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A Horse to Water

You know the phrase, “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”?

This metaphor came up recently with a doula colleague as we discussed the frustration that can often be felt by the fact that we are powerless to make our clients choose things for their birth that we know from experience will likely end up sabotaging their best intentions.

In this metaphor, our clients are the thirsty horses.

For instance, they may want a vaginal birth yet choose a hospital or care provider that significantly reduces their chances of being successful.

Or they may agree to a routine intervention that may conflict with their preferences rather than flexing their right to decline.

As a doula it can be challenging to reserve judgment despite our commitment to support our clients no matter what they choose, even if that choice makes them a “thirsty horse” led to water, from which for whatever reason they choose not to drink.

Through our conversation though, I got to thinking about what it might be like to be that horse.

It goes back to the idea of simply imagining what it’s like to walk in another “horse’s” shoes.

What if that horse was taught its whole life that the only safe water to drink is water from a river, and now you’re showing them a lake and suddenly they’re not so sure if it’s safe to drink?

Or perhaps they were raised to believe it was only safe to drink water on the ground, but now you’re telling them it’s safe to drink from a natural spring or waterfall which may not feel like the right thing to do?

You don’t even need to be a doula for this to make sense.

We ALL have people in our lives who are thirsty horses!

People we love and care about, our parents, siblings, partners, friends, who we are powerless to “make drink”.

And it’s so easy to get frustrated and judge.

But what if we had enough compassion to imagine what it’s like for them instead of being so certain we know what’s right?

Even, or especially if we do!

I, for one, just used this awareness this morning with my husband to great effect!

Does this resonate for you?

As a birth worker or just a human being who sometimes judges before stepping into someone else’s shoes, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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