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Toxic masculinity in marriage

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on




Please Note:


This post discusses issues related to marriage/partnerships, and sexuality, and occasionally uses strong language. Please be aware also that this represents only my own views, and is not personal relationship advice. 


I spend a fair bit of time in variously themed mom's groups on Facebook and one of the things that gets talked about often is the men in their partnerships. I hear things like:

  • "my boyfriend wants me to quit breastfeeding because he misses playing with my breasts during sex" 
  • "he gets upset every time I ask him to do something to help around the house. He says its my job and he doesn't know what I do all day"
  • "Oh we can't cosleep even though I want to and neeeed the sleep, because my husband doesn't want to share our bed and won't sleep on the guest bed."

Then there is the well intentioned advice from other women like like:

  • "make sure he feels loved and appreciated even for the ordinary stuff or he won't be willing to do the big stuff. Like be sure to say thank you and give him a kiss when you notice he put the toilet seat down"
  • Guys are really physical so if you do stuff like rub his feet and cook his favorite food he'll be more willing to help you out on his day off"
  • "I find if I give him a blow job before I need help with something he's more likely to say yes to the chores I need him to do
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Each of those are examples of how toxic masculinity affects ordinary marriages. Toxic masculinity is this idea that men must reject anything inherently feminine and adhere to a stereotypical male gender role which is aggressive, entitled, and unemotional except for possibly anger. It does not mean that all men are toxic, but it does mean that all men in our culture are undoubtedly influenced by these toxic stereotypes of what it means  to be a man and it influences how women learn to interact with the men in their lives.

Toxic masculinity teaches us that men are not actually responsible for their own well-being let alone that of others because caretaking and wellness are considered feminine. We are all conditioned to believe that men by their very design have the need and therefore the right to be taken care of by women. We're conditioned to believe that it is our role to make sure all their needs are met so they can do their ‘manly’ job of earning money for us then come home and get all the strokes and praise for being a ‘good provider’. Conversely, toxic masculinity teaches women that their primary purpose is to serve men, no matter the cost. If you are not submissive then you are not desirable. 
 

It goes even further with us buying into the myth that a man is SUCH a good guy if he's willing to “help us” by demeaning himself to do “women's work” like.... I don't know... Wiping up their own pee off the toilet rim when they inevitably miss or putting their own dirty laundry in the hamper or “babysitting” their own children. (And they don't even KNOW about the hidden and emotional labour that we invest daily!)

Reality check. 

We're talking about grown ass men here, who have chosen to be in a relationship and it is not our job to have their slippers, cold beer, and gaming station controller waiting for them when they get home so they can ‘put their feet up after a long day’. It is not 1950.

It is not our job to wipe up their toddler-esque messes.

It is not our job to stroke their ego or their penis in order to get them to participate meaningfully in family life.

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Let me be clear. If you feel like you need to shower your boyfriend with praise, or give your husband a back rub or a blow job all so he’ll take out the kitchen trash or participate some other way in family life, that's not a healthy marriage that's prostitution. It is a business exchange, not a relationship of equals. It is a transaction, in which you're buying your partner's good will using the only currency he accepts. It is toxic masculinity hard at work. 

By all means give him a back rub or a blow job if you LOVE TO and as an expression of love. Do it because you WANT to show you care or because you like it too. Do it to connect and to give each other those awesome oxytocin. vibes. But those things should be gifts of mutual affection not transactions designed to purchase good will.

If your partner will not listen to you or participate meaningfully until you've paid the fee of stroking his ego or his body that's NOT OKAY.

And these transactions, are not usually even a conscious thing that we're choosing but if you find yourself saying “I'll give him a back rub and buy his favorite beer before asking him….” Then this dynamic of trying to buy good will is happening in your relationship.

 

Despite all the above and how confronting it probably feels to read it….

