How to Be a Bother in Birth

How to Engage in Birth Advocacy

Parents-to-be are forming new relationships with health care professionals at rapid speed during pregnancy, labor and birth.  These new and often short lasting relationships are important to expectant parents because of their potential impact on the birth experience, but they don’t always go as well as parents hope or would like. 

A mom said to me, while discussing concerns about a recent interaction with her health care provider, “I just don’t want to be a bother.”  Another told me, “I didn’t like what he/she had to say, but I didn’t say anything because I don’t want to be rude.” 

Often, parents-to-be tell me that they hear different recommendations from different providers and they are not sure who to trust.  And many parents are concerned about future interactions with hospital staff during labor and birth because of prior experiences or stories they have heard.

When these interactions occur, parents express that they either don’t want to ask questions or don’t want to address a negative interaction.  Through life long conditioning most people have come to believe that bringing up a problem or an encounter that didn’t go well means that people will view them as a bother, a pest, annoying, perhaps even rude.  There is a believe that patients are not supposed to question a doctor because “doctors know best”.   There may even be an assumption that the doctor, midwife, nurse or other professional doesn’t have time to hear concerns, or worse, doesn’t really care or won’t give quality care if there is a conflict or disagreement about a plan or medical intervention. 

What moms tell me is that when they have a negative encounter with a health care professional, it’s not worth the time or energy to confront it or address it, because nothing will change, or because the idea of conflict makes them nervous. 

Many moms say they just want to move on, leave it in the past, forget about or avoid it.  And then when it comes time to birth, they hope that they won’t have to face the problem or person they were hoping to avoid.  This is not just a strategy in birth and healthcare, it is one that gets reinforced in much of our lives in our culture.  We don’t grow up learning the skills to address conflict or difficult conversations. 

Why not just avoid the conversation?

There is one problem with avoidance plan (and you already know what it is), there is no guarantee it will work.  And somewhere in your mind you will continue to be worried about it, you’ll think about it, ruminate on it and although you may keep hoping it will go away, it never really does. 

And what if, at some point during labor or birth you are faced with the same problem or person you have been avoiding?

What if you find yourself not being sure who to trust? 

What can you do to help yourself, your partner and your baby?  How do you navigate health care provider relationships to get what you need during your pregnancy, labor and birth experience? 

How do you shift your belief from “speaking up is rude” to “speaking up is ok, my right or perhaps responsibility, and it helps me get the best care I can get.”  How do you remind yourself that even if someone doesn’t like what you have to say, it doesn’t really mean anything about you except that you are communicating what you need to communicate? 

How to "Be a Bother" in prenatal care or birth:

First, it’s important to remember a few things about the health care system in our culture:

  • Just like any other industry, you are the consumer (you are purchasing this service after all, either directly or through your agreement with a health insurance company) and like other industries, sometimes there are good days, they system is running smoothly, and sometimes not so good days, there are system breakdowns.  It doesn’t mean you are not a valuable patient, person or consumer. 
  • Just like any other industry, change requires participation by the consumer and can take a very long time.  Skin to skin after in the operating room after a cesarean birth, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC), support for exclusive breastfeeding, even labor rooms that are warm and welcoming; all of these are options or what is expected in some hospitals, in part because consumers asked, and demanded the changes.

Next, consider your beliefs about the situation you have experienced.  Take time to reflect on your experience and ask yourself some questions about it:

  • What bothered you the most about an interaction?  Or what possible future interaction worries you?  What did you come away feeling and believing about the situation and yourself?
  • Consider the positive intention of the person you interacted with.  Even if it didn’t come across the way you would have liked or believe it should have been communicated.  What were they trying to communicate?  What is behind it – fear, desire to protect you or your child, desire to follow protocols or rules? 
  • What is one thing you can do or say now or in the future to express how you feel or felt, to communicate your needs, wants, or expectations?  What new thing are you willing to try?  Who do you need for support? Write it down; maybe even draw an image of this interaction.  Who else is there, where are you, what does it look like for you to say what you need or want to say?
  • Regardless of any interaction you have had or will have in the future, what is still true about you as a mom, dad, parent or person, no matter what?  What do you always know about yourself that comes from a place of valuing yourself as an individual?  And how can you bring that to each interaction you have?

Rude? Or Respecting Your Needs?

Maintaining and establishing new, healthy, supportive relationships is a necessary task for the parent-to-be.  These relationships can provide support, encouragement and help in the months and years to come.  But before we try new ways, we have to believe new things about ourselves and how to be in the world.

What you once perceived as annoying can now become accountability to yourself and your baby.  What you may have thought was rude, now becomes a path to respecting your own needs. 

Search for a provider that is willing to be in the kind of relationship you are seeking.  If you don’t find one right away, keep searching.  Give yourself time to discover the care you are looking for.  And in the birth room, give yourself permission to say or do what you need to labor and birth.  Be a bother in birth, and don’t let it bother you. 

About Farrah Deselle, MSN, RN, CLC, CCE (BFW)

I am a maternal child health nurse and education consultant who blends 20 years of experience in diverse health care settings with training and expertise in trauma informed care and compassionate communication. My personal mission is to live a heart-led life and I am passionate in supporting others in their own journey of the heart.

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