Navigating Health Care Systems with Autonomy

The first doula training I ever did was remarkable, and set the groundwork for all of my career endeavors. This paradigm shifting experience opened my eyes as to how to support my doula clients in navigating the healthcare system with autonomy, grace, and education- especially when it comes to reproductive health.

In this training, I realized that like many others, I held the belief that when I walked into a hospital or doctor’s office, I essentially handed over my rights. I believed that the person in the scrubs or white coat has all the answers, and I must blindly follow their advice and recommendations.

It’s normal to see healthcare providers as an authority figure that you can’t challenge. This is why so many women end up with unnecessary episiotomies, cesarean sections, hysterectomies, or without proper screening, diagnosis, and treatment. 

In order to educate my clients on how to advocate for themselves, I had to first deconstruct this programming personally. I had to learn how to be autonomous in a system that makes it difficult to treat people as individuals, and now I’m going to show you how to do the same. 

“My body, My Rules” 

You know your body best. It’s good to remember that, while your doctor may have incredibly valuable credentials and expertise, they have never lived in your body. They have no way of understanding the nuances of your pain and discomfort. They can’t know every symptom and sign that’s popping up- unless you tell them. 

In the face of many political climates, legislators are making it increasingly difficult for people, specifically those with uteruses, to have autonomy over the choices they make for their reproductive health. The fight to control women’s bodies rages on, as women retaliate with more education and fire than ever. It’s incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating to see different laws passed around the world regarding what people can and can’t do when it comes to their reproductive health.

If you have the privilege of living somewhere where you are able to act with a sense of autonomy, you better do it.

They Are Here to Serve

I don’t want to paint all healthcare providers in a bad light, because for the most part, they are angels here to help and serve. They want to see you getting the best care and outcomes possible, it’s just difficult to offer that within the system that they’re in. 

Which is why it’s your responsibility to push for the best possible care. To know what resources to ask for, so that you can get the treatment and answers you deserve. 

Understand Informed Consent

Informed consent is an “agreement or permission accompanied by full notice about the care, treatment, or service that is the subject of the consent. A patient must be apprised of the nature, risks, and alternatives of a medical procedure or treatment before the physician or other health care professional begins any such course. After receiving this information, the patient then either consents to or refuses such a procedure or treatment.” 

It’s common for providers to request a signature of an informed consent form, without the communication that is necessary to make said form actually consensual. The tricky area is that while the procedure proposed may be required or routine at the hospital, that does not make it mandatory for a patient to consent to it. It makes this process a catch twenty-two.

This is especially critical to understand in cases like pregnancy and birth, where unnecessary interventions are commonplace as a result of a lack of informed consent. 

Important Tips to Navigating The Healthcare System with Autonomy:

  • Ask questions: Any and all that come up. It helps to write out a list beforehand so that you don’t forget in the moment.
  • You have the right to say no: This goes along with informed consent. You almost always have the right to say no to a procedure or course of treatment, or at least ask for more time to think about it.
  • Ask for clarification: If you don’t understand something, it is your provider’s responsibility to make it clear for you. Especially if they are suggesting a procedure or medication. Ask again and again. If necessary, request a language interpreter. 
  • You have the right to ask for a different provider: Although this may vary depending on the country you’re in and insurance policy you have, at the end of the day you are paying for a service. If you are unsatisfied with said service, or are made to feel uncomfortable, you can and should ask for a different provider.
  • Be vocal: The things that go on with our bodies can be embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about, please don’t let this discourage you from offering your doctor full disclosure. A respectful healthcare provider will encourage you to share any relevant information, and receive it without judgement. 
  • Do your research: We have a world of information quite literally at our fingertips. While it can be hard to sift through and differentiate what are and aren’t reliable facts, it is your responsibility to do your own research when it comes to your body.
  • Make educated decisions: We understand that healthcare, especially reproductive healthcare, can come with a lot of emotions and frustrations, but it is still on you to be able to make an educated decision regarding your body. 
  • Seek out second opinions: And third. And fourth. Especially if it’s regarding a big decision around your healthcare. 
  • Consider seeking alternative care: Unless you are getting help for an acute condition, consider seeking out a holistic health practitioner like an acupuncturist, naturopathic doctor, or midwife. Private practice and holistic health practitioners are able to offer more well rounded care, and spend more time with you during intake, diagnoses, and treatment. 
  • Trust your intuition: Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up, and be adminant about being heard.

No matter where you are in your reproductive health journey, these tips are crucial for understanding how to navigate it with a sense of autonomy. Remember, you know your body best, and you are your own best advocate

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