How To Be a Bad Mother: 10 ways to get better maternity care

Ok I admit it, I chose that title to get your attention. Now you’re here, let me explain.

Right now, maternity services are in a state of collapse. Like all places of chaos, things can be pretty unpredictable – sometimes doulas see their clients getting top notch care and sometimes care can be slapdash, unkind, coercive, missing or even dangerous.

But there are things you can do to weigh the scales in your favour. The following list is not exhaustive. You may have tips of your own to share. They all have one thing in common – not being a good girl. When it comes to having a baby, it can really help to channel some of a toddler’s stubborn determination. Because owning your maternity journey makes you an exceptional person, and exceptional people tend to thrive despite challenges.

So with no further ado, here are my top Bad Mother tips:

1. Consider not letting the hospital system rub out your individuality and person-hood. Wear your own clothes. Sit, don’t lie whenever possible. Invite doctors and midwives to sit at the same level as you. Require people to call you by your preferred name and use your preferred pronouns.

2. Own your space. If you are giving birth in hospital, do not be scared to pin up pictures on the walls, take in objects that mean something to you and move the furniture to give you space to move. Play your music if you want, say your prayers or use the scents that relax you. Make sure you can see the sky but take a roll of tin foil to cut out the light if you choose. Refuse a room that looks out onto a brick wall.

3. Question authority. Ask for the pros and cons of every test and procedure. Speak up for yourself and your needs and comfort at all times. If you are unable to, have a companion who can do this for you. Know your rights and have an understanding that you cannot give consent if you don’t know your all choices or the risks and benefits of those choices.

4. Let your caregivers know your unique needs. Let them know who you are, what you have left at home and what you require from them in this interaction. If you have a main goal – make that plain. If you have a main fear, share it. Engage in conversation if you are able. If not, seek a moment of human connection – a moment of eye contact or a squeeze of a hand transforms you from ‘the multip in room 3’ to a three dimensional human being who they are emotionally invested in supporting.

5. Don’t be afraid to record conversations with your caregivers. It means you can review the information shared again later, which can be especially helpful if you were emotional during the consultation. It also means you can share information with family members or supporters who were not able to be with you. It is polite to tell people you are recording but they do not have a right to prevent you. The contents of this consultation is your data, which you have a right to. Being recorded also tends to focus a clinician’s mind on giving the very best consultation possible.

6. Require positivity from your caregivers. Positive interactions do not mean giving you false hope. Rather it is understanding that the mind rules the body. When we hear that someone in authority does not trust us to give birth without help or incident, it can actually make it true. Being told you are ‘only 3cm’ can slow contractions, introduce doubt and increase our perception of pain. Being told that you have done all the work of effacing and softening your cervix and are now dilating nicely can fill you with warm pride and renewed energy. Ask for positive external signs of progress if you feel yourself flagging. Ensure your birth plan reminds your companions to praise you in the ways you know you respond to best.

7. Speak to your body and your baby. You are a team. Trust yourself and tell your baby that you believe in them, too. Remind yourself that your inner voice is wise and true. Remember that your baby knows how to be born and knows how to communicate their needs to you. All you have to do is listen.

8. Arrange practical and emotional support from those who love you and from those who have the specialist skills you need. Learn to be able to recognise whether your caregivers have the skills you need. For example, if you wish to breastfeed, but the first suggestion when you hit a bump in the road is a bottle of formula, this person does not have the time or skill to help you. Decline their care and demand to see someone else, or bring in your own appropriate supporter.

9. Leave the hospital as soon as you are able. You do not need anyone’s permission to be discharged. If you are in touch with qualified lactation support in the community, feeding is more effectively established at home than on a hot, noisy, busy ward. If you had a cesarean birth, when you have good help at home healing will be faster than in a hospital full of other people’s germs. Listen to your clinicians’ opinion, but if you feel able and you’re going home to support, it’s not a prison and you don’t have to wait hours for paperwork if you don’t want to.

10. Give feedback. Think hospital green walls are depressing? Tell them. Upset that no one can pronounce your name correctly, say something. Honestly communicating your feelings can not only improve the care you receive but feel empowering and cathartic. It’s not being aggressive or adversarial. You are gifting your caregivers with information that will help them do their jobs. This helps them have better job satisfaction, so it’s a win for both of you.

Becoming a parent is no time to be a good girl. Channel your inner bad mother and step into your power. For more discussion on getting the best out of the system and your rights, follow Emma Ashworth. If you’d like the support of a doula in all this, check out our directory.

Opinions? Additional tips? Feel free to comment below.

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