Please know that you are not alone. Many many relationships today have an overall dynamic of the woman doing the majority of the household duties including hidden emotional labour, even when she has responsibilities outside the home too. And for the most part we don't complain, even when we're dying inside, because we've been trained to believe that this is the way of things. We've been born and bred on this idea that we are the nurturers and they are the providers. We're told both implicitly an explicitly, that we exist in body, mind, and soul, for the pleasure of men. We hear phrases from our mothers like "You're too big for your britches and if you don't learn your place no man will ever take you". And our brothers hear those same phrases and messages, and they learn that a woman's place is for them to be taken by a man to serve him. Yet somehow our souls yearn for more, as we ARE more. So we try out our voices. We test the limits. We start to push back. But the programming runs deep, and often, if we express a desire to be treated as more than a maid or a nanny by the man we have chosen to be partnered with,  we are shut down with phrases like:

  • "You must be on your period because you're being bitchy"
  • "You should be grateful I bring in a good income"
  • "How hard can it even be. You must be lazy"

So we stop talking about what we need. We give the strokes to our man because either we don't know we have a choice or because in choosing to be partnered we often sacrifice our own financial security making it necessary to keep our financial provider satisfied with us in order to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.

When a child come along the temperature on the pressure cooker gets turned up even higher. Because as women we're expected to just gracefully and effortlessly take on this additional role of mothering without allowing any compromise elsewhere. Because its natural. Because women are nurturers. We're expected to literally sacrifice body, mind, and soul, AND still give our partners strokes because its hard for them now they have to share us. What?!

He's upset because he has to “share you”?
You are not property to be divided.

He's frustrated you don't want to have sex because you're touched out or have pelvic floor damage or birth trauma or a postpartum mood disorder or you just aren't in the mood today?
Why do his desires as an adult take priority over the actual needs of his child(ren) and wife?

He's tired after a long day at work and wants to just watch TV? I'm sorry. But your wife is tired too. She wants to eat a hot meal, and have 5 minutes to shower alone. You guys are in this thing together and the focus should be on mutual care not getting what you feel you're owed.

Now OF COURSE we all have times of struggle when we're not bringing 100% to our marriage and OF COURSE it's not always gonna be a 50/50 or even 80/20 division of labour. It is absolutely crucial to remember though that in the 80/20 times one partner is carrying more ONLY FOR A WHILE and because of extraordinary circumstances. The person giving 20 needs to understand they're not owed that 80 everyday. And BOTH partners need to be on the same page about how they're gonna work together to shift back from 80/20 to 50/50 to 100/100 where both partners are bringing their best selves to the table.

If you're not on the same page about that then one partner gets resentful while the other one gets bitter and that's a recipe for disaster sooner or later.

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Toxic masculinity not only harms women though. It keeps men from realizing the wonder of the divine feminine. It separates them from the full potential within themselves. It keeps them from being in true, deep, genuine, honest, compassionate and respectful relationships.

The harm we do to others we do to ourselves in the process, and in teaching our partners how to heal their relationships with us, we also give them the tools to heal their own wounds.

Do we owe them this? Not really. They are grown ups after all. But we have chosen to be partnered with this person and so we work to sharpen each other and grow together and sometimes one partner has to take the lead on that for a while so we can both get to a better place. These changes and shifts can be incredibly difficult for even the enlightened men among us because as Clay Shirky says “When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”  Most of the men in our lives have not been taught how to live in a mutually beneficial and truly respectful relationship. And in asking them to step up - to give up some of their male privilege - they FEEL as though they are being asked to do too much or even like are being oppressed.

This is where a GOOD marriage counsellor becomes helpful. A skilled counsellor or coach can help your marriage navigate through all the above - if you can get your partner to go. Because counselling is often perceived as feminine and weak and is itself confronting for some men. If they won't go with you - go anyway without them and/or pursue your own healing journey with things like reputable books, webinars, and podcasts, yoga nidra, meditation, Tapping/EFT etc.

Heal your own wounds. Be the light. Deal with all the old shit that's polluting your life today and turn it into rich soil for growth. Figure out who you want to be and how you want to feel and how you're gonna make those things reality. Your partner will either be inspired to come along or they'll drift further away as you keep growing forward and in both cases that is ultimately their own choice.

