Helping Women Find Their Voice vs Protecting Them

Recently I attended an event where couples came to meet potential doulas. There were a few things that were said that made my ears prickle. One was from a very enthusiastic, young doula. She said repeatedly in her conversation about empowering women, that being her job. I do not empower women. A woman has power within her. My job is to help her find her power.  It seems like semantics- but I find one way a doula can disempower a woman is to make her dependent on you as her doula to find her power. I want a woman to learn how to find her own power. Then it is my job to encourage her to use it.

em·pow·er
/əmˈpou(ə)r/
verb   
give (someone) the authority or power to do something.
make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.
The second thing that was said was from a much more experienced doula. She was describing their services. She said that they attend the last three prenatal visits with a client. She said that when the care provider sees the doula in attendance they will not bring up things like “big baby”, inductions and encourage interventions. She is there to kinda protect the mom from the provider. Now this at first sounds nice. To feel protected. But is that what a doula’s role really is?
I used to attend prenatals years ago when I was new and needed to meet providers. When the concept of a doula was new, I went to help them to know my role and meet me. I asked a dad his opinion this week of doing this. His wife had been led to believe that their baby, although not officially late, needed to be induced because the ultrasound had projected the weight to be over 9 pounds. She had a three-day induction, emergent cesarean and a baby that was only 7 1/2 pounds. He said yea it sounded nice. But then he said prenatals were kinda private and he was not sure the doula needed to be there. I wondered if pregnant couples would see the benefit of this added service.
Ironically over the next few days the topic came up on a facebook birth professional page.

“Do any of you go with your clients to a prenatal appointment with their care provider? I’ve heard of this and wonder how common it is? It seems like a good way to build rapport with providers. Any downsides to this?”

And Maria Pokluda wrote,

“I will, but I can’t do it instead of a prenatal since I have other things I need to do at those. However, they can pay for me to go to an appointment if that is important to them.
However, my better question is why is that important to them? We would chat about that because really, the time they have with their provider is important too for the things that happen there and the questions they should be asking.
Also, most providers share call. Also, I don’t want my clients thinking I will “protect” them from their provider. If that is the case, we have even more chatting to do. :)”
Maria said it exactly as I thought. Sure, I might attend one prenatal if they felt they wanted me to meet a solo provider, but in a group of providers, how would this benefit? But more so, if a woman feels the need to be “protected” from her provider, why is she still with them?  If she feels she can not say what she feels, ask questions, discuss her beliefs with them… then change providers! 
Nope, my job is to help a woman find her voice, know her options and choices and let her know she can find her power. I will attend a solo practitioner prenatal meeting if my client wants to introduce us. But if a mom wants to have me come as her protector, I will not. That is not my role. I pray she will not feel the need to be protected but is she does, I will give her questions to ask, ways to gather more information to make an informed decision. This is the beginning of lots of decision making for her future. She will be making tons of decisions for her child soon. Giving her tools now will help her in the present and the future.
Sometimes couples will not make decisions that I would have made. The mom who chose an induction for a projected big baby was just such a situation. But I offered her evidenced-based information and then supported her in her decision. It was not my decision. I reminded her of the risks. I told her she needed to be able to live with this decision and it needed to be fully hers. She chose a path that her sister, her husband and I did not agree with, but it was hers. Many times during the induction I let her know her options. She made her decisions that felt right for her. I stood beside her in full support of that.
My job is not to do the very thing that we accuse some providers of doing. I can not have a hidden agenda. I can not bamboozle her into my way of thinking. I can not protect her from her own decisions- inclusive of who her provider is and their plans for her birth. I will remind her early on of the path she is headed on- choosing an interventive practice or hospital… encouraging her to look elsewhere if what she tells me she wants is different than what they usually provide.
I encourage women to find their path just as I have found mine. I choose to rarely go to hospitals and work with providers that I find go strongly against what most of my clients are looking for. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I do not need to protect my clients- as I have done the work on the front end, stepping away from the places that leave me shell-shocked and beaten up. I even provide rewards in my fees for couples who do the work of full preparation. I do my prenatal meeting with couples after they have completed their childbirth class preparation so that this meeting is not a mini-crash childbirth class, but a time to dream about their birth ideals and learn how they plan to implement the tools they learned in their class.

Class preparation helps them to find their tools and their voice. A prenatal meeting is a time to discuss the tools they want to use and how they see their journey unfolding. Birth is a time to trust and believe and allow themselves to become parents. Those around them should be supporting and encouraging during the journey. Hopefully, they will not feel the need to be protected from those who are there to support them.

-Teresa