Recently in my life there has been a message that keeps floating to the surface. The reality of the power of our words, the concept that in order for individuals to flourish they need to be speaking life into the lives of those they encounter. The premise is usually simple when presented the things that are deeply rooted in our hearts will impact the words that flow from our mouths. The implications, however, are deep and wide.
When we speak words from a place of hurt, fear, or lies we throw out tiny daggers. I believe that most of the time people do not mean to wound others with their words. When we throw these tiny daggers carelessly, without looking to see where they land, we do immeasurable damage. This is true in every arena of life, but possibly even longer lasting are the impact of the daggers thrown at pregnant and birthing women.
Women often find themselves open to unsolicited commentary once the world knows they are pregnant. Why did you have a baby so soon; why did you wait so long? Is your belly too big; too small? Should you have that cup of coffee, or eat that sushi? Should you keep enjoying your daily runs or Crossfit classes? Have you considered naming your child something else? Do you think you will stop after this one? The world around seems to want a village mentality in growing the child but not in birthing or raising it.
Then we get right up to birth, arguably one of the most, if not THE most, defining moment of some women’s lives. And instead of throwing tiny daggers the world around starts swinging an ax, chopping away at the mama’s resolve, at her self-esteem, at the knowledge that she worked hard to acquire through education, and the choices she made for HER birth experience.
It seems clear to those of us paying attention that these words, wielded like machetes, do damage that can last days, months, years or even a lifetime. My own Grandma can recount her birth experience, complete with detailed timeline, 60 years later from memory. She told me how she was going to give herself a perm that day, how it felt to give birth under twilight sleep and how awful it was to be put in a supply room for recovery because the hospital was full. 60 years later and the words and actions retold in her birth story still carry weight.
When we see these weapons being used against our clients in pregnancy and labor it is difficult to hold back from throwing ourselves in front of the swinging sword to stop it from wounding them. Recently, I listened to a nurse condescend to a client of mine who had been working on a gentle induction for an entire day saying, “You didn’t go into labor last night so do you really believe your body can go into labor tonight?” My instinct was to leap from my seat and say, “How do you know she WON’T?” But (isn’t there always a but?) that isn’t our job as doulas.
My job was to comfort her after the nurse left the room; my job was to rub the salve on the wounds of those careless words. To remind her that she could ask more questions and then reaffirm her right to make choices for her body and her baby.
When the whole room says to her, as she weeps for the birth she wanted, that a cesarean is not a big deal and she shouldn’t be upset, our job as doulas is to crouch at her head and form the shield with our words that we wish we could form with our bodies. To speak life, to give power to their emotions, their desires, and their disappointments simply by speaking out loud that they are valid. There is a rejuvenating power in the words we speak directly to our client’s and their partners.
Recently, I heard an account of an HBAC (homebirth after cesarean) where the mom’s family had said terrible things before the birth. Some had assured her that she would give birth to a dead baby. Can you even imagine the wound that left in her spirit? As she retold her story, holding her perfect one year old on her lap, I could see that the power of those words was still wounding her today. The people closest to her did not speak life, they literally spoke death, and recovering from that may take years.
As doulas we cannot speak for our clients and we cannot stop the damage done as others speak at our clients. What we can do is to continue to speak with our clients. We can continue to speak respect for their choices and speak validation for their emotions. We can strive to build for them with our words what we cannot control with our hands. We can choose to speak life.