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At the end of the day the only person we can control is ourselves and we have to decide for ourselves what steps we can take. We're not all in a position to give ultimatums. We can't always just walk away. And we can't drag someone along with us, who doesn't want to walk our path. We can't always eradicate the toxic masculinity from our marriage. Sometimes the best thing we can do is plot a course to navigate our way through it. Or to mitigate the damage that's being incurred along the way. We can't make the person we've chosen to be in relationship with change. But we can choose who we want to be in our relationships. We can be intentional in our decisions about how we can eradicate, navigate or mitigate the effects of toxic masculinity in our relationships. We can say "Yes Ma. I AM too big for those britches, and I'm gonna buy myself a new pair that fit me perfectly now."

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Peaceful not Permissive: Parenting with Compassion & Respect

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

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Back in September we had the opportunity to enroll our 6yo Levi in a very small private school that believes in teaching to each child's needs so they can reach their full potential. The cost is significant but we were fortunate that family & friends rallied to cover his tuition this year. It was an experiment for all of us as we had been homeschooling after a brief but disastrous stint in public school and our intention was to continue homeschooling if this wasn't the right fit. Levi wanted to give it a try, and so we did.

The Fall went pretty well but by the time January rolled around he was really struggling to attend. Just as we had decided to go back to homeschooling he had a visit with his Aunt who teaches there and they worked out that if I came one day a week to his classroom he would go back. We did that for about a month. Then I was sick in the week leading up to March Break and the week after I wasn't going to be able to go with him to either. March Break ended.... And he couldn't make himself go back. So we went back to the drawing board. We talked about it a lot. We explored pros and cons and challenges and loves and strategies and alternatives. We talked some more about attending school vs learning at home and he eventually said “I don't know Mom. You & Dad just decide for me.” (Which he has said a few times now and I've explained that it has to be a decision we all make together because he is the one who has to actually GO to school or learn at home and I can't force him to do either. Even if I believed forcing him was the right thing to do (which I don't) there IS no forcing a child who has his autism profile. Lol.)

I took a chance and said “Ok. Mommy decides that you're going to school.” He stood up and walked to the entryway to put his coat and boots on…. But he was utterly broken. His face crumpled. Every fiber of his being fell. I sat down with him and said “... it looks like you *do* know what you need.” He burst into tears and crawled into my lap. We stayed home that day.

If he was attending ordinary public school I wouldn't care. But this is an excellent school where he is adored by teachers and students alike. Family & friends are generously paying for the opportunity for him to be there.  On Valentine's Day he wrote in his card that he loved us for finding him a school he loves. There is clearly part of him that does enjoy it. But there is also a part that is struggling.

My job is not to attempt to force on him what I think is right, but to work with him to figure out what he needs to flourish. Of course as parents there are times we have to set firm boundaries so our kids know where the dangerous edges are. We have to brush teeth and buckle carseats and hold hands in a parking lot. But a situation like this where both options are acceptable is an amazing opportunity for him to learn that his feelings and opinions and needs matter. It is a chance for him to experience the satisfaction of making a decision about something significant. It is a chance for him to safely experiment with how to sort things out when they aren't black and white. It is a lesson on tuning in to his intuition. It is a chance for me to build the trust between us. It is NOT about me being permissive, giving him too much control, failing to set a boundary, or in some other way letting him down. Working actively WITH your child to make decisions about their life, from a place of compassion and respect, to help them become their best self, is not at all the same as lazy or permissive parenting.

Some parenting philosophies advocate for forcing kids out of their comfort zone to try and ensure they're capable of doing uncomfortable things when they're older. Others believe we need to ‘put our foot down’ regularly so that kids learn who is boss and to do what they're told. That's not how I fly. I believe in respecting who a child is; in teaching them how to listen to and trust their gut; in creating space for their voice to be heard; in helping them find their place in the world; in building on their strengths instead of always correcting perceived deficiencies; in working with them to problem-solve progressively bigger and more complex issues; in positively not punitively building skills and confidence and a willingness to take smart risks. I believe children are capable.

