doulas aren't advocates, advocates, doulas, empowerment

Doulas Are Not Advocates

What are advocates?

According to advocate means:  verb (used with object), advocated, advocating. 1.) to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly: noun 2.) a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person,cause, etc. (usually followed by of): an advocate of peace. 3.) a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor. 4.) a person who pleads the cause of another in a court of law.

Where would it be appropriate to be an advocate?

Some locations where being a birth advocate would be appropriate would be at legislative sessions, hospital board meetings, and local birth rallies. These locations open the door for advocates to make a difference in birth laws, practices, and standards. They are open doors of conversation for individuals who want to make a change in our maternal care system. These are legitimate opportunities for advocates to speak in support or defense of birthing individuals, for them to plead on behalf of those individuals, or to recommend change publicly. Advocates certainly do have their place in the birth world.

Advocates at births

However, in a labor environment, with a birthing individual, is neither the time nor the place for an advocate. Often an advocate will come into a birth under the guise of being a doula. She says she is there for the couple, but really she has an agenda. Sometimes that agenda is to make your birth better (whatever that looks like in her own mind). Sometimes it’s to stop doctors and nurses from doing their jobs (because they don’t really care about their patient and only see them as numbers). Sometimes it’s to ensure you don’t have the kind of birth she had (thus projecting her own trauma and feelings onto the birthing individual). All these agendas are indicators of advocates.

A doula, however,  is someone who is there for the birthing individual and their partner. To support their birth choices, to encourage them to speak up for themselves, to help them find their own empowerment, and to work with their chosen birth team. They are not there to fight with their client’s birth team. They aren’t there to push their view of the “right way” to birth. They aren’t there to speak on behalf of their client. They are there for support.

A doula knows her client is wise and insightful. Her client has done the research necessary to help her feel comfortable with her own birth choices. She has chosen the birthing team she desires to have at her birth. She is more than capable of speaking on her own behalf for or against any interventions during her birth. A doula knows her client’s birth is not her birth. It is not her body. Her client’s choices may not align with her own, but she isn’t there for herself. She is there to give of herself on behalf of another individual. She is there to fully support her client’s choices, without bias or judgement.

A time and a place for everyone

There is a time and a place for advocates and there is a time and a place for doulas. Both are needed. Both are desired. Both have good to offer. However, when an advocate tries to be a doula, unbiased support goes out the window. Know who you’re hiring.


About the Author

Christine Santos

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Owner of Sun State Doulas, Christine is passionate about pregnancy, birth, and parenting issues that affect mainstream families. She is mother to 3 girls and is an active member of the roller derby community. Her favorite quote is, “Not my body, not my baby, not my birth, not my choice.”

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