*Guest Post by Alison Cole*
I discovered the power of listening to pregnant women during my five years as a paramedical worker in an abortion clinic. The conversations I had with women prior to their abortions were “patient education,” but I asked every patient, every time: “How are you feeling about being here today?” and I listened to the answers they gave for as long as they needed.
Some women assumed everyone felt the same way as them. Others assumed their feelings about the abortion were unique among all women. Women would describe the children they had to feed, jobs they could not lose, birth control which had failed, educations they wanted to pursue, and unhealthy relationship they did not want to turn into dysfunctional families. I very rarely saw a woman whose reasons for not wanting to have a child were not totally understandable to me, and I told them that. In the last few minutes of patient education, I told them what happens during an abortion procedure, what they were likely to experience physically, and the statistics on physical health complications.
During these conversations, conversations where I mostly listened as women talked, I saw how the truth can set people free.
I am about to leave my work at the abortion clinic to finish my education and begin to practice as a homebirth midwife. I see my work as a midwife as nearly identical to my role as “patient educator” at the abortion clinic: I help a woman reflect on her own truth, give her the truth about will happen in her body, and allow the truth to set her free.
Pregnancy is an intensely emotional time. Physiologically, emotions are heightened. The stakes are high in pregnancy, and most women feel that deeply, no matter the outcome. This is why I believe every pregnant woman can benefit from the Pro-voice philosophy. Listening to people about their hopes and fears through their pregnancy, birthing, adoption or abortion experiences can be transformative.
The Pro-Voice movement makes the radical assumption that each individual is different and deserves listening, understanding and compassion, rather than judgment. Whatever reproductive choices a person makes, the Pro-Voice movement acknowledges that most of us make our choices for good reason, and we Pro-Voicers want to listen to our fellow humans talk.
When I became pregnant with my own daughter, I was healthy and I was already studying to be a midwife, so I chose midwifery care and birth at home. Midwives acknowledge that emotional issues manifest physically in labor. Our bodies are really smart – they don’t want us to give birth in an environment that makes us feel afraid. Because our bodies can’t tell which stress hormones are about our immediate physical safety, any anxiety we bring to the birthing process can hinder labor.
One of the early proponents of “natural” childbirth Grantly Dick-Read talks about the fear-tension-pain cycle in childbirth, and claims that labor need not be painful if the woman is not afraid. By asking about, listening to and addressing a woman’s fears and anxieties around birth and parenthood prenatally, the midwife gives the woman a greater chance for a less painful birth, and this was true for me. With attentive midwives, a healthy body, a peaceful heart and a clear understanding of the birth process, I personally experienced the physical act of labor and birth as intense, but only truly “painful” for brief periods.
Pro-Voice is a philosophy of radical compassion that I look forward to carrying with me into midwifery practice. In hour-long prenatal visits I will ask women how they are and I will listen. I will solicit discussion of their fears. I will ask them about previous pregnancies, including abortions and miscarriages. I will do this not only because I believe that it will help prepare women to be emotionally healthy mothers to emotionally healthy children, but also because it will make my job easier when it comes to attending births. I have witnessed and experienced how practicing radical Pro-Voice compassion lays the groundwork for emotional and physical wellbeing for all.
Alison Cole enjoys going to Unitarian church with her two year old, playing Wii with her partner, and spending time outside with the whole family. In seven years at Aurora Medical Services in Seattle she’s learned a lot about excellent healthcare and she looks forward to providing it as a Certified Professional Midwife one of these days.