A little while later that morning, Levi came to sit with me and said “Mom, if you homeschool me, Lutka (little brother) can get homeschooled too. Then we both get to learn. I choose homeschool!” He had a huge smile on his face and asked if he could do a maze or a worksheet and could I find something for little bro too. We worked on those together and he gave me a hug and kiss (both rare!) and he asked happily “Are we having a good day?” (Which is his way of saying I'm having a good day and I THINK we all are but I'm not 100% sure I haven't missed something so am going to ask it as a question.)  

There ARE parts of school he likes and so this decision wasn't simple like when he needed to leave public JK.  He needed the freedom and support from me for him to be able to express the emotions that were part of the decision making process. Pros and cons and logic are where we tend to focus in decision making BUT the heart and intuition matter too.

Too often we assume our children don't know what is best for them so we have to impose our adult will. Yes, our kids need guidance in learning how to listen to, interpret, and apply what their head and heart and intuition are telling them. And yes, as parents we bring experience and knowledge to the table which our children can benefit from when we share them wisely. But I believe children are capable beings, and are hardwired for growth and goodness and to move in the direction of love… if only we can get our own ego and woundedness out of their way. And so we homeschool. 

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I Cannot Be Your Voice: Advocacy In Doula Work

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

To Educate, Support, and Advocate

If you've spent much time in the doula world you'll have come across this idea that the role of a doula is to educate, support, and advocate for their client. Of course its far more nuanced than it first appears. Educate about what specifically? Is there a line between which things can be shared with clients and which things can't? What sort of support? A doula by definition is not medical but is it just 'non-judgmental hand-holding' kind of support or does it mean something deeper and broader? And then there is advocacy. Its probably the benefit I hear people talk about most in online groups "Hire a doula so she can make sure your dr/midwife follows your birth plan. Your doula will speak up for you."
 

We Are Disconnected From Our Own Power

The single biggest issue which I believe gave rise to doula care as a profession was birthing persons wanting to feel truly safe and loved - the in-your-bones, deep and complete, mind-body-soul kind of safe and loved - but actually feeling pretty powerless.

Women DON'T feel safe in birth anymore -  partly because of how systems and institutional policies are prioritized over the needs of individual people, which is manifested through caregiver actions, and partly because they no longer have real life everyday access to aunts, moms, grandmas, older sisters, or community wise women who are intimately familiar with the nature of birth and able to provide knowledge and comfort and love and a sense of security throughout pregnancy, birth, and beyond. We have multiple generations of women now who have been disconnected from their power as a result of their own birth experiences and, splintered connections causing distance (both literal and metaphorical) between families.

Women worry that their birth - which is once in a lifetime and life changing for them - will be just one more on the assembly line where they are forced along at a standard pace, pierced and cut and pressured to fit the mold with no regard for their individual needs, let alone their desires or even their rights. The system is satisfied as long as mother and baby are physically healthy at the end but we know in our hearts that merely surviving birth is far too low a standard. Even the WHO has released new guidelines in 2018 which reflect this deeper understanding of the importance of the birth experience.
 

Advocacy Does Not Mean Speaking FOR The Birthing Person

So doulas emerged. To educate. To support. And to advocate.  But can I tell you something? Contrary to common use, advocacy does not mean speaking FOR the birthing person. I cannot be your voice. In my estimation, a doula who speaks for her client is little better than a caregiver who does. Even when it seems like a doula is so intuitive she can read her clients mind, advocacy is still something we each have to do for ourselves ultimately as we are the only ones who know innately what we need in the moment.
YOU are the boss of your body. It is YOUR baby. They are YOUR choices. A doula can reflect your power back to you. She can hold space. She can ask questions. She can remind you of conversations and plans and options. She can hold you up and she can have your back. But  she is not your voice. YOUR voice is the one that needs to be heard. Your presence is the one that needs to be felt.
 

Going With the Flow Rarely Gets You Where You Want To Go

Far too many women have been led to believe that they can - even should -  just 'go with the flow'... they hope despite the fear in their gut, that the standards of care will be enough, and so they don't tap into their own truth. They don't find their voice. They don't advocate for themselves. When you don't make clear the direction you want to travel, you will inevitably find yourself swept along with the system instead and most of the time that leaves you at least a little (but sometimes a lot!) battered and bruised, and it takes you to places you never intended to go. 

