When we ask prospective clients why they are interested in having a doula at the birth of their child, most people include something to the tune of “I want someone to advocate for me at the hospital.” We get this. It can be daunting to imagine oneself in labor, having to remember all the details on the birth plan, and then remembering what questions to ask when things take an unexpected turn. But whether it is a doctor, midwife, nurse or doula, when someone else speaks for you, your autonomy is threatened. Self-advocating is the single most important thing you can do to maintain autonomy during labor and birth, and a doula can provide the space to do just that.
Self-advocating is when you use your own voice to remind your care providers what your values and wishes are for the birth of your child. Many women report that during their labor and birth they felt that their power was taken away from them, that decisions were either forced on them or they weren’t given enough information to make an informed decision. It is not surprising that many women feel that they don’t even have a choice when it comes to their care or the care of their child. But, you do have a choice! In every aspect of your care. It can be intimidating to speak up to your care providers, but reminding your care providers of what you want reminds them that you are the client, that they work for you and that your informed decisions are the default.
As doulas, we know that unexpected decisions sometimes need to be made, that it can be hard to remember all the risks and benefits of all the possible procedures that may come up and that when a woman is in labor her thinking brain has been tuned down to support her intuitive brain. And we know that labor can be very intense, for both the mother and her partner. This is where a doula can help advocate: to the care provider suggesting a procedure, “do the parents have five minutes to discuss this in private?” “Can you help the parents understand the risks and benefits of this procedure?” “Is this an emergency or do the parents have some time to think about it?” Doulas can also supplement the information being given. So the role of the doula is not to speak for her client, but to ensure that her client has all the information she needs to speak for herself.
Many families who choose to have a doula at the birth of their child do so because they have a vision for how they want the birth to go, and they want to feel supported in making that vision a reality. Self-advocating, and being heard and respected by her birth team, will start the birthing mother’s parenting journey off with confidence. And that is a huge gift!