for postpartum depression, but the depression did not hit me until sometime later. I made an appointment to speak with him, but I was never actually able to say the words “I am depressed, I need help”. I was ashamed and played it cool. While I did express something was off, I joked and seemed upbeat. He took blood work and concluded my prolactin levels were all out of whack and I could use more iron. I subconsciously knew that my prolactin levels and iron intake was not the help I needed. I needed support while I was navigating this new transition of motherhood with two children. It wasn’t until 18 months later that I again spoke up. I made another appointment and this time I finally mustered up the courage to speak out loud that I was depressed. The anxiety and build up leading to that moment carried the weight of the entire last 18 months. The need to be witnessed felt so urgent, and yet I was dismissed with “Yes, mothering two toddlers is hard”. He suggested getting more rest and reaching out to family. I left the office dumbfounded. I had said the words, so why was there so little relief? I felt abandoned and needed more guidance. I thought I had clearly asked for it by stating out loud I was depressed, but in retrospect I had not. I had not specifically asked for more help, but I needed it. Why did my provider not read my desperation? Had I put on too good a show? Was it because after a year, it is no longer considered postpartum depression, but rather just depression and was no longer his concern? I do not truly believe that, I think he just did not know how to help me in that moment.
There is a gap in our prenatal and postpartum care that needs to be filled. Mothers in our birth culture are feeling unnoticed, misguided and insignificant. While a patient-centered care model exists, which outlines an ideal state in all areas of healthcare, this model often is not practiced or does not address the limits and constraints placed on healthcare providers. Providers often need to overbook their schedule to cover cost of business, including high insurance premiums. This leaves little time to give the type of care that they are capable and wanting to give. Providers and care professionals often follow protocols that are outdated because their governing bodies tell them to do so, or simply they do not have enough time between patients to keep updated on the new research available. My mentor, Claudia, shared with me in my training as a childbirth educator that obstetrics has the highest variance in the medical profession of evidence-based information available and the actual care that is practiced. Mothers, this is something we should not just accept! I do not have the answers, but I do have questions. We need to start asking more questions and making sure we get answers to those questions and are not just pushed along to the next appointment. It is time to re-examine why, in our birth culture, do both the providers and patients do the things we do. It is time to encourage open communication to flow in all directions and remind women to be active members of their birth team and proactive in securing their much-needed support in their postpartum care.
A mother’s power, to me, is cultivating inner strength. It is practicing self-awareness and knowing our triggers. Mothers, we realize our power when being mindful of our true values and having those values reflected in our actions and choices. We find courage to practice our power when we hold space for one another, to be seen and heard, in all the ways we show up in the little moments of every day. Mothers, we practice our power when we use our voice and when we become comfortable with being uncomfortable, when we no longer shy away from taking up time and space. This explains why I want to provide support for other women on their journeys from pregnancy to motherhood. This explains why I Doula, because I want to help the mothers I support claim their power, to use their voice, to know their options, and to realize the impact choice has on our satisfaction with our experience of birth and life. This is what a Mother’s Path to Power means to me. Standing confident in your truth, knowing you can have courage to brave the unknown because you will be supported no matter the outcome. birth experience. This expresses in words the pit in my chest after my second birth, when I finally mustered up the courage to speak out loud that I was depressed, and I was dismissed with “Yes, mothering two toddlers is hard”. This explains why I want to provide support for other women on their journey from pregnancy to motherhood. This explains why I doula; I want to help the mother’s I support to claim their voice and know their power of choice. This is what a Mother’s Path to Power means to me. Standing confident in your truth, knowing you can have courage because you will be supported no matter the outcome
Pregnancy, labor, birth, and motherhood are varying paths on a journey of transition in a woman’s life. A journey that does not, and should not, be travelled alone. I invite you to find the right people to stand beside you as you walk these paths. Mothers, it’s time to reclaim our power. It is time to walk beside and support each other as women on this path.
When selecting your team for labor and birth it is essential that you surround yourself with people in who you are able to trust, people that encourage you to relax, and who support you unconditionally. Interviewing is key to getting a better understanding of your standards and what you can expect from your team members. I would love the opportunity to meet and discuss your plans for your birth journey with you. The only way to know if we could work well together is to reach out. Regardless of which path you choose, I wish you the birth that leaves you feeling empowered.
Jessica Dennehy Doula Services
A Mother’s Path to Power
Bay Shore, NY
Serving Long Island- Suffolk, Nassau, and Queens
LIDA Trained Birth Doula
LIDA Trained Postpartum Doula
Informed and Mindful Childbirth Educator (through LIDA)
Lactation Counselor trainee (through Childbirth International)