I hear time and time again. I'm sitting in an interview with potential clients and they tell me that one of the reasons they want to hire a doula is to have someone advocate for them in the birthing room. I'm constantly explaining to clients that while I do consider myself an advocate of choices in birth, natural birth, and natural postpartum choices; I do not advocate for you during birth, but rather help you to advocate for yourself. I also explain that if they hire me as their doula, the process of how I help them to advocate for themselves starts prenatally.
I use to always wonder where these women and couples got the idea that doulas are advocates for them during birth. That is, until I started listening to my fellow doulas. Again, I'd hear over and over about stories of doulas who would get into heated conversations with doctors and nurses about hospital policy, clients wishes, evidence-based practices and more. I'd hear doulas brag about arguments they felt they won, shouting matching, standoffs, and more. The worst to me are the stories of doulas who unhooked IV's, stopped the pit machine, and spent time interpreting fetal monitor readouts. It was quite horrifying to me. Who was serving the mother at that time? How did this truly make her feel? Did these doulas really feel they served their clients best this way?
Now I understand there is a type of doula for everyone. Some women benefit from doulas with a more no nonsense attitude, the ones that don't sugar coat things or come off more "militant". Other women prefer a lighter touch or a more "middle of the road" doula. I respect the differences and the need for them. However, I believe there should be a separation of doula and advocate. Politics, in particular your own personal politics, have no business at the birth of your client. Once a client is in labor, any personal agendas should be checked at the door. There is a more appropriate time and venue to try and change faulty birth practices.
I think the same thing goes for the myth that we empower women through these actions at her birth. A woman's power to advocate for herself and birth in the way she wants isn't ours to give. It's her birth and it has to be her job to find the power and be empowered. We can help, we can guide, we can even lead, but we can give that to anyone. Sadly though, through our actions, just like the hospital staff, we can take it away.
So people, what do you think? Do you think there should be separation? Perhaps there is another side I am not seeing. Maybe you are a mother who benefited from a doula doing some of the things I mentioned above or a doula who felt there was no other way. Share your thoughts with me. I'm open to them.