Posted by: emjb | October 18, 2007

Rescue me

I was over at Rixa’s blog and got into a discussion about how passive so many women are, going into birth. Here’s what I posted in the comments:

Passivity in healthcare doesn’t just exist in birth; women and perhaps men too are used to seeing doctors when we are in pain, or needing help from them, and thus not dealing from a position of strength. Doctors hold the power in most dr./patient interactions; they know what your test results say, they know what your symptoms mean, they know what needs to be done, and you don’t.</em

And unscrupulous doctors take advantage of that. Moving birth into the hospital had the side effect of making the laboring mom a patient, and thus, the less-powerful actor.

I remember feeling that way, feeling afraid and needing to be rescued from the unknown, then after my c/section, slowly coming to understand that my dr. did not, in fact, know more than me in that area; that the medical profession in general is profoundly ignorant about what birth is, despite their bluster, and they use c/secs as a crutch rather than trying to overcome their ignorance.

I think that’s what it’s taken for a lot of women; which is profoundly sad. But really, I just did NOT want to believe that the medical system was so useless to help me, and would even hurt me. That’s a hard thing to accept, when you’re used to relying on doctors as the good guys.

We do rely, so very much, on doctors to be good people. We come to them at our very weakest and most vulnerable, even close to death, a position of no strength whatsoever. They hold all the power, when we need them. A lot of us take it so far as to not tell them truth if we think they’ll disapprove, and maybe also to retain some power in our interaction, withhold some knowledge from them.

Which is not good for us, but there you go.

Passivity is a particularly hard thing for women to overcome, because it’s expected of us so much; we have to be passive in the face of daily insults just to get through the day, and it creates bad habits. In birth, for me and I think for a lot of women, you can develop a “let’s get through this” mindset that leads you to ignore insults and impositions for the sake of speeding things up and cutting down on your already-present stress in the face of birth. And also, hateful as a hospital may be, it can feel like the safest option you have.

I was afraid to homebirth. Also, I hated my apartment and didn’t want to birth there. Also, we had a roommate we would have had to kick out. Also, there were no licensed midwives who could legally attend homebirth. Etc. etc. etc. The hospital was my haven, but it was a bad one–so bad that I lost all fear of homebirth forever. Lost my passivity (at least around this issue) in the face of doctors. But also lost my equilibrium; it’s hard for me to see a doctor now, hard not to panic at a white coat.

I have not had a well-woman exam since a month or so post-partum. I’ve had insurance, and opportunity. What I haven’t had is courage. The idea of being that vulnerable with an OB again makes me furious and tearful at the same time. I understand my responsibility for my own health, and I know I will go soon, but oh, I am angry, afraid, full of rage and bitterness.

I am no longer passive, but I am still stuck in a world that expects me to be, and I’m having a hard time figuring out how to deal with these emotions, with my body-memories, with my desire to kick my foot out of the stirrups and into the doctor’s face (heh). I don’t trust any of them, anymore, but I still need them, dammit. And I don’t want to.

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