The day is my choice, I have the right to change my mind at any time, it is my right." - Brittany Maynard
Does that statement sound familiar to you birth workers out there?
More than anything, of course, I wish Brittany Maynard a miraculous reversal of her brain cancer within the next 48 hours, so that this blog is no longer relevant. If that becomes a reality, what will be remain relevant for years to come, is the work Brittany is doing for the Compassion and Care movement. For those not familiar, "This spring, 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard learned that she had terminal brain cancer. After careful assessment of her prognosis and end-of-life choices, she and her family reluctantly decided to move from their San Francisco Bay Area home to Oregon, one of five states (including Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico) that authorize death with dignity."
Brittany's experience, and the language she is using around it, runs parallel with many of the choices women make in childbirth. Doulas work to support these choices. A birth doula is a person, usually a woman, who supports a laboring women thru birth physically, emotionally, and by providing information to aid informed decision making. Occasionally, the birth doula acts as an advocate for the laboring mom (when called for). As birth doulas we support all the same choices for laboring women who are ushering in birth, as Brittany is exercising in preparing for death.
Saturday November 1st West Coast in her bedroom surrounded by those she loves — in her bed, on an upper floor of her Portland, Oregon home, with cherished music filling the room. We are all familiar with Brittany's Preferences for her gateway into death. She has gone to great lengths (moving to a different state for one) to be able to choose when, where, how, and with whom she will be born into death. She is doing this the same way we doulas support women to be able to choose when, where, how, and with whom they will birth.
When creating birth preferences, a doula encourages women to think about when, where, how and with whom they will birth and about the birth setting. What music will be playing, how the light will be set, what kind of medications they are willing to expose their bodies and babies to? Where will they be- at home, birth center, hospital and if in a hospital will they be in a bed or in a bath or holding onto a bar? Who will be at the birth- MD, Midwife, provider of your choice.
Unfortunately many laboring women do not have control over which hospital staff, and sometimes which Obstetrician in a revolving practice of MDs, will attend their birth. The laboring woman is expected to adjust and collaborate with this stranger (or someone they've met one time) at one of the most important events in her life. This can be very dangerous because if you don't know a person, you also don't know what will come out of their mouth, and the words and things people say to a laboring women will stay with her her entire lifetime. A doula can encourage supportive language at a birth by injecting positive words and phrases into the atmosphere. These are two of the most important aspects a doula provides- holding the space and providing continuity of care. At birth, if a woman is juggled by different nurses and even different doctors, they atleast have the continuity of care of their doula and a partner, when applicable. For Brittany to be able to choose her support team, her death doulas, is critical. Brittany understands this well and has chosen to be with her closest loved ones – her husband and her mother.
Brittany has my support in all her choices- and if she changes her mind, that is her choice too! Brittany can choose to continue staying alive past Saturday or she can choose to die as prepared for on November 1st or on another date of her choice. “The day is my choice, I have the right to change my mind at any time, it is my right." - Brittany Maynard
A laboring woman has the right to change her mind, too. I support Brittany the same way I support a laboring woman and if the woman changes her mind from 100% natural birth with no medications to wanting a epidural- okay! If she wants pain medication and then decides to go natural- okay! If she wants to question her provider's every step and then decides to just do what they say- okay! It's the woman's choice. If you change your mind from when, where, how, or with whom you want to give birth or cross over into death, you have my support! It seems silly to me to state such a basic human right but as we've seen, Brittany had to relocate states to make this choice a reality so evidently it is not obvious to all. Women preparing for a gentle birth also go to great lengths just to be able to have the freedom of choices. Brittany is a beacon for how to illustrate, outline, and expressing preferences in advance of death, while being fluid to the changes possible. Brittany is preparing herself for her best death, for a positive death experience, and open to change.
Doulas also support a positive birth experience and understand births can look very different from one another- medicalized, natural, home, hospital, surgical etc.. but as doulas we support the woman to have her best birth possible, whatever manifestation that may take.
Brittany.... I am wishing you the most amazing last few days with your loved ones, who are so lucky to have known you in your short life, and you them. On November 1st, may you feel all the love and light and support in the world as your husband and mother (your end of life doulas) and the universe hold your hand across the gateway of death. If you’ll let me I will hold your hand from afar too and will light a candle with my loved ones in your honor. You have support of so many across the globe, and I imagine we will all be holding your hand from afar on Nov 1st. Thank you for sharing your love and compassion with us. Wishing you love and light in life and death. We will forever feel the glow of your person as well as the light you have created around the issue of gentle death.
"And in the end, it is not the years in your life that count, it is the life in your years."
- Abraham Lincoln
Visit the Compassion & Choices site and sign the card and let Brittany know you support her bravery in this very tough time.