It hasn’t been easy. “I have struggled over the years with negative comments and pushback regarding the way I practice,” says Cooper, “and because of my gender and my failure to easily fit in with the Alabama medical community.” But she has found her place with current colleagues that are “more diverse and independent-minded”, who give her “more support than I have ever had”.
The feminist doctor has also found allies within Alabama’s religious community, which is “interesting, because we follow different paths to the same end when it comes to birth. We disagree politically, but both seek safer birthing environments for women with fewer unnecessary interventions.”
“Women who choose my practice span the spectrum of political views as well as religious ones,” says Cooper. They also come with different birthing plans, and that’s fine with her. Choice and consent are at the centre of her practice.
Regardless of whether women choose to have medicalised births, or c-sections, or home births, Cooper says the important point is that they understand all their options, including risks and ways to mitigate them.
“My job is to use my skills to help fulfill the plan that the birthing person has put in place and to give information to help them have the outcome that they want,” she says. Following this approach, she adds, means that “when things don’t go as planned, people still feel more comfortable with it, because they were part of the process, rather than a passive vessel.”
Psychology and c-sections
Cooper’s obstetrics training, she says, was “a very medicalised programme and I didn’t get a lot of experience with unmedicated, low-intervention births”. It was only when she gave birth herself that she began to question what she’d learned. Once she was back home with her newborn, she started to have problems with breastfeeding that she could not explain from her training.
Before this, “I hadn’t thought about how little training I’d had in supporting breastfeeding women and how the way we give birth affects lactation.” Afterwards, Cooper began studying these issues, and also midwifery, which she says opened her eyes to “how much is missing from the body of knowledge that we as physicians have when it comes to childbirth.”
Whereas obstetricians are trained to look for pathologies and diseases, she explains, midwives also focus on mentally preparing women for birth, including “being in a calm environment and approaching birth without fear”.