Doulas Being Advocates

Recently I received an email from a potential doula client that started like this, “I am looking for a doula to advocate for me and my husband’s wishes in the hospital, and for the baby during labor.”

When I replied with a statement, “Why do you feel you will need an advocate to share your wishes in your labor? A doula will not speak for you- you can speak for yourself- if you can’t then your partner will do so- we support you- we remind you of what you wanted- we help you find your questions to find your answers- but if you feel some need to be protected we need to discuss why that is- let’s talk more about this.” She was taken a back and emailed me back this, “I think there has been a misunderstanding, I have no problem speaking up for myself; I don’t know where that came from. I have a list of questions to help me find a doula. What I’m looking for is a good fit, the optimal organization, because I am assembling my team, and would like a doula present. And I don’t know where this inference of needing to be “protected” came from? “

This made me think about the word advocate. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding of that word. When someone says initially something like they need an advocate to be with them- it sends up a red flag. My thesaurus lists these words: supporter, backer, promoter, believer, activist, campaigner, and sponsor. One who would support, encourage and be in favor of. I do think a doula can be these things. I do think there was a misunderstanding.

But this email came on the cusp of hearing from one of my doulas about a couple who had hired her. The father to be was initially one who was gun ho on having a very medicalized birth where all decisions were given over to their doctor. And then as they began to examine more of the birth journey- they had begun to explore options available to them and find out more about birth; he had changed quite a bit. The mother to be wanted a low intervention birth and was hoping to have a gentle vaginal birth in the least and was considering going natural.

Well after going a week past her due date and sharing how her care provider was not pressuring her to do anything to push this labor along, she went in for her 41 week prenatal appointment. After doing a non stress test and biophysical, it was determined that the amniotic fluid level was low- actually he admitted it was just what they expected it to be- well within the normal range- but lower than weeks earlier- but he suggested that they go straight to the hospital for an induction.
Her cervix was not ripe- but they could ripen it with cervidil. And after less than the suggested eight to twelve hours, it was removed and pitocin was started to bring on contractions although her cervix had not changed nor was it any more ripened than it had been the day before. The consideration of a second dose of cervidil was not discussed. And sometime in the night, her water had either been broken or had released due to the cervidil.

The pitocin was bringing on mild contractions initially since the couple had been requesting a slow start to the pitocin. But by mid morning, when the doctor made the decision to bring the pitocin up to normal management levels, the mom was struggling with the pain and the baby showed a few signs of also not being happy with the plan. The doctor had even said these contractions were like those of a mom who was close to pushing, but her cervix remained closed and unchanged. An epidural was placed and the doctor told them he would give them until 2pm to make some progress or she would have a surgical birth. I am unclear as to why this time was determined to be the magic hour of calling for the surgical birth- ACOG says a mom should have eighteen hours to be in active labor after her water was broken- perhaps he had broken her water at 8pm the night before.

Now mind you, they were in very little contact with their doula, and she was not with them- she was awaiting them inviting her to come be with them- whenever they needed her- she was ready- but they felt they did not need her yet. For inductions it can be tricky. Cervical ripenings is usually done while the mom sleeps. And the early onset of a pitocin induction can take hours before a mom even feels the first “real” contraction. So not having a doula present for the early parts of an induction is normal. But after several calls to them to help her know what might be occuring, she was finally able to find out at 3pm that they were going in at 4pm to have a surgical birth.

The doula was disappointed to have not been invited to be a part of this birth. What had happened? She was trying to be that supporter, believer, campaigner and encourager that they had wanted. But no phone calls had invited her to do so. And this care provider who was not going to push her into labor was now pushing her bed into the OR. But this was not the doulas’s birth. These were not her choices to make. She could not make these decisions for them. But had they been adequate advocates for themselves in the midst of this situation?

It is hard to be an advocate if someone will not be their own advocate. A doula can not step in and throw herself over your bed and say no. She can not give you medical advice. She can not speak up when you fail to do so. She can not save you from the choices you make freely along the journey. And sometimes I think folks hire us to do just that. I was trying in this email to be clear about our role. The antonym to advocate is opponent and discourager. Sometimes we find the folks we choose to be with us may very well be those things- whether it is the care provider or a friend or family member.

I can reassure you that will not be us- we will support the choices you make in your pregnancy and labor. We will remind you of what you desired. We will assist you in getting your questions answered and considering what your options are along the way. If you are desiring that, then we can be your advocates.