As a birth professional, a big part of my job is walking alongside women and their partners during the childbearing year by educating them about almost every aspect of their pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum period.
I meet women where they are, not where I think they should be. Often, not even where she thinks she should be. Ask any mother, and she can give you a whole laundry list of things she thinks she can do better. Her mind is filled with “if only’s.” Part of my job is to encourage her to grow and change in ways that will benefit both her and her baby.
However, I’m not the one walking her journey. I’m just with her for a relatively short period of that journey. I get glimpses and snapshots of her and her life, not the big picture. I do not have the power to make decisions for her, and even if I did, how can I really know, at the deepest levels, what is truly right for her and her family?
In pregnancy, labor, and birth, there is not a definitive “right” and “wrong” for many decisions that come up. There are things that are good, things that are better, and there are things that are usually best, but even those can be subjective. There are no guarantees.
So, as an example, take a smoking mother.
We all know that smoking is harmful to anyone, and there is no known “safe” level for nicotine in an unborn baby. We all know that it’s wise to quit when we are carrying a child. Of course, we would love nothing more than to see her totally quit the habit, for her health and for her baby’s. However, we also know how horribly difficult it can be to cut off a nicotine addiction.
How horrified are we when we see an obviously pregnant woman smoking? How much do we look down on her poor choices, and feel a righteous indignation that “we would never do something so terrible!
What we are missing is the other side of that coin.
How do we know, on the surface, that this isn’t the first cigarette she’s had in weeks? How do we know she’s not working her butt off to quit, but is struggling just like anyone else? How do we know she’s not eating really healthy foods, staying hydrated, and doing mild workouts to stay as healthy as she can?
When will we get to the point when we realize that something is better than nothing.
If that woman were my client, I would assume she knows the dangers of cigarettes to her unborn child. I would assume she feels badly enough about smoking as it is, and that what she needs from me is encouragement to do what she can with what she has at that moment, just like the rest of humanity.
I would remind her that everything she is able to do well, is enough. That something is always better than nothing. That smoking one less cigarette everyday does make a difference, and shows that she is trying.
Even if I did know exactly what would be right for this mother, should that change the way I see her as a human being? May it never be!
As a doula and childbirth educator, I have come to realize that I might be the only person this woman ever meets who does not look down on her. Who treats her with respect and dignity. Who believes in her ability to make good choices for herself and her baby. Who will cheer her on and encourage her in every effort she is able to make, and will ultimately help her to empower herself to continue in her personal growth beyond the ending of our professional relationship.
It’s a valuable lesson I think all individuals would do well to learn. To look beyond what is seen, to the heart, whenever we can. And, when we can’t, to leave well enough alone and refrain from judgment. It’s one I am grateful to have learned early on in this birth career of mine.
This posts is an offshoot from a seed planted by my mentor and friend, Desirre Andrews, who has taught me to think outside the box more than anyone else I know.
Grace & Peace,