One of the craziest misconceptions that first time parents have is that laboring in the hospital will be private. Where did they ever get that idea? You’re in a room that isn’t yours, it’s the hospital’s. You’re a guest in their house – a paying one, yes, but it’s still their space. In hospital language, the phrase “private room” means that you aren’t sharing it with another patient, not that you will have privacy in it. A home-like room does not mean the same privileges as being at home. Ask just about anyone that has had a long labor and they will set you straight. The problem is, hardly anyone ever asks about privacy, they just assume they’ll be in control.
“We don’t want a doula because we want our birth to be private.” This is one of the most common phrases almost any birth or postpartum doula hears. Pointing out that privacy is an illusion or a myth has never really gotten me anywhere, because I immediately come off as argumentative. It took me years but I finally figured out what to say. I have learned to ask, “What does privacy mean to you?”
Usually they look at me with a puzzled expression. Then the person will usually list, “being left alone when we want to, being just the two of us, not having people coming in and out the door, focusing on each other, that kind of thing.”
Depending on what’s been listed, I slip one of these four responses into our conversation:
One: “You’re right, privacy is so important to laboring with less pain and faster progress. You’d think hospitals would take that into account with their procedures, but their system hasn’t adapted very well. An experienced doula knows how to work that system to your best advantage and get along with nurses.”
Two: “Oh, okay, do you know that you don’t really have any say over who is in your room? Or that auxiliary staff that needs to talk to the nurse will just come in your room randomly?” “The nurse’s pager is beeping with people talking to her almost constantly sometimes. She can’t turn it off.” [Note: State what is true where you practice; this is true in my area.]
Three: “What if you need something when it’s just the two of you and you don’t want your partner to leave? What happens then?” “Labor usually lasts a long time.”
Four: “Doulas have lots of strategies to maintain your privacy, that are difficult to establish and maintain on your own. She can make signs on the door, talk softly to trigger others to do so, sit outside your door as a smiling guard, update and talk to visitors in the family area, and handle your texts and replies so you can focusing on laboring as a couple.”
Then I’ll usually conclude the conversation with one or both of these statements:
“Your doula maintains your privacy for you. She will sit in the corner or outside the room when you want, and be at your beck and call. She’s there to support you both doing whatever you need to do.”
“Remember the movie Top Gun? She’s your partner’s wingman. (You can suggest an updated pop culture reference in the comments!) That’s her job. She can keep other people out or minimize any disruptions. Wouldn’t it be great just to have some wait on both of you, who is there only to meet your needs?”
This tactic of asking people what they mean by a concept gives us more information to expand the discussion. Often an idea or concept, such as “privacy” stops us because we get caught up in our feelings about it. Whenever we’re going on the offensive – even in the guise of giving information – it puts other people on the defensive. Yet, when we ask questions, and listen to the answers, we avoid making assumptions. People reveal more about their priorities and perspective when we ask. We learn more about what is important to our clients and potential clients and can target our information to their interests. This ups our effectiveness as communicators and shows us as the caring people we are.