The process of informed consent entails more than you may realize, and when it comes to pregnancy and birth, it is important to know your rights regarding informed consent. Signing a consent form that you may or may not have been given adequate time to read is one small part of the process, but this alone doesn’t constitute true informed consent.
According to the American Medical Association, informed consent means that your care provider should share the diagnosis or reason for the procedure, what the treatment or the procedure entails and its purpose, as well as its risks and benefits. They should also inform you of any alternative treatments or procedures and the risks and benefits of these alternatives. Finally, they should inform you of the risks and benefits of declining the treatment or procedure.
As part of the informed consent process, your doctor or midwife should give you ample opportunity to ask questions and to have those questions answered in a manner that you fully understand. The process of informed consent should be a conversation, not a monologue. Your care provider should use this opportunity to provide you with facts and statistics, not just their opinion. Remember that it is informed consent, not informed persuasion! It is also worth considering that any time you ask for risks and benefits of a medication or procedure and are told that there are zero potential risks or side effects, you aren’t being told the truth. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful or even lifesaving in certain scenarios, but there are always risks and benefits to every intervention.
It is also important to remember that you have the right to informed consent regardless of who your care provider is or where you are giving birth. If you notice red flags during your prenatal care that indicate that informed consent is not honored by your care provider, a discussion about the matter is in order. If that discussion does not resolve the situation, or you still feel uneasy, it might be time to consider switching to a more respectful and responsible midwife or doctor.