Informed Consent During Childbirth

Picture this scenario with me: You’re nearing the end of your pregnancy. You’ve spent most of your mental energy over the last months thinking about what you want out of your birth. You’ve planned and prepped; you’ve shopped and read. You’ve talked to friends and family who have been through childbirth and you’ve hired a doula to help you with pain management and emotional support. You’re all set!

But are you really?

If you’ll be having your baby at a hospital, are you prepared to possibly have to fight for your rights? And I’m not talking about your right to party. Though I wish the Beastie Boys the best in life.

I’d love if I didn’t have to use the term “fight.” Childbirth is not the time to be at war. I hope for a day when all hospitals will put patients’ rights above hospital policies and fears of litigation. But for now, when you walk into a hospital to give birth, you are contributing to the biggest money maker for that hospital. You may find yourself having to fight to be treated as more than a talking dollar sign.

Of course, there are exceptions to all this...there are hospitals which have made incredible changes to their maternity care...which is why doulas implore their clients to look into their chosen care providers and hospitals to see if they treat with patient-centered care.

I implore you to read Informed Consent in Childbirth by Hermine Hayes-Klein, a lawyer and patient rights activist. The bottom line of informed consent is threefold:

1. You have the right to be given objective information about every suggested procedure, and its alternatives, benefits, and risks. You should be able to ask questions for clarity until you have all the information you desire.

2. Then you may ask the care provider to give their professional opinion and advise you on what procedure they think is best. And they should be honest about why they hold that opinion, especially if their lack of training keeps them from choosing a particular procedure.

3. Finally, you should be able to make your decision in a supported environment. The care provider should honor your ability to decide and understand that they are not responsible for any bad outcomes that result from a procedure that you willingly chose.

The tragic reality is that obstetric violence, coercion, and neglect are realities for many women.

The consent papers you sign upon entering a hospital are not blanket documents that excuse your care provider from seeking further permission from you. You still hold complete autonomy and agency to decide on your treatment, barring a true emergency where you and/or baby are near death.

Informed consent should be standard. It’s common sense, right? You have the right to decide your treatment. Your health and concerns are not made void because you are pregnant. This is a basic human right: the right to life...and the right to not be denied that right. Know your rights and claim them. Your rights are your power! And if you want professional support in gathering information, consider hiring a doula.