I Cannot Be Your Voice: Advocacy In Doula Work
To Educate, Support, and Advocate
If you've spent much time in the doula world you'll have come across this idea that the role of a doula is to educate, support, and advocate for their client. Of course its far more nuanced than it first appears. Educate about what specifically? Is there a line between which things can be shared with clients and which things can't? What sort of support? A doula by definition is not medical but is it just 'non-judgmental hand-holding' kind of support or does it mean something deeper and broader? And then there is advocacy. Its probably the benefit I hear people talk about most in online groups "Hire a doula so she can make sure your dr/midwife follows your birth plan. Your doula will speak up for you."
We Are Disconnected From Our Own Power
The single biggest issue which I believe gave rise to doula care as a profession was birthing persons wanting to feel truly safe and loved - the in-your-bones, deep and complete, mind-body-soul kind of safe and loved - but actually feeling pretty powerless.
Women DON'T feel safe in birth anymore - partly because of how systems and institutional policies are prioritized over the needs of individual people, which is manifested through caregiver actions, and partly because they no longer have real life everyday access to aunts, moms, grandmas, older sisters, or community wise women who are intimately familiar with the nature of birth and able to provide knowledge and comfort and love and a sense of security throughout pregnancy, birth, and beyond. We have multiple generations of women now who have been disconnected from their power as a result of their own birth experiences and, splintered connections causing distance (both literal and metaphorical) between families.
Women worry that their birth - which is once in a lifetime and life changing for them - will be just one more on the assembly line where they are forced along at a standard pace, pierced and cut and pressured to fit the mold with no regard for their individual needs, let alone their desires or even their rights. The system is satisfied as long as mother and baby are physically healthy at the end but we know in our hearts that merely surviving birth is far too low a standard. Even the WHO has released new guidelines in 2018 which reflect this deeper understanding of the importance of the birth experience.
Advocacy Does Not Mean Speaking FOR The Birthing Person
So doulas emerged. To educate. To support. And to advocate. But can I tell you something? Contrary to common use, advocacy does not mean speaking FOR the birthing person. I cannot be your voice. In my estimation, a doula who speaks for her client is little better than a caregiver who does. Even when it seems like a doula is so intuitive she can read her clients mind, advocacy is still something we each have to do for ourselves ultimately as we are the only ones who know innately what we need in the moment.
YOU are the boss of your body. It is YOUR baby. They are YOUR choices. A doula can reflect your power back to you. She can hold space. She can ask questions. She can remind you of conversations and plans and options. She can hold you up and she can have your back. But she is not your voice. YOUR voice is the one that needs to be heard. Your presence is the one that needs to be felt.
Going With the Flow Rarely Gets You Where You Want To Go
Far too many women have been led to believe that they can - even should - just 'go with the flow'... they hope despite the fear in their gut, that the standards of care will be enough, and so they don't tap into their own truth. They don't find their voice. They don't advocate for themselves. When you don't make clear the direction you want to travel, you will inevitably find yourself swept along with the system instead and most of the time that leaves you at least a little (but sometimes a lot!) battered and bruised, and it takes you to places you never intended to go.
A doula can help in many ways but is no substitute for the amazing power you already possess within yourself and which is waiting to emerge.
Tamara George of Healing Light Birth Support says it like this: “If you don't advocate for yourself…” (if you are not clear on your needs and desires and make them known) “...someone else will advocate for their wallet at your expense.” (they will take you along for the ride that serves *them* best, not you.)
Find Your Voice. Speak Your Truth. You Know You Best.
Finding *your voice* and speaking *your truth* is so very important in all of life, but especially so in the childbearing years. And while we're being honest about birth - advocating for yourself, hiring a doula, choosing a birth team who supports you fully - none of those things can guarantee outcomes. When you begin to advocate for yourself in pregnancy and birth though, it equips you to then advocate for yourself and your child(ren) for a lifetime and puts you in touch with a power only you possess. Nobody knows what you need to be whole better than you do.