I ended the 2011, year by accompanying a family during their birth at the hospital. After laboring for quite some time, an epidural was offered. The mother and her husband asked their midwife and obstetrician about the risks associated with the epidural. They were told that the greatest risk was a low backache. Everything in my being came to a screeching halt. I imagined myself to look like a television character shaking my finger in my ear at what I had just heard. Now was the time where I had to make the choice to be deferent or to tell them the truth. I chose to be deferent and to do as I had been taught by gently informing the parents of their options and the risks, AFTER the trained professionals had left. To say something to the physician or nurse or to speak the truth could potentially keep me from working in the only hospital in my town. I was fearful of this repercussion but even more fearful of with holding the truth from my clients.
When I left that night and for many months after, I sat with that birth and the decision I had made. I conferred with other doulas that gave me a host of responses, including; “You have to remember that perhaps they (the midwife and OB) really do believe that a low back ache is the greatest risk.” Believe? Believe? This was not about believing, it’s about knowing what the current research says, so that you can give accurate informed consent. From FindLaw.com, informed consent is defined as this:
“A physician (or other medical provider) must tell a patient of ALL (my emphasis) the potential benefits, risks and alternatives involved in any surgical procedure or medical procedure…so he or she can make a reasonable decision regarding treatment.”
Informed consent is not optional, it is mandatory.
I don’t think the question lies in whether or not we should speak up when misinformation is given. It is our moral obligation as human beings to be honest and when caring for the health and well being of mothers, babies and families it is our duty as a doula. The question is better asked as to why doulas and clients must be deferent to healthcare providers? If fear is any part of that answer than I believe it is time for change.
“We need to teach the next generation of children from day one that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind's greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.” -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross