If you follow my Instagram @moonstruckmom, it won’t be news to you that I had a difficult delivery the second time around and self advocacy was an issue. It was a shorter birthing experience compared to my first –12 hours versus 60 hours in an induced labor. However, what was the real challenge was dealing with the health team and feeling respected in the process.
As a result, I’ve been wanting to write a brief article with some general guidelines on advocacy for women dealing with health or mental health professionals.
The relationship between patient/client and professional is inherently imbalanced due to the power dynamic health professionals have as the ‘helper’. Therefore, as the person seeking ‘help’ we might experience feelings of powerlessness.
As such, this mini guide provides a handful of tips to empower other women like myself navigate the health system and feel more empowered doing so.
SELF ADVOCACY PART 1: WHAT HAPPENED IN MY DELIVERY
From start to finish, my second birthing experience was a lesson in how not to treat a woman in labor. From pain medication, decisions about delivery, communication to overall treatment, it was less than professional.
The healthcare professions (i.e., the doctor and midwife) on my team didn’t take my requests to an epidural as urgent, and by the time they actioned the request they said it was too late to administer it. The birthing positions I was comfortable were also not respected. I was asked constantly to change positions to make it easier for them without explanation. No medical reasons were listed as to why I needed to move.
My physical tears from a natural labor were sewed without the local anaesthesia kicking in.
Communication was overall poor, as no updates were provided to me directly. The doctors spoke to each other and to my husband, but little to no information made it to me via my healthcare team. My husband relayed the updates to me. My birth plan explicitly said I’d like all communication to come to me first.
It almost felt like I was deemed incapable in birth to understand information.-Ferrah @moonstruckmom
SELF ADVOCACY PART 2: WHY IT’S EVEN MORE CONCERNING
As a pregnant woman in labor, this was obviously a stressful experience. Though, I found it particularly distressing that despite my constant asking, then demanding –I was ignored. My husband was also ignored, as he persistently relayed my requests to the attending medical staff.
As a mental health professional, I found my experience even more disturbing. When you’re a helping professional, you often must take an oath or sign off on standards of care for your patients/clients. Health and mental health professionals are hopefully in their careers to help folks. That means baseline things like respect, preserving autonomy as best as possible, giving the best care one can, etc.
Unfortunately, you hear the stories about malpractice or poor service delivery, but you often don’t fully understand how it feels until it happens to you or someone you know.
As a mental health professional, I also have a sense of how to advocate for myself. Even though it was overall a traumatic experience, I was still able to speak up. However, after my experience, I wondered how many women experience this lack of self-determination and are unable, for whatever reason, to advocate for themselves.
It’s shocking. In fact, 33% of respondents on my Instagram stories responded saying they had a birthing experience that was poor due to service delivery.
Research is now exposing birthing experiences like my own and naming it ‘violence in labor’. It’s early days for research on this topic. However, lots of media focus from deadly cases of malpractice has contributed to this movement.
Public figures like Serena Williams, who had a life threatening condition and poor intervention from health professionals when in labor has also brought much needed attention to violence against women in labor.
SELF ADVOCACY PART 3: WHAT ARE 10 WAYS YOU CAN ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF
1. CHOOSE YOUR HEALTH TEAM.
In many places you have the right and access to choosing who you want to be on your health team. Take a look at patient/client reviews, ask around and google articles about the practice.
2. PREPARE IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT.
Do a bit of research about the concern(s) you’re bringing to your doctor. There may be many methods of treatment or a variety of options, but your doctor may only present one. This way your ear is to the ground and you have some foundational information that empowers you.
3. WRITE A LIST OF YOUR CONCERNS.
If you have a long list of concerns, let your doctor know at the beginning of the appointment. A list ensures you don’t forget something important. It will also keep the appointment on track. Of course your doctor may have other priorities or there might just not be enough time to work your way through the list. However, having a list gives you the opportunity to track what you’ve discussed and follow up.
4. ASK QUESTIONS.
Sometimes going to the doctor’s can be intimidating. But, rememeber what your teacher used to say: ‘no question is a stupid question’. This couldn’t be more true. Believe it or not, your doc has heard the whole list of questions before. You won’t look foolish asking!
5. COMMUNICATE YOUR DESIRES.
Along with your list and questions, you may have particular desires you want to relay to your healthcare professional. For instance, you may have the desire for the type of intervention you feel is best for you. Assert yourself and communicate that to the healthcare professional.
6. TAKE NOTES.
It can be difficult to keep up with lots of technical information coming your way, never mind remembering it all. Taking notes will help to feel in control of the information. You can also write things down and look them up when you get home. A host of studies show patients forget 40-80% of the information relayed during a doctor’s appointment immediately, and of the information retained, 50% of the time the information is inaccurate.
7. TAKE A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER WITH YOU.
It can be intimidating seeing a health professional so bringing a trusted person can give you a feeling of comfort. Depending on the type of appointment you’re going to, a trusted person might also be useful as a second pair of eyes and ears.
8. GET YOUR FOLLOW UP PLAN.
Understand what the next steps are before leaving your appointment. Get an understanding of what the plan is and what the dates are for your follow up plan. Do not rely on the health professional to remember or have noted it down.
9. REQUEST YOUR PAPERWORK.
You are within your right to ask your doctor for copies notes, scans or test results. If you need a referral or want to change doctors, having official paperwork is essential. Having your paperwork will also be helpful if you look to get a second opinion.
10. RAISE YOUR VOICE.
If you experience a practice, policy or situation that makes you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to speak up. Chances are you’re not the only one.
Most hospitals and health/mental health practices also have advocacy offices, whereby you can obtain an advocate and/or raise a complaint.
It’s your right!
SELF ADVOCACY PART 4: MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
It’s unfortunate that we constantly confront service-delivery failures as women, particularly women in vulnerable times in their lives. So many women’s health issues as it relates to pregnancy and labor fall off the radar.
However, there are ways of advocating on a larger scale for better healthcare for women. Exercising your right to vote is one of them!
Also, getting involved in healthcare advocacy is also essential so your voice can be heard. Policies can then reflect the real world experiences of women, rather than retaining outdated or unhelpful practices.
Stay in charge of your health and your body. Here are some resources that you might find helpful.
- Self-care tips for moms
- Decrease your mom anxiety
- Postpartum Depletion
- Postpartum Anger: empowering yourself
- Guided meditation and staying ahead of health and mental health challenges
Have a story like mine you want to share? Please either comment below or get in touch.
Be good to yourself,