A doula can help in many ways but is no substitute for the amazing power you already possess within yourself and which is waiting to emerge.

Tamara George of Healing Light Birth Support says it like this: “If you don't advocate for yourself…” (if you are not clear on your needs and desires and make them known) “...someone else will advocate for their wallet at your expense.” (they will take you along for the ride that serves *them* best, not you.)   
 

Find Your Voice. Speak Your Truth. You Know You Best.

Finding *your voice* and speaking *your truth* is so very important in all of life, but especially so in the childbearing years. And while we're being honest about birth - advocating for yourself, hiring a doula, choosing a birth team who supports you fully - none of those things can guarantee outcomes. When you begin to advocate for yourself in pregnancy and birth though, it equips you to then advocate for yourself and your child(ren) for a lifetime and puts you in touch with a power only you possess.  Nobody knows what you need to be whole better than you do. 


 

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Does every woman deserve a doula?

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

Does every woman deserve a doula? That's a far more complex question than it first appears to be. 

Years ago when I took my first doula training course I was taught that “every woman deserves a doula”. Practically speaking what that translated to, was that I as a doula needed to be willing to provide my services to anyone who wanted them and it would be wrong of me to deprive someone of my services “just because” they couldn’t afford it.

I was taught that it was okay to charge a fee if I had to, but I also had to be willing to waive it because otherwise I was being elitist and discriminatory. The ideal though was to provide doula care as a gift to anyone who wanted it.

Somewhere along the way, my thinking shifted a bit. I still believed that “every woman (who wants one) deserves a doula… **but that didn’t mean I had to be a doula for every person who asked**. I started to look at things practically, and recognized that there’s no such thing as free. If the client wasn’t paying for my parking fees and meals and gas and mileage and childcare and supplies and continuing education  etc… then I was. Saying it is a “free” birth is deceptive because it makes it seem as though it doesn’t cost anyone anything but that’s just not true.

I did the math quite a number of years ago, and my basic costs at the time came to around $500 per birth. So if my client wasn’t paying for those costs, I was essentially giving them $500+ out of my own pocket. After being burned out by clients who took advantage of that, (another part of doula work you're not 'supposed to' talk about) I eventually stopped offering free or even discounted births. My fee was my fee. And instead I pumped up my website with all sorts of informational resources, and poured time into online groups - providing information free of charge instead (free… there’s that deceptive word again…) I assauged my guilt about not being a doula for everyone by making information available to everyone.

And then  - - I stopped actively attending births as a doula. This niggling piece of me woke up and realized that "Every woman deserves a doula" - no matter how you spin it - isn’t actually TRUE. But for someone who had BEEN a doula for 14 years, I still think of myself as a doula, this felt almost like heresy and so I kept my thoughts to myself. I didn’t want it to look like I was throwing my doula friends under the bus.   

Until this week. Ang Gallo of Heart & Hustle talked about this in an Instagram video for her new doula training. She opened her video saying essentially that she knew she wasn’t supposed to say it, but Eff It, she was gonna say it anyways. And she proceeded to talk about the “every woman deserves a doula” concept in terms of the harm that this belief does to aspiring doulas. And she’s right. This concept DOES hurt aspiring doulas. It keeps doulas small. It keeps us “in our place”. It makes us doubt our power. It makes us work from a place of scarcity instead of abdundence. But it does even more damage than that.

Women have been serving other women in birth forever. Doulas though, came to be a profession over the last 20 or so years due to the isolation and disrespect and abuse birthing women have experienced in our current system. Professional doulas emerged to fill a void, to stop a gap. But doulas aren't actually the solution. We're a bandaid on a broken system. An awesome bandaid with evidence to support the benefits. Lol. But a bandaid nonetheless.

