Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve

It’s so easy to play “Monday morning quarterback.” Take any situation, and say, “Well, if that had been me…” or, “If I had been in that situation…” And you may be right. Some people are just wired differently — are able to come up with a witty comeback, or are able to think more clearly or more quickly, or able to react faster or better than others. But you may be wrong — most likely, you would have reacted in exactly the same way as the person you are (unknowingly) criticizing.

There have been several instances on the My OB said WHAT?! blog in which comments have taken that turn — doctors making rude or nasty comments, or even downright sexual harassment, and several women have said things along the lines of, “If my husband had heard that, they’d probably have arrested him for assault, for punching the doctor’s lights out!” or “I’d’ve kicked that doctor in the face!” (for saying x, y, or z when he’s between the woman’s legs while she’s pushing.” Although I don’t think I said anything along those lines, I know I thought it, or agreed with those who did say it out loud. And yet… would I have? Sure, it’s easy enough to say when I’m reading it on a computer screen, in the comfort of my home, and the full force of the hurtful, rude, or harassing words comes through loud and clear, with no other “background noise” to drown it out. But what if I were really in that situation? How would one go about kicking someone in the face, when she’s numb from an epidural? or with her legs up in stirrups? — not exactly an easy position to get out of quickly.

Some of the women who had submitted the comments originally replied to some of the comments, saying that the “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” comments were actually hurtful. I know that none of the commenters (or those who did not comment, but thought the same things — like me) intended for the words to hurt. For myself, I would say that when someone said, “I’d’ve kicked that guy in the face!” that she was really meaning, “that guy deserved to be kicked in the face for what he said!” Most of us probably tend towards non-violence against our fellow man, so we probably would not really have physically acted out what our immediate, visceral reaction was. Or if we were in the room when a husband did punch a doctor in the face, we might be shocked and/or horrified (even if we would have been shocked and/or horrified at the comment or action that provoked the violence).

It’s so easy to say things. It’s much harder to carry through with them. It’s easy to say, “I would never have given in to the pressure to have an unnecessary [C-section, induction, augmentation, epidural],” but much harder to actually do — especially when you’re in that particular situation, facing that particular pressure. There is an element in which it is good to hear these kinds of stories, and play through them in your mind, so that if you’re ever faced with it, you may be better prepared for a certain reaction. “Practice makes perfect.” But far better to keep these things in mind while you’re screening your midwife or doctor, or during your prenatal visits, so you can completely avoid situations like these. That’s not fool-proof by any means, unfortunately. Sometimes you can do all the “right” things and still end up on the wrong end of the stick.

If you’ve been in situations like these, please, please, please go to The Birth Survey and report the health-care provider, so that others can be forewarned and forearmed. If you’re looking for a provider, go there to see what others have said about doctors or midwives who are options for you. And if someone you know is pregnant or of childbearing age, be sure to tell her about The Birth Survey so she can get a good match for a care provider. Otherwise you or someone you care about may end up saying, “I should’ve picked a different care provider, and I would have if I only could have known.”

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5 Responses

  1. Exactly – good points. And it’s the same in all of life. When we hear about situations we haven’t experienced, we think, “I NEVER would have…. x, y, z, etc.” But then we find ourselves doing that very thing later! Armchair criticism is easier than being in the situation, though I find myself falling into it often. Good thoughts.

  2. I recently had a bad experience at my OB office. In the moment all I could do was direct my energy at not crying. Reflecting on it I thought of so many things I coulda,should, woulda done but when under stress and emotional (and we’re not talking in active labor stress or emotion) our problem solving skills and intellect take a backseat.
    I have dealt with the situation, left the practice, found another OB (midwives won’t take me) and moved on…mostly.

  3. Interesting thoughts Kathy! I would apply the armchair quarterback theory to another aspect of being a healthcare provider. I can remember when I was a labor nurse, in midwifery school. Myself and other nurses would criticize some of the decisions made by the OBs and how we would do things differently. But, after I became a CNM, I learned very quickly that how one responds and the decisions one makes take on a very different level of responsibility when YOU are the one to have to make them.

    • Yes. There is a certain element of “performing an autopsy” — breaking down a situation and looking at all the component parts, to see where something went wrong, or where it could have been made right — that is most likely beneficial — for instance, you could have it more deeply ingrained that when X situation comes up, you ought to do Y instead of Z. But it is easy to sit back and give the “right” answer when there is no pressure nor time constraints. A good exercise, as long as one does not get lifted up in pride. It might be useful to know for the future, but not necessarily to condemn the person whose actions are past.

  4. Comparing the actual experience of giving birth to the (over?)meticulous experience of writing my birth plan, I’m finding that the real thing in no way compared to what I expected, both in going well in ways I had expected to fight for, and in my “giving in” over things that I thought would be easy to deny. Part of the problem with woulda/coulda/shoulda and giving birth is that, at least in my experience, it is an overwhelming experience, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I know that I was handed a pile of papers to sign postpartum that I have almost no idea what I was signing because I was so wiped out from labor.

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