Create Teachable Moments

Frequently when I listen to financial counselor Dave Ramsey on the radio, he will have callers who want to get through to a family member or close friend about money. He will usually tell them that rather than beat them over the head with “financial talk” or telling them “this is what you should do,” they need to “create teachable moments.” I’m not sure if he came up with that phrase, but he’s the only one I’ve heard use the term, although certainly a lot of people use the concept.

The idea for this post came from an encounter I had on someone else’s blog. Someone on an email list had sent out an email with a link to this particular L&D blog, and she was pretty fired up about the post — sort of, “Oh, my goodness! I can’t believe what this nurse is saying!!” kind of thing. I read the post, and had a similar reaction; but before I fired off a quick response, I hesitated, and tried to put myself in this nurse’s shoes.

The post was about women who choose to get or not to get epidurals or other pain medications during labor. Basically, the nurse was having to deal with women who wanted to have a “natural” childbirth, but they were making the nurse uncomfortable with their vocalizations, or talking about their levels of pain, or just “wanting something” — and all the nurse knew how to do was to suggest or give drugs.

It would have been very easy for me to have become abrasive or confrontational, and say to this (newbie)  L&D nurse, “How dare you offer a woman drugs after she has made it very clear that she doesn’t want any drugs?! Don’t you know any better??” (I probably wouldn’t have put it quite so bluntly, but I was thinking something pretty similar to that.) But the phrase “don’t you know any better” kind of echoed around in my head a bit, and I read the post again, and I realized that this nurse did not know any better. It is not a reflection on her in any way — just a statement of fact: she was not trained and educated to be a doula, she was trained and educated to be a nurse in the medical model. How could I find fault with her for not being able to perform beyond her abilities? I find tremendous fault in her education and training, that they fill nurses’ heads with all the medical knowledge they need, but not the person-to-person skills that are so beneficial — and particularly the care that laboring women so greatly need and benefit from. While not all nurses will become L&D nurses, I do believe that all L&D nurses should be required as part of their curriculum and training to take a course in being a doula — can you imagine the revolution that might take place?

And that is what I gently suggested to this nurse. Instead of browbeating her with her inability to help a laboring woman without drugs, I pointed out this shortcoming and suggested a remedy. I don’t know if she’s done this, although she did thank me and others who suggested similar things for giving her ways to improve her skills. Had I confronted her, I probably would have made her angry, and come across as harsh, unyielding, one of those militant natural-birthers who hate anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with her, etc. That would not have helped this nurse in the slightest — if anything, she may have been pushed even further “out there” if loads of  natural-birthers had jumped on her with both feet.

I’ve seen other comments in the past several months that made me cringe because they were from natural- and/or home-birthers, and it did get the bloggers’ ire up — and I don’t blame them, because the comments came across as a home-birthing version of Dr. Amy! Sometimes I have actually apologized for the other person’s comments or tone or whatever, because I don’t want people to have negative preconceived notions about all home-birthers based on the comments of a few. It doesn’t help anyone — certainly not the cause of spreading home birth!

So, when you meet with someone, whether in real life or especially over the internet (because it can be hard to judge a person’s “tone of voice” with merely the written word), and they don’t agree with you — about some aspect of birth or any other thing in life — getting in their faces will rarely win them over. Even if they agree with you, they will probably still disagree with you to your face, simply out of refusal to let you know you won. And if they still don’t agree with you, what have you gained by making them your enemy? But if you “create teachable moments” in which you gently teach them why you believe what you believe, and let them decide their course of action for themselves, then you may have gained a friend, as well as steered them in the course that is best for them.

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3 Responses

  1. Very, very good point! How one says something is so, so important. A great thing to remember. We have the same problem in the pro-life world, I think.

  2. Good advice. It sounds like you handled that very well! I agree that nurses should have doula training as part of their education!

    Dave Ramsey has some good ideas!

  3. This is sort of along the same line. My 4 year old daughter and I watch birth videos together. I read to her from books like Gentle Birth Choices. She knows how a woman gets pregnant and how the woman’s body works to give birth to the baby.

    A few days ago I overheard her “teaching” her 2 year old brother how a uterus contracts and the cervix opens to “let baby Anna out to see us”.

    She likes to “teach” other little boys and girls about birth, too! You know what? They’re *really* interested. And then their mothers listen. And the beautiful, awesome, factual description of birth, coming from a child’s mouth. . . makes them think.

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