Trick question! The truth is that while a doula can advocate for birthing families in general, advocacy has no place in the birthing room with an individual family.
When you are supporting a mom in labor, you need to ensure that your voice does not overpower mom’s voice. This is her birth, her family, her baby. And moms frequently change their minds in labor. Advocating for moms does not “empower” them. In fact, it does the opposite. It sends the message that mom cannot speak for herself and needs you to do it. Actually, I’m not a fan of saying doulas empower mom at all, as the power is not the doula’s to give to mom. We help mom find their own power, but we don’t “empower” them. Remember, if your voice in advocating for mom trumps her voice and self-determination, then you have hurt the mom.
I’ve often told my clients “I’ve got your back, I’m behind you 100% no matter what you choose. But you or your partner need to be the ones to speak up for yourself. I can help you find the words if you don’t know how to do it. I can create a conversational opening for you if I sense you have something to say, but you need to advocate for yourself at your birth.”
I want the moms I work with to come out of their births thinking “I DID THAT!” instead of “I couldn’t have done it without Andrea!”
On the other hand, doulas absolutely can advocate for birthing families in a more general way.
Is there a hospital in your area that has policies unfriendly to women? Encourage clients to communicate with the hospital the issues they have. I’ve done this, even finding out the name and address of the person they client needed to contact, and clients have contributed to getting policies changed.
Are there laws in your area that are restrictive? Get involved in the legislative process and see if you can make change. I did a little work on helping get midwifery laws in my state changed and found it an excellent way to advocate for birthing women.
Doulas CAN advocate for birthing families, absolutely. But absolutely not in the birth room, not when it takes away the voice of an individual woman.