Informed Consent

As we navigate decisions associated with motherhood, we want to know that we are understanding what is being told to us in order to make an informed choice. However, it can be hard to know what to ask to be truly active in the consent process. As a fertility and birth doula, Emily shares ways that you can make an informed decision about a topic even if you are unfamiliar with it.

By EMILY CHAFFEE

Informed consent is the idea that individuals are actively involved in the decision-making process to allow for body autonomy. As moms, we are constantly facing decisions for ourselves and our children that require attention. However, it can be hard to know what to ask to be truly active in the consent process.

 

As we navigate decisions associated with various aspects of motherhood, we want to know that we are understanding what is being told to us. However, having true informed consent involves various aspects that may or may not support you truly being able to make an informed decision. As a doula, my job is not to advocate for you, but to allow you to find the words and ability to ask the questions that matter to you, your baby, and your body.

 

In order to be in a position where true informed consent is possible, it is important to find a medical provider that believes in informed consent. We are very lucky that we live in an area rich with practitioners, so there is someone out there that can help AND allow you to be part of the process. However, since I only have this one blog, we are going to assume that you currently have a provider that you trust.

 

I want to focus on what it actually looks like for a mom to be able to provide true informed consent about her body and her baby.

As a doula, my job is not to advocate for you, but to allow you to find the words and ability to ask the questions that matter to you, your baby, and your body.

- Emily Chaffee

Throughout our reproductive years, informed consent is crucial to know what is happening to our bodies, as well as why and how this could impact the future. A few examples include during:

  • Teenage years: informed consent is necessary as teenagers grow into their bodies and may take more medications that could have lasting impacts on their health.
  • Preconception/conception: this can include asking questions about why certain tests are being run and how that actually impacts our fertility.
  • Pregnancy: this could look like your provider suggesting additional testing due to a past test result and understanding what the results will mean.
  • Labor/delivery: informed consent is key because so many decisions are being made in a short amount of time.
  • Postpartum: informed consent looks like asking the questions that matter, not just if we are ready for sex at 6 weeks.
  • Raising a baby: informed consent matters because we are advocating for the person we love the most in the world, and this tiny person cannot yet say what she or he wants or needs.

Basically, there is not a time in our lives when informed consent is less important. Yet, it can be hard to consistently be on top of it all. You literally cannot research every possible outcome. And even if you could, that takes so much effort, energy and time that moms simply do not have. 


However, there are ways that you can make an informed decision about a topic, even if you are unfamiliar with what the latest research says about it. A few of my favorite tips for ensuring that, as a mom, you are truly giving your informed consent about medical/life/relationship/etc decisions are as follows:

Use the B.R.A.I.N. acronym

This is a favorite for doulas, but also easy to remember and an effective way to make sure you are asking your provider the necessary questions. 

  • B is for benefits. What are the benefits of this particular decision?
  • R is for risks. What are the risks?
  • A is for alternatives. Are there alternatives we could do that might be similar?
  • I is for intuition. What does your gut tell you? This matters! Most Moms have a strong gut feeling that we do not always listen to.
  • N is for Now/Time. What would happen if we did this now versus in 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, 5 weeks, etc?

Know Yourself

I love the idea that making informed decisions revolves around the fact that we know our bodies best. But this also includes knowing how we make decisions. If you are someone that makes fast decisions, how can you slow down? If you are someone that goes along with what others say, how can you focus on yourself first? If you are someone that constantly goes back and forth, how can informed consent help you commit to a decision and feel good about that decision? Do you tend to make decisions with your heart or your brain? With informed consent, we are wanting the brain to step up (but with a little bit of heart because our emotions matter).

Role Play

If you do not know how you might respond in the moment, practice with a friend. Ideally you would want to get someone that knows a bit about the topic, but it’s certainly not necessary. How does it feel when they mention good news? How does that change when they mention news you were hoping not to hear? Practice makes perfect, right?

Have a Canned Response

If you know you have an appointment coming up, write down a few responses so that you are ready when faced with a fast-paced decision. I love:

  • “I would like to talk to my partner about this. I will call your office or send a portal message back by X time with my decision.”
  • “I am feeling overwhelmed with this information. I will need to think about this overnight.”
  • “We can go ahead and make that appointment, but can I call back tomorrow and reschedule after thinking about it?”

Bring a Friend

This is certainly harder with COVID restrictions, but have a friend on FaceTime during the appointment so they can be there and help you remember the topics covered, as well as encourage you to slow down for a second.

Take a Breath

You do not need to say the first thing that pops in your head! Take a breath, gather yourself, repeat back to your provider what you heard, allow them to add any additional information, and then proceed. This gives you a chance to process the information and slow down.

 

The beauty of informed decision-making is that it does not rely on us as moms to be the ones in charge of everything. Instead, it teaches us that we can ask questions that we do not know the answers to or say “I don’t know the answer right now. I can let you know tomorrow.”

Emily is a fertility and birth doula, childbirth educator, perinatal massage therapist and certified educator of infant massage. She started her doula journey during her own pregnancy in 2015 as she learned the power of her own voice, and realized that she could help others find theirs. Since then, she has built Carolina Birth and Wellness to be a full spectrum doula agency that provides support for individuals and families from preconception through the first years of having a baby. Her own struggles with infertility has also opened her eyes to helping women understand what their body is telling them through the menstrual cycle and various other biomarkers that are so often ignored or not talked about because it seems too personal. She strongly believes in helping her clients learn each and every option available to them as the only right choice is what is best for you, your body, and your family.

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