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10 Reasons Why It's Hard To Advocate For Yourself During Labor And Delivery

On the spectrum of how rigid birth moms can be about their labors, I like to think I was somewhere in the middle. I required a hospital, a doctor, and I had a few other preferences listed in my birth plan, but I also knew there’d be some surprises and that it would be pointless to try and control the birthing process. That said, I knew being "laid back" about my birth experience wouldn't keep me from certain moments when I would need to speak up or demand further explanation. However, it’s hard to advocate for yourself during labor and delivery. Really hard, in fact.

I’m lucky in that I had an immense amount of trust in my doctors and nurses and didn’t have serious concerns about their suggestions or their choices. However, that’s not to say I had a dream labor, either. I mean, yes, it was dreamy because I came out of it fine and my son arrived healthy. But, if I could have scripted it myself, it would have gone a bit differently.

Should I find myself in a labor and delivery room again, I will rest easy knowing I've learned a thing or two that will help me speak up during labor if I do, in fact, need to. More importantly, however, I'll know to go easy on myself if I don't take the time and energy to ask more questions or demand more answers, and for the following reasons:

Because You Might Be Overwhelmed

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I have horrible vision, but I took my glasses off when I was in labor for the sole purpose of blocking out as much as I could. Turning all the lights, equipment and people into a messy blur was slightly less overwhelming than seeing all of it in full color. I was doing what I could to get from one moment to the next, and asking them to turn down the lights didn’t even occur to me.

Because You Might Be In Pain

Right, then there’s this small thing happening in your uterus every so often that’s sending intense ripples of pain throughout your body. It’s hard to advocate for one’s self when you’re forcibly distracted every few minutes.

Because You Might Be Exhausted

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There was a point in my labor when I was so drained I could barely talk, let alone clarify my needs and stand up for myself. I did the only thing I could do, which was lay still in between contractions. There was no advocating happening.

Because For Any Number Of Other Reasons, It’s Hard To Think Straight

Maybe it’s not overwhelming emotions, or pain, or exhaustion. Maybe there’s another feeling or sensation that’s distracting you and taking all your mental and physical energy to battle. There could be any number of things happening to you and your body during labor that require your full attention, and that’s not your fault.

Because The Other People Around You Are Experts

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There’s just something about lab coats and stethoscopes. It’s tricky when you know that the other people around you have more experience in delivery rooms than you. Of course, I know my body best, but I’d wager that the doctors and nurses I had around me when I was pushign a human being into the world, were more versed in the technical parts of birth, so I didn’t question (most) instructions.

Because It Never Goes As Planned

Having to pause and process a change in your expectations, or a change in your plans, can take time and more of that precious energy that you don’t have to spare. Perhaps if your experience is more in line with what you pictured, you can be ready to speak up, but that wasn’t the case for me.

Because You Might Not Know What You Need

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Of course,  you can speak up for yourself without having a clear desired outcome. However, in my experience, not knowing exactly what to ask for slowed down the whole asking process.

Because Things Can Move Quickly

Sometimes, you just might not have time to advocate for yourself. By the time you process what’s happening and form a question or a statement, the moment, or the concern, may have passed. During my own birth, there were hours of what felt like downtime, but once things started happening, they really started happening, giving me little time to pause and form coherent thoughts and words.

Because You Don't Want To

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When it’s all said and done, the choices a woman makes during labor are hers. Many choices  involve the baby, yes, but not all of them. So, assuming that no one’s health is at stake, if a woman decides to let something go, or to focus on something else entirely ("I'll just close my eyes instead of asking for the lights to be turned down"), because she simply doesn’t want to take the time or energy to speak up, that is entirely her decision.  

Because, Sadly, Sometimes Doctors Make It Feel Impossible

Not every OB-GYN or labor and delivery nurse is the same. However, there are plenty of stories (I'm sure you've heard) of doctors scaring patients into unnecessary interventions, or pressuring patients to agree to something the doctor feels is best. When you're in an intense situation and in pain and someone in a fancy coat is telling you what to do, it can be difficult to stand up for yourself or feel like you even have the space to voice your concerns.

My advice? Find an OB-GYN (or midwife) that you trust and respect, and who won't essentially bully you into making a decision you're not comfortable making.