How to Talk so your Doctor will Listen

As a doula, one of the most valuable skills I offer my clients is facilitating effective communication with their doctors. That means when the doctor leaves the room, my clients aren’t thinking to themselves “Darn, I forgot to ask about _______!” It means my clients don’t tell themselves things like “I was going to bring up ______, but I can tell the doctor is busy and I don’t want to seem high maintenance.” And at the birth, if things take an unexpected turn, my clients get a minute to slow down, ask questions, consider options, and make confident decisions.

Effective communication with doctors is an unsung hero of positive birth – miscommunications can lead to totally avoidable negative experiences!

So how can YOU communicate more effectively with your doctor? Here are four guidelines I wish I could teach every expecting parent:

How to talk to doctors will listen

They’re simple guidelines, so let’s take a look at some examples. Let’s say a pregnant person is at their first prenatal appointment, and tells the provider “I didn’t know I’d have to do a transvaginal ultrasound.” The doctor may explain why that’s the preferred method, then cheerily head out the door. What if, instead, the pregnant person said “I’m really uncomfortable with transvaginal scans. Can you please tell me about some alternatives?” That’s a totally different message, even if it feels the same on the inside. Knowing that the patient is uncomfortable and wants alternatives means the doctor will stay and discuss it.

Let’s do another one. Let’s say you’re pregnant and you feel like you always have to pee. You know this is a pregnancy stereotype, but wonder if you might actually have a urinary tract infection. You tell your doctor “I know it’s normal to pee a lot in pregnancy but I’ve been peeing ALL the time, like yesterday I had to wake up before my alarm to pee, then I had to go again before it was even time for breakfast, and my toddler wouldn’t leave me alone for ten seconds all morning and screamed every time I left to use the bathroom, and I’ve been trying to drink plenty of water so maybe that’s why, but anyway I had to go like a dozen more times before bedtime.” Did you read all of that? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. And there was no question, and no named feelings. Your doctor might say something like “I’m sure you remember from last time, it really does feel like you have to pee a hundred times a day! Perfectly normal.”

What could you say instead? How about “I know it’s normal to pee a lot in pregnancy, but I’ve been feeling so much urgency I’m concerned that I have an infection. How can I tell the difference between normal peeing and a UTI?” That’s succinct, names a feeling, and asks a question. Recipe for success.

I’d like to share one last example from my own experience, to illustrate the importance of the last guideline: pre-gaming with your support team. I was recently at a birth with an awesome family, one who had shared their birth preferences with me in advance. I knew that the parents both loved the idea of the dad being the one to receive (catch) the baby. They planned to ask the on call obstetrician if he could do that when the time was right.

They had already been in the hospital for over 24 hours before it was time for the baby to be born. Both parents were beyond ready to meet their baby. The doctor on call was one they weren’t very close with. She had a no-nonsense attitude, and didn’t arrive in the room until the baby was almost crowning. She put on her gloves and assembled her equipment, maneuvering into place to receive the baby. The mom was focused on getting into her pushing position, nurses helping her shift. Twice, the dad tried to politely catch the doctor’s attention, but his attempts didn’t break through the action in the room. He shot me a look as if to say “I’m trying, but she’s not listening and I don’t want to be rude.” Seeing that the window of opportunity was closing, I piped up with “Excuse me, can Dad ask a question?”

That’s all it took. The doctor was happy to let the dad receive his baby! It was a beautiful moment to see a new person come into the world, directly into the gentle hands of a loving parent. But it might not have happened if we hadn’t taken the time to pre-game, simply because big moments can rush by in the blink of an eye. You can be tired, and temporarily feel disconnected from your priorities. You can simply not want to be rude.

I hope you’re quick guide empowers you to communicate more effectively with your doctor. If you have questions or want my input on a specific situation, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly! Happy birthing.

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