As a Doula and Childbirth Educator I have worked within the ‘system’ for years now and have become very familiar with the word ‘risk’. It’s a word that seems to get thrown around a lot in maternity care and it’s a word that holds great importance, power and weight in the eyes of the care provider and lots of fear, anguish and anxiety for the birthing mother and her partner.
But risk is something that is very individual and unique to each and every person. One person might be ok with the idea of taking a risk here and there where the other is highly uncomfortable with the idea. There is no right or wrong answer as we are all living on planet earth as our own beings with our own set of ideas, history and ideology of all that surrounds us. As individuals what brings us outside our comfort zone would be based more on our belief systems, our innate instinct and our capacity to feel we can cope with any eventuality that life might bring our way.
In everything that we do on a daily basis there is an element of risk. The old saying that you could possibly walk out your front door and get hit by a bus is actually true. The risk of that happening is 495,000 / 1. Yes, highly unlikely but it is still a risk. There is also a huge risk of dying from a heart attack as cardiovascular disease is the number one killer around the globe and heart attacks are responsible for causing 1 in 20 deaths in Australia. So not to be morbid at all but trying to make a point that every day we carry some form of risk whether we like it or not. Unfortunately for the control freaks in some of us (me included!!) cannot fortune tell our way through life and predict every outcome with absolute certainty. As unfortunate as that is, that is also what makes life exciting as can you imagine if we knew and could control every outcome before it occurred?!
So yes, I’ve gone a bit on a different direction but let’s head back to the big word in maternity care ‘RISK’. Risk is a word that a pregnant woman going through the hospital system anywhere in the world can prepare to become very familiar with. From her first apointment at the hospital, from her first screening test they are looking for risk ie; looking for something that could potentially go wrong and aiming to manage it before that happens. We screen her, we scan her, we poke and prod her and, in the process, we make her feel unsure about herself, distrusting of her body and we take away her belief in herself. Yes, there are women that need or that want this highly managed care but MOST women will not.
What if care providers changed the way they interpreted and conveyed risk to the women in their care. What if instead of saying to them ‘you have to be induced as your risking your baby if you don’t’ to ‘you have a 99.5% of having a very healthy baby but there is also a 0.5% of an adverse outcome’ That way the mother gets all the facts and can be able to speak to her partner, look up the research herself to be able to make an informed decision and also put her only values and beliefs into play and see how that sits with her in terms of her risk comfort level and see if she is comfortable taking such a risk. But instead, a woman leaves her appointment feeling as though she is a ticking time bomb about to explode and the weight of the world on her shoulders.
So, what can we do to try to minimise this overwhelming anxiety, especially in the later stages of the pregnancy? The best thing we can do is arm ourselves with information. If we have a discussion with our care provider in which we feel overwhelmed with the ‘risk’ talk then what we can do is ask them for the information on which they are basing their recommendation, whatever that recommendation might be. Then we go home and research our individual risk factor. In most events this risk factor is so rare that it doesn’t even apply to us but we won’t know that until we look into it further. After doing so a mother can make the decision with her partner if this is something she is comfortable with or even if this risk factor doesn’t apply to us and still the mother wants to go ahead with the proposed intervention based on her comfort level, beliefs, anxieties or any other existing factor then that is her choice too. But that way she can make an informed, conscious and whole hearted decision.