As a childbirth professional, I find that I am often very frustrated with all the ridiculous messages that my clients are getting pinged with on a regular basis. Everyone wants to tell my clients their horror of a birth story. The receptionist at their OB’s office wants to ask my VBAC planning clients why they haven’t scheduled their repeat cesarean yet. The checkout person at the grocery store wants to explain how their sister-in-law’s brother’s wife’s cousin gave birth at home and it was a disaster. The person that comes to mow their lawn wants them to know that epidurals are sent from heaven. I want to think that these people mean well and don’t really understand how vulnerable a person is when they have a million extra hormones running through their body and are facing down a massive life shift soon, but I find myself honestly wondering if maybe they just don’t care enough to keep their opinions to themselves!!
Since the likelihood of everyone keeping their stinky opinions to themselves is pretty slim, I want to share a few tips with you that I like to give my clients and students to help them navigate the unwanted advice. I have 3 different methods that I tell them about and that they have found helpful.
I totally stole this one from a doula friend who every time she went to her OB’s office during her last trimester and anyone asked her about a declined non-essential test or scheduling and elective induction she would grab her belly and ask in a voice full of feigned fright, “Oh NO!! Is my baby going to die?!?!” She was being funny, but the staff usually just gave her a confused look and scuttled away to their desk. Humor is a fun way for some people to diffuse tension or to draw attention to the absurdity of a claim. It can come in a multitude of forms too, depending on the concern. Well meaning questions can even be fun, here are some examples:
Uncle Henry: “What are you having?” Pregnant person, “Well we think it’s a person, but it could be a gorilla.”
Doris the receptionist: “Aren’t you going to schedule your induction?” Pregnant Person: “Well, we just can’t seem to fit it in to our busy schedules.”
You get the point. Humor is a great way to diffuse what could be a tense situation, and honestly a smart way of handling stress that could otherwise elevate your blood pressure, which helps nobody.
Giving clients permission to be angry can be both liberating for them and unpredictable. I always talk to people about not mitigating their anger response, but maybe practicing a few angry indignant faces that will convey their point without even uttering a word. Angry responses can also be educational like telling the well-meaning nurse that no, you will not be needing any IV fluids right now because you do not plan to get an epidural. A simple and pointed NO can also communicate anger without erring on the side of a tirade, as was my personal tendency during pregnancy (and sometimes even now, oops). If anger is the client’s default, that isn’t always the best way to go when dealing with unwanted advice or suggestions, but I do like to still discuss the role of anger in communication with them.
Ignore and Fake Ignorance
Finally, one of the most effective ways to get people to leave clients alone is to ignore whatever was said all together or to act like they don’t have any idea what the person is talking about. An example of this could be ignoring the instruction to strip from the waist down at a routine office visit if the client does not plan or need to get cervical exams in the office. You can’t comply with requests that you do not hear. Similarly, you can’t react the same to stories that you don’t understand. This comes in handy for well-meaning birth stories especially. Faking ignorance can be a real challenge for clients who are very concerned with what other people think of them, so practicing this response can be helpful too. Of course, as a birth professional helping my client learn who they really need to listen to when it comes to advice and well-meaning stories is part of our conversation about communication. It’s important to listen to trusted providers, but filtering outside influences (from family members for example) can be a really important thing too.
The truth is that you do not have to pick just one of these approaches. You can use all three on the same person and in the same interaction even. What my clients choose usually depends on their mood in the moment and their personality generally. I like sharing these techniques with them because it arms them with several different approaches and also often validates their feelings. I like that talking about this also reinforces the idea that preparing yourself mentally for pregnancy, birth, and parenting choices is really important. Especially when our clients and students are choosing anything outside of the norm, it is imperative that we talk about strategies for criticism. It is important to encourage them with the skills they need to stay away from cultural and individual messages that might undermine their informed choices.
In our birth doula training, we did this exercise where all the students lined up in 2 lines facing each other. We placed objects in the middle and blindfolded one student at one end. A student at the other end tried to verbally guide the blind folded student past the obstacles as the students in the lines yelled things at them. The exercise was to show how in the fray, you can still hear the soft voice of a trusted guide. It is my hope that by sharing these strategies with you, you can help your clients navigate the cultural scripts that are being thrown at them a little bit better.
What other strategies do you help your clients learn for unwanted advice or stories?
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