So, ages ago, it was announced that there would be a blog coming out regarding the Bradley Method of Childbirth, which got both support and a bit of backlash, specifically in regards to posting some of the negatives of the program. One piece of feedback that appeared common in the dissent was: “we haven’t received any negative reviews.” Which could very well be true, for any birth program. Perhaps all birthing clients go on to have extremely satisfactory labor experiences with outcomes they love thanks to whatever course they took–be it Hypnobirthing, Hypnobabies, Birth Boot Camp, Bradley, or any other of the slew of companies that seem to pop up in the birth world. Or, perhaps, we are forgetting one important aspect: Confirmation bias.
As Psychology today states, confirmation bias occurs when we go into an experience or seek to disseminate information, while either consciously or subtly only processing the information that supports our preconceptions on the topic. According to the author, it’s human nature to use the art of self deception to surround ourselves with the information we feel we need to keep our opinions intact. What does this have to do with birthing people? Everything. After a family has potentially invested hundreds of dollars, dozens of hours in class and practicing birth techniques and continual exposure to very niche ideologies and methods, it would stand to reason that one could “trick” themselves into the belief that hey, maybe birth didn’t go as planned, but that’s my fault. I simply didn’t do the program “right” enough for it to work!
Then there’s the confirmation bias on the educator’s end. They are less likely to be approached by clients who did not have a successful experience with their program, perhaps due to internalized shame, fear of opinions from their local birthing community, or in some cases, perhaps they underwent an experience so traumatic, they aren’t ready to speak about it at all. So, if most of the feedback received on a class is positive, confirmation bias may then dictate that this means it works for everyone.
Anecdotally, I (Cara,) attended an unnamed program during my first pregnancy. I had tons of questions during the sessions which were promptly shut down due to rules that stated we were forbidden from reading or discussing negative childbirth outcomes. When I began to develop symptoms of preeclampsia and induction talk began at the midwifery office, I asked my educator what I could do to amend my (insert program here’s) birth plan, and was told that all I needed to do was “ask myself what if I just have a healthy pregnancy instead?” After a cesarean and rough start to postpartum, there was an email in my inbox asking how I was doing and how well the program worked. I gave an honest opinion, that I sincerely felt it didn’t address changes in childbirth choices. The response? “Perhaps it’s because you didn’t believe in the program enough.” Let that sink in.
The natural birth movement has deeply planted roots in the era of rampant misogyny. Some might even say that this legacy lives on today, but that’s another manifesto nobody’s ready for…at least today. Bias confirmation can create an environment in which childbirth educators (and yes, doulas, midwives, AND doctors, we aren’t being exclusive) may promote a specific method that involves one “right” way to give birth, while potentially leaving those who didn’t end up getting the tools they needed for their specific scenario out in the cold.
If we as a birth community want to improve birth outcomes and leave families satisfied with their birthing experiences, including labors with intervention, including elective induction, including unplanned emergencies…we need to make room in our spaces for those whose stories aren’t 5 star Yelp reviews or anecdotes that don’t paint natural birthing in a glowing light. We need to acknowledge that there isn’t one childbirth method to rule them all. So, if you are pregnant in the Albany area, know this: you are unique and your pregnancy is unlike anyone else’s. While we fully support childbirth education, it’s not the be all end all to having a healthy and enjoyable experience. Because “just get me a healthy baby, no matter how it’s done!” is a perfectly valid birth plan, too.