Reply turned post, othering style

I love the posts on Stork Stories. The blog author is an experienced, conscientious OB nurse and CLC. This week I was a little dismayed by the victim blaming tone of her post about having a run of racially and ethnically diverse, difficult patients. This part in particular bothered me:

“Is it too much to ask for a little bit of responsibility to understand at least a little something about what is involved in childbirth, postpartum, newborn care and the legal recording of birth in the facility, state and country in which they have chosen to give birth! Is it too much to ask that an individual try to learn what may be asked of them???” Not everything in the post was as clearly victim blaming, and I included a more reasonable statement of hers in my comment.

However, discussing problems with experiences with people of other races and ethnicities is really difficult, even with the most conscientious and progressive people. I hope I did OK:

I think this is the key:

“There are times when these situations unfortunately occur. Many times the individuals involved are Americans who are 2nd or 3rd generation of mixed ethnic background or are of no discernable ethnic or cultural background, have lived in this country all of their lives and still exhibit the same type difficult personality traits.”

Here is a good example of what happens in obstetrics when it is harder to relate to people who are “other” than us for some reason.

I know it is frustrating when there are language and cultural barriers, but I am not sure any of the people you described were necessarily fully choosing to be in the situation they were in. I don’t think many women want to be in a hospital in which their culture and language are not well understood or well received, and would prefer to be white, insured, from the United States, and would prefer not to be drug addicted or have aggressive men fighting outside of their room. But, since becoming privileged and safe is not in their control, let’s try to show a little empathy to people who need it more, not less.

I understand these situations are more trying since there are language and culture barriers, but think how much worse it is for the patients, too, and try to step back from making sweeping generalizations about anyone.

End of comment.

I wanted to add here that I had a very interesting discussion just yesterday with a black female ob/gyn at my medical school. She is a mother and is of Jamaican heritage, and wears her hair in dreadlocks. I am not fond of describing people as “black” or “dreadlocked” or other such adjectives if it is not relative to the conversation, but it is in this case. She was telling me about how you can pretend how it doesn’t matter what you do, but when one is from a less privileged position (a mother in medicine, black, female, and osteopath in an allopathic residency, etc.) you are representing whether you like it or not.

She had a cesarean delivery last year, and her child was born with a cleft lip and palate and had to undergo multiple surgeries in the past year. She is being pressured to finish up her MPH project, while still practicing as an ob/gyn full time and performing in her duties as a professor. When she brought up her surgery, delivery, and child’s health problems, the department head told her that if women are meant to be taken seriously in this day and age, they shouldn’t use those kinds of excuses.

WTF? If any man here had to undergo major abdominal surgery, a major life transition (new baby) and his child ALSO had to undergo multiple surgeries within an 8 month period, I think people would cut him a little slack. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the realities of parenting, regardless of gender, or acknowledging the realities of health care issues. We are people. We are not just blacks, whites, moms, women, foreigners, whatever. We are real people with real needs. What’s wrong with a little nuance and empathy?

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2 responses to “Reply turned post, othering style

  1. StorkStories

    Hello Mom TFH… I am thanking you for your insightful views on my dicussion of my experiences. I did place at the top of my post how extremely important it is for me to be culturally sensitive and provide culturally competent care. I thank you for seeing and saying that I am a conscientious OB nurse and CLC. I found it very difficult to try to describe what we/I went thru without giving away too much pt identifying information. I do go out of my way to make sure the needs are met for ALL patients under my care no matter how difficult. I feel that RR made a good point that these issues may be more male partner dominance issues. You make a good point that many things are out of their control, that they are possibly more or less victims and that all individuals are “real people with real needs”. These are important points!
    I have now over 35yrs in this business and what prompted me to write this particular post was the sheer amount of total disrespect exhibited towards me (and my co-workers) as I/we tried to care for and help those individuals. Possibly I was wrong to think it had anything to do with the diverse patient population. I am not sure why you were bothered by or think it is wrong or insensitive to ask for a little bit of understanding from those individuals new to our country? I ask so much more of myself…constantly asking a lot of myself, to better myself and treat others with the dignity and respect that all individuals deserve. I felt a little victimized myself this weekend. I ask only for a little respect, understanding and to NOT be YELLED at! That has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. That has nothing to do with privelege or poverty. I have one of the most gentle approaches of anyone in my area of expertise! So I will leave you quoting back to you…. what you said about your response…wondering if you did OK..
    …because I hope I did OK…. each and every day.

    “However, discussing problems with experiences with people of other races and ethnicities is really difficult, even with the most conscientious and progressive people. I hope I did OK”

    • MomTFH

      I am sure you felt victimized, too. And you do deserve respect as a professional who does a great job.

      But, what is the relevance of that to the ethnicity or race of the patients? Probably not much.

      Another example: I had a doula client once who was from another country. She “warned” me before I met her husband that he was very different from me, politically. I laughed and told her not to worry – being a doula wasn’t about me, and I had dealt with orthodox Jewish couples, Muslim couples, conservatives, and it wasn’t an issue. When I heard he didn’t want to be at the birth and was a Catholic who was opposed to all of the reproductive freedoms incompatible with being a devout Catholic, I assumed he was also from a foreign country, and was maybe older and not very Americanized.

      Well, he was a Heinz 57 American good old boy. And I had a very prejudiced idea of a man in this day and age being opposed to being at his wife’s birth (combined with what I saw as other “backwards” ideas). That’s OK. We’re all learning.

      It’s not outrageous that we are all programmed to assign a lot more to ethnicity and race than we should. But, it is outrageous not to acknowledge it and learn from it when it happens.

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