I’ve been hearing story after story lately of women who hired a doula, and yet their births were still terrible, terrifying, traumatizing. All those statistics you hear about the benefits of hiring a doula - - how they reduce the risk of things like assisted deliveries and cesareans, or the need for pain medications…. It’s all smoke and mirrors. I - as a doula - cannot stop the freight train that is coming at you as a birthing person in our current system. My experiences can let you know the train is coming. I can help support you as it flies by. I can let you know about options other than the train for giving birth, but I can’t actually stop the train. Those statistical benefits doulas provide, its like saying “Here, buy an umbrella to hold while you stand under Niagara Falls. You’ll be 25% less wet.” Really? I mean REALLY? Doulas in our current system are a bandaid at best; an umbrella in a hurricane. Yes we DO make a difference. For those who are giving birth with a very limited or even NO support system a doula can be lifechanging. In a fractured society where we don’t have built-in support from knowledgeable aunts and older sisters and Grandma’s anymore a doula can fill this space. Sometimes having a doula truly changes the course of a person’s birth. I’m not saying we need to toss out the doula care model. I am a doula. I had a doula at my births.

What I am saying is that every birthing person deserves MORE THAN A BANDAID; more than an umbrella under Niagara Falls. Every birthing person deserves to be treated with respect, compassion and dignity. Every birthing person deserves to feel safe and supported in their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience. Every birthing person deserves to feel that their needs and desires matter and are a priority to those caring for them.

When we say 'every woman deserves a doula' I’m starting to get the feeling that we're all getting duped. Like, if we're all so focused on doula services and who deserves them and whether they’re paid for or free or independent or hospital-based or mainstream or “rogue”....then maybe we’ll forget about why women needed doulas in the first place and we’ll forget to be angry about a broken maternal-healthcare system and instead turn our anger on each other. If we’re all busy fighting amongst ourselves, the linear, scientific, patriarchal model of birth we have now can just keep barreling along unchecked. What we deserve isn’t a doula. What we deserve is to have our fundamental human rights respected and to be treated with compassion and dignity. That should be the default. And when that’s the default, phrases like “every woman deserves a doula” will become irrelevant, a piece of history.


Would you rather watch/listen than read? Here ya go! 

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Bringing About Change to the Maternal-Infant Care System

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

An industry ‘insider’ was recently asked what should be done to bring about positive change to maternal-infant care practices. Their reply comes across at first as really positive and helpful until you let the implications sink in. In fact the suggestions are reflective of just how big the problem is and unfortunately they aren't unusual at all. I'm going to assume the person meant well by trying to keep things “positive”, but truth be told sometimes change is a messy dirty business. Here's what the "insider" had to say about how change can happen:

 

  • ~ Small suggestions are best. Instead of complaining about the terrible care everyone got, identify an issue which can be stated without blame/accusation/anger/frustration and come up with one step to make change.


~ Blaming people and submitting complaints is not the solution.

~ Without also giving a proposed solution, a complaint is not productive.

~ Negativity is not productive.

~ Complaining and placing blame gets us nowhere other than creating anger and resentment and job burnout.

~ There is a lot of work to do in the area of maternal-infant care. It is no one’s fault.

~ Individual healthcare practitioners are not at fault. 

~ It’s a systemic issue that needs systemic change and that will take time.

~ It will take a long time to get those in power to make changes.

~ When someone criticizes us we get defensive and feel hurt and become resistant to change. 
 

Spread the word: 
Sometimes change is a dirty mess business.

"Passing the Buck" is not the answer.

I was stunned. But really, I shouldn’t be. 

Shifting responsibility to the nefarious, untouchable, “system” so that individual practitioners are not accountable for the harms they cause (the system did not grab food out of a labouring person's hands and throw it in the garbage, or use the ultrasound wand so aggressively they caused bruises, or tell the woman she had to stop breastfeeding an infant based on incorrect information, or do a stretch & sweep without consent during a vaginal exam)...

Telling victims that they shouldn’t complain because it makes the recipient feel bad as well as angry and resentful and defensive and no longer able to do their job (which is actually a subtle warning that if you make waves you could be treated poorly in future and also taps into that deeply rooted cultural idea that it is the woman's job to keep everyone happy/be a people-pleaser. If you don't do that you are a selfish b***h and will deserve what you get)...

Telling women they shouldn't bother complaining because it's such a big problem and is gonna take so long to address (aka this is too tough to worry your pretty lil head about)...

