Gaslighting is a term we are aware of referring to a type of manipulation that’s depicted in the classic movie Gas Light (1944) It’s typical of today’s thrillers where a husband (wants to get rid of his wife) convinces her that she’s losing her mind, he does this by frequent subtle changes in the house, including dimming the gaslights, but denying the changes, thereby creating so much doubt in his wife’s mind that she no longer trusts her own perceptions and gradually comes under his control.

Midwifery students frequently relay tales of hospital experiences that slowly manipulate them, through fear and doubt, to follow only the hospital policies and procedures, even though they are aware of evidenced based research. Fear of failing the course, fear of being outspoken, fear of not being employed, fear of not towing the line, puts the student midwife’s mind into a survival state so that she gradually acquiesces into the indoctrination of the maternity system.

Student midwives are no different from the women they are caring for during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum.

Women too are gaslighted into the micromanagement of their birth through fear. An example of this is their carer thinking they need their weight controlled (a large 120kg woman), she’s high risk of complications, a long labour etc. They relay this information to her each visit. Gradually either her blood pressure will go up or the carer will suggest the baby is growing too big or that they need to control they labour in case her weight causes complications. The woman, who fears anything happening to her baby, by the power of suggestion, follows the manipulative advice she is given. It is not evidence based but based upon the fear of the caregiver who has been trained via the hospital policies and procedures – who has never experienced anything else.

The most common gaslighting is the information given to encourage induction – we all know that one – it’s steeped into the birthing culture today!

How do I know?  I’ve experienced it myself in the hospital system and it’s shit! You come away from a woman feeling as though you’ve failed her through your fear of losing your job, being reported to AHPRA; and because there’s no support, it takes years to work out how to work the system so you don’t compromise evidenced based practice, your job, your integrity, your intuition, being with women.

How can we circumnavigate the years of experience to extinguish the gaslighting for student midwives so they can initiate the change in the culture now? Is there unbiased mentorship for student midwives to empower them to practice evidenced based information with women, for women, no matter where they birth – without fear? `