The #MatExp campaign has always been about “all voices”. All healthcare professionals, all families, hearing from everyone who has something to say or an experience to share. And whilst we all know that listening to others and putting ourselves in their shoes is a wonderful thing, sometimes our natural prejudices get the better of us. When we read yet another story of birth trauma it is so easy to get on to social media and ask “Why can’t obstetricians just do…….”, “Why can’t midwives be more……”, “Why are consultants all so…….” And the result is more division, more hurt, more defensiveness, as professionals totally unconnected to the original story seek to defend themselves and their colleagues and prove that they are not culpable for the wrongdoings of another.
As we have seen so many times with #MatExp, Language matters. What we say and how we say it matters. There are only a few words between “obstetricians are so…..” and “this obstetrician was so…..” but they make a world of difference. And the important thing to remember is that not only do generalisations cause hurt and offence, but they also do maternity users a disservice. Because if “all midwives” are such and such or “all doulas” are like X then what is the point of picking up on the poor behaviour of one or two? They’re all like this, so it’s a lost cause. Might as well pack up and go home.
I see this online in a different context, I see it when talking about parenting and relationships. Every now and again there is a spate of discussions about the aggravating qualities of somebody’s husband or partner, and inevitably there will be the comment: “that’s just men for you.” “They’re hopeless aren’t they?” “Mine’s like that, men just think differently.” “Men don’t get it.”
All men? Really? Just shy of 50% of the population of the planet all think the same way and do (or don’t do) the same things? None of them have any empathy or compassion or basic common sense? Hmm.
And again, whilst this is clearly offensive and ridiculous, it is also dangerous. Because if “all men” are thoughtless and uncaring then why would anyone bother to extricate themselves from an abusive relationship? It’s not emotional abuse, it’s your own fault for taking up with a man, because apparently they’re all dreadful and that’s what you get. There are no good ones out there so there’s no point getting angry when he tells you that you’re worthless. That’s just what they do.
Of course, it is a valid life choice to go through the world without a man in tow. Just as it’s a valid life choice to freebirth with no support from maternity services. Not everyone wants a relationship, or a relationship with a man. And not every pregnant woman wants obstetric care, or NHS maternity care or anything at all. But it cannot be a good idea to suggest to anyone that discounting these things is their only valid choice. A different choice could be to seek out good, compassionate, worthwhile people who make the world a better place.
Such people exist in every profession and across the genders. Every time we make a generalisation we push those people away. And we make it easier for the bad ones, the rude ones, the abusive ones to get away with it. Do not put everyone in the same bracket. Shine a light on those whose practice leaves a lot to be desired, do what you can to bring about change. And celebrate those who provide exceptional support or just good quality care every single day. Because in the current climate of healthcare those people deserve a medal.