One of the things we hear most frequently when we speak with birth clients is that they are looking for an advocate to be there with them at their birth. The word advocate is a sort-of buzz word in the birth world that many associate with the role of a doula. This word is peppered throughout blogs, articles, and documentaries, but what does it mean?
An advocate, when used as a noun, is (a) someone who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy, or (b) a person who pleads on someone else's behalf. In other words, an advocate is someone who speaks for you.
A doula can't advocate for you in the literal sense of the word because as doulas, we have no legal right to speak for you in regards to your medical care. However, what we've found is that women don't want someone to speak for them, but rather to feel like their voices are heard.
Many women want an advocate at their birth because of a fear of not being heard or respected.
Perhaps you've given birth before and felt confused, rushed, or pressured into decisions or interventions. Maybe those things needed to happen, but you felt detached and excluded from the process. This can cause trauma for some, and/or the desire for something different next time.
If this is your first baby, you may have heard negative stories and want to do everything you can to make sure this doesn't happen to you.
If your doula isn't your advocate, then what is she? What can a doula do that will help birthing families feel confident that their voices are heard during a vulnerable time like childbirth?
Doulas are relationship builders
Your relationship with us begins when you contact us and continues throughout your pregnancy and birth. Your doulas spend time getting to know you, your family, your needs, and your preferences. You trust us with your thoughts and feelings, and to support you as you bring a new baby into the world. This relationship is important to us, and so is the relationship you've built with your OB/GYN.
Since we've established positive relationships with hospitals and OB/GYNs, we can support you during labor with a foundation of trust that your doula is always working as part of a team to help you have the best birth possible for you.
Doulas facilitate communication
During pregnancy, we can help you learn how to effectively communicate your needs and preferences with your doctor. At our prenatal meeting, we take time to make sure everyone is on the same page and that you go into labor feeling prepared. During labor, we can help you understand the process, encourage you to talk through your options, and remind you that it's okay to ask questions about your care.
We understand the process and can help translate if you're feeling confused. Your doula can also help you be more comfortable while keeping safety in mind by checking with nurses regarding position changes and other things that may effect their ability to care for you in labor. We love to collaborate with nurses and draw from their knowledge and experience!
Doulas remain constant
During pregnancy, you speak with your OB/GYN every few weeks. During labor, your nurses will spend an average of 4-7 minutes per visit to your room, which doesn't leave much time for individualized care, and you may labor through a shift change. Your doctor may check in periodically, but you likely won't see much of them until delivery approaches.
In an unfamiliar environment, your doula is a constant, familiar face. Since we aren't responsible for your medical care, we have time to focus on you and your other needs. We listen and encourage. We help instill confidence that your voice is powerful and that you and your partner have everything you need to use it.
Perhaps you don't need an advocate after all.