Birth Messages II
Several years ago I posted on this blog my account of a Cesarean birth I'd witnessed. I attended the birth as a doula. I was very upset about the birth and wrote candidly and angrily about it.
My anger was directed at the doctors who had, in my opinion, pushed the mother into an unnecessary C-section. These same caregivers then treated the surgical birth (again, in my assessment) very disrespectfully. I had wanted a different experience for my client. I tried to say this in my post. Because of my anger, I spoke in very harsh terms about this birth, ultimately comparing it to "a fuck." Not words I usually use, but they conveyed how vulgar I'd perceived this experience to be.
More than a year after I'd written the post, I ran into that client. We had a friendly chat. I was happy to see her and her child thriving. In telling her about my doula work I mentioned that I wrote about it in a blog and gave her the name of it.
Four months later I received certified mail from DONA saying I had had a grievance filed against me by a former client. I thought it must have been a mistake. I hadn't been at a birth in many months and couldn't think of a client with whom I'd had negative interactions. Even when I turned to page two, the official grievance letter filed by the client, and saw that it was the client from my story above, I couldn't imagine what I'd done to cause her to file a grievance. Hadn't I just seen her recently and gotten a hug from her?
Her letter told the story. That night she had gone home and found my blog -- this blog. She went through my archives to the time of her birth and read the posts leading up to and including the one detailing the birth of her child. She said she felt "horrified and betrayed" to have her birth defiled by such ugly words.
I, too, was horrified. I re-read my post through her eyes. I would have been shocked to read about the birth of one of my children told this way. Even if it had been a "bad birth," I would not have wanted anyone else to say so without my consent.
This posted a dilemma for me as a doula and a blogger:
To what degree am I able to blog about births?
The answer is not easy. DONA provides some direction. Its code of ethics and standards of practice instruct that we must keep confidentiality for our clients. Hence, I not only refrain from identifying clients' names, children's genders, occupations, home cities and hospitals of delivery, I also blog anonymously myself. This is all intended to keep someone from reading this blog and saying, "Hey! She must be writing about my sister-in-law!"
Still, applying those standards to my posts didn't really help. I had kept confidentiality by not revealing my client's identity or mine in any way. But I still had been deeply hurtful.
One could argue (and several friends did) that as long as I kept my client's identity secret, I could write whatever I wanted about her birth. After all, my experience as a doula was as important as hers as a mother. I am permitted to have my own reactions to births -- including anger -- and this is a forum for sharing those reactions. Another friend pointed out that a lot of non-fiction writing makes people angry, in large part because they do not like how they are portrayed. This disconnect is unavoidable and I am not under any obligation to mediate it.
While I agree with the truth of these viewpoints, they do not sit right in my doula heart. Just because one can do things that may ultimately be hurtful, does not mean one should do these things.
The best argument I can think of for writing about births, consequences be damned, is that advocacy involves telling the truth. I believe the birth system in America is messed up. I can provide first-hand accounts of how the status quo is not always in women's best interest. If those who witness birth wrongs don't talk about them, how will people know things need to change?
Yet even this argument ultimately pales to the sanctity I with which I want to approach birth. I ultimately decided that I will not post birth stories on this blog without the mother's approval. In effect it means I have stopped posting birth stories. I can't quite bring myself to say, "hey -- now that you've given birth, will you read my account of it and give me permission to put it on my blog?" It makes me feel less like a doula and more like a voyeur.
I miss sharing birth stories. Many of the stories I told were wonderful ones. Stories of strength, joy and satisfaction. I do no miss the voice in the back of my head saying, "what if she reads this? Will she know it's her? Will she be surprised you noticed X?"
The most recent International Doula included a piece on internet ethics. I was excited to see it, hoping we could begin to establish some norms for blogging in the birth community. But the example they used was a much easier one of someone referring to a client by first name and other identifying information in a chat room.
Please feel free to weigh in and also link to any relevant posts out there. I know many of you have been writing and thinking about this (as well as the disappearance of many great birth blogs including FP Mama and Red State Moron).
p.s. I long ago removed all old birth stories from the blog except a few for which I had permission...so don't bother trying to find the one above or any others.