I heard a doctor say once, when presenting a pivotal intervention to the family I was working with, "If you were my wife, this is what I would do." It truly does offer the feeling: "He really cares about me." This is actually a fallacy -- faulty emotional appeal. It isn't based on science, or evidence, or the unique needs of mother and baby. It is simply an opinion said with feeling, and it can be swaying. Maddie McMahon hits the nail on the head here, and she offers sage wisdom to those of us who work with families -- families who may be vulnerable to the words we say and feel with emotion, that may not exactly be the truth.
These are the kinds of things I hear parents saying quite a bit, and they always remind me that being kind is just not enough. Meaning well is just not enough. Smiling and speaking gently is just. not. enough.
There is a lot of talk in health care about compassion. And so there should be. It should pretty much be a core quality of anyone working in a caring role. Compassion means having a deep understanding and sympathy for another’s suffering. It also means wanting to do something to fix that suffering and take it away.
The problem is, compassion on its own can be a problem. If we believe we can make this all better, if we believe we know better, if we can’t bear to see present or potential future suffering, if even the idea of risk is frightening, then compassion can be dangerous.
Compassion needs to be tempered and balanced with empathy. The ability to enter into another person’s feelings, to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It is this ability that allows us not to get caught up in our own emotions and not get swayed by our own assumptions as to what might be right of wrong for this person. It is empathy which allows us to step outside of ourselves, just a little, and make space to really listen – and more than listen, understand WHY someone might feel the way they do.
So my plea to you wonderful, compassionate practitioners out there, whether you are doctors or midwives or nurses or lay supporters like doulas: Please try not to coerce with your kindness. Is this mother doing as she’s told because you’re so kind and she doesn’t want to upset you, or is she making a fully informed decision? Are you laying YOUR stuff on her or are you truly holding the space while she looks at the benefits and risks of all her options then follows her heart? True kindness and care means trusting that those we care for can make safe, appropriate decisions for themselves, even if we disagree with them.
My New Year resolution this year is to pour a cup of Alongsideyou Tea and strive to listen harder and longer and deeper, whenever I can to everyone I meet and give my empathy muscles a workout.
Maddie has been a doula since 2003. She is a Doula UK Mentor and runs Developing Doulas, a Doula UK approved doula preparation course. She is a founder-trustee of Cambridge Breastfeeding Alliance and also a Breastfeeding Counsellor with the ABM. She recently achieved her childhood dream of being a published author with the publication of Why Doulas Matter in 2015.
She enjoys blogging on her site for parents and birthworkers The Birth Hub.
Mum to boy and girl teens and stepmum to one all-grow-up boy, she lives and works in Cambridge.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)