Don’t Be Afraid to Advocate for Birth

Use the tools of advocacy to affect change in birth culture

I think birth advocacy may look something like this in the mind of “average” Americans:

  • doulas throwing themselves in front of their patients to “protect” them from the “evil” doctor (if that’s what you’re looking for, I’m NOT the doula for you).
  • women with long hair, parted down the middle (I wish I could pull off that look!) and flowing skirts shouting slogans at hospitals like, “Make babies, not episiotomies!”
  • loudly telling every pregnant woman that she should really find a midwife, buy a birth tub and just “breathe your baby out” in her living room (I tried that, but ended up hollering in my bath tub).
  • parents who refuse any kind of medical procedure because all they care about is the “process” of birth and the health of their baby is a low-priority (now we’re just getting ridiculous).

Let’s clear the air on birth advocacy. The term usually means advocating for the respect for the personhood of a woman during birth, evidence-based (physical, mental and emotional) care and providing complete, unbiased information so women can make truly informed decisions during the pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum periods. It doesn’t mean forcing your ideas on others, but can include sharing your ideas!

Advocacy is also not a destination, it is a process. A process where those who are passionate about high-quality care and support for women do three things:

1) Educate, 2) Discuss, and 3) Take Action to encourage new  perspectives for birth!

1) Education
In order to do different, you have to know different!
Reach out beyond your own experiences and expand your vision of what birth can be. Learn all you can about normal/physiological birth, interventions in birth, cesarean birth, unassisted birth – ALL.THE.BIRTHS! Then, know what options you have available to you for your birth (not just the few your provider or birth place may present to you). Take an in-depth birth class, read books, follow “birthy” websites, blogs and Facebook pages (see below for a list of links) and stay up-to-date on research that may affect your experience.

2) Discussion / Conversation
In our culture, nightmare birth stories are all the rage. The more terrible, the better. These can be important to discuss but don’t just let the telling of the story be the end. Know why something happened, why it wasn’t right or did need to happen  and how you would act differently now. And then, don’t be afraid to tell your GOOD birth story. Did you have a VBAC? Tell everyone who will listen how you did it (and don’t be surprised if people say, “You can DO that after a c-section?”). Did you have a birth intervention that YOU decided was right for you after being fully informed? Tell your story! Did you have a family-centered cesarean where you were fully present and made decisions regarding your care, environment and mommy-baby bonding? Tell your story!

Don’t shy away from sharing many different types of stories. You may spark an idea for someone or just help ease the fear of a woman preparing to birth for the first or fourth time.

3) Take Action
Get your medical records. Write a letter if you were poorly treated by a provider. Or, encourage a provider who gave you extraordinary care with a small thank-you gift. Join other women who want to make a change in the area of birth you’re passionate about.  Join ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) and be a supporter to cesarean moms looking for options or recovery help. Partner with Improving Birth to start a conversation about evidence-based care in your area.

But, most importantly: Stand up for yourself in your own care. Your body is yours, even if a baby is growing in it or coming out of it. You can say no to procedures and interventions you aren’t comfortable with. You can ask for more information or more time before you decide. You can change providers if you’re not receiving the care you desire. You deserve true informed consent and are completely capable of deciding what is right for you and your baby.

Don’t shy away from the  tumultuous realm of birth advocacy. Your experience and your passion CAN make a difference for others! And once you start taking these steps, you may find you’ve started a journey you will never want to quit!

If you’re interested in Birth Advocacy, here are some places to get started:
International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN)
Improving Birth
Birth Monopoly
Birth Without Fear
Coalition for Improving Maternal Services (CIMS)

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