Telling women that if they aren't ‘nice’ it's their own fault that they aren’t listened to because the person in power whom they’re addressing is too fragile to cope...


... Those things are not ok. 
 

Spread the word: 
Blaming "the system" does not absolve individuals of responsibility for their actions.

Asking victims to educate those who caused them harm is not the answer.

It is NOT the victim’s responsibility to put aside emotion, examine the big picture issues, then calmly and graciously educate the offender (being careful not to upset them in any way), about why what they did was wrong, and then to ALSO educate that person about what they need to do differently. (And for real - how seriously is the offender or their employer going to take even a perfectly presented suggestion about how they should do their job, from an outsider who isn't trained in how to do their job, doesn't understand working in the system etc etc). Nope. I don't buy it.

The victim’s ONLY responsibility is to heal their own heart as best they can; to make the best decisions they can for themselves, that will allow them to be whole and to live with integrity.  And if that includes screaming from the rooftops (or writing over and over to the complaints department until they feel heard) that what happened was WRONG, the offender has NO right - NONE - to say: “But wait, you aren’t speaking nicely to me so I don’t have to listen to you. Come back when you’re calm and try again. Besides it's not my fault anyway and you're making me feel bad.” (note that I am NOT saying its okay to be emotionally or physical abusive when expressing hurt. That of course is unacceptable. Those ‘receiving’ the hurt words have to very cautious though that we don’t demonize legitimate emotion and label it as abusive as a means to shut it down simply because it makes us uncomfortable.)

When someone tells you they are hurt by your actions, or that your institutional policy caused harm, the correct response is to acknowledge the hurt and work with the victim to make it right.

It is not the victim’s responsibility to do all the emotional work and practical work so that it's  easier for the professional to handle.

I do get that being complained about is hard. Being called out for something is always hard. It's harder still when you're ‘just doing your job’ because you have bills to pay and mouths to feed. It does make you feel angry, hurt, afraid, defensive... when you or your department receive another complaint. I hear that and your feelings are legitimate. That doesn't mean though that the person who expressed the complaint should remain silent. Your discomfort does not trump their trauma.

Spread the word:
Heal your heart and do what you need to be whole.

Changing "the system" requires both a change in policies AND in values.


So many medical professionals start out with a passion which has slowly been eroded by the crushing patriarchal mindset that dominates modern medicine and which DOES need to be addressed at a systemic level. The system is not it's own entity though. The system is made up of people. It is made up of people from the top of the food chain all the way down who are each responsible for the choices they make and the values they hold. The system is created by the people who work within it and the values they hold privately and collectively. If we want to change the system that means changing how people see the world of maternal-infant care and that means telling people what happened that is wrong so that the process of making it right can begin.

If you have been a victim of poor or harmful maternal-infant care, and have already been through the process of healing your negative or even traumatic experience, and you truly wish to make it easier for professionals working in the medical system to consider changing then by all means “Identify an issue which can be stated without blame/accusation/anger/frustration and come up with one step to make change. “ It would be an extraordinary gift to give. Choose to be gracious and calm and to figure out what you think the problem is and how you wish for them to address the problem if that is what you're passionate about. But remember that it's a gift you are giving, it is not something you owe them if you want to be heard. Remember too that they don't have to accept that gift of your insight. They may very well look at it and say “Thanks but no thanks. That doesn't work for me/us/our institution.” Or “That's a great idea but our supervisor/insurance would never approve" Or "Great idea but it would take too much time/too many people/too much money” 

We have to ask BIG questions to find true solutions. Like the chicken and the egg (which comes first?) we have to address both small scale policies and large scale values. 

In the midst of all of that, women’s voices deserve to be heard. Your story needs to be told (when & where & how you are ready to tell it). You do not have to swallow your trauma and play nice. You do not have to offer solutions as payment for the privilege of expressing your hurt. Your experience matters because you matter. 

The answer to how positive change comes to maternal-infant care is not honey-coated gift-wrapped suggestions. At our core we all want to be seen and heard and respected.  That's where the answer lies. In the messy business of victims making themselves heard and in professionals truly listening. 

Spread the word:
Your story matters because you matter. 

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