One of the most common words that comes up when expectant parents are planning for their birth is "advocate." There is an idea in our culture that birth is frightening, overwhelming, and even that medical providers do not always have the best interests of parents and babies at heart. While it is certainly true that birth can seem overwhelming, even frightening at times, the majority of medical providers care very deeply about their patients and are making recommendations based on extensive medical training, experience, and sometimes even their instinct.
Where Does The Idea of "Advocate" Come From?
Perhaps it is simply a mislabeling of a very important role during the birthing process. Regardless of the method of birth, many birthing individuals are so intent and focused on the task at hand, they are not able to be fully present outside of their own process. This creates a gap, a silence, where there would otherwise be a voice.
Even without the added complications of a postpartum mood disorder, the early days and weeks of parenthood are a time of healing, recovery, and adjustment.
Now, that is not to say that individuals are not capable of speaking on their own behalf, of course they are. But perhaps they do not always realize they need, or might want, to in that moment. That is where friends, family, partners, and doulas can play a role; in knowing the desires and preferences of the birthing person, they can use their voice to remind the parent to use theirs.
What About After?
If the role of the advocate is to support the use of another's voice, is there a place for that type of support after the birth of a child? After all, the feelings of being overwhelmed are predominantly caused by the physicality and hormone rush of giving birth, right? While it is true that, for most, the postpartum period is somewhat calmer than birth, it is not true that new parents are always able to voice their thoughts and feelings in the best way.
The Challenge of Postpartum
Even without the added complications of a postpartum mood disorder, the early days and weeks of parenthood are a time of healing, recovery, and adjustment. Sleep deprivation, new routines and expectations, and often an influx of visitors, can all make decision-making and speaking up difficult for new parents.
A support person who can help you to find your voice in those early postpartum days can be especially helpful for new parents, perhaps even more than birth support. A postpartum doula is often able to help expectant or new parents to manage expectations, speak up with family, or frame and phrase questions about both their baby and their own recovery with their medical care providers.
While many view postpartum doulas, especially in an "advocacy" role, as being there for the baby, they can play an even greater role in supporting the physical and emotional recovery of the birthing person. While new parents are focused on the needs of their baby, they often neglect their own needs, including medical concerns. Having a postpartum support person can allow these parents the mental space, and the opportunity, to consider their own health and recovery and devote time and energy to their own care.
Asking The Right Questions
Just as a birth doula can support their clients voice by asking the right question at the right time, so too can a postpartum doula. Sometimes, the right question can change an entire outcome. This is particularly true when it comes to postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders. Often, new parents are hesitant to listen to those closest to them, and they may not trust themselves. They may give more weight to the ideas, comments, or questions, of a person who is a neutral professional, there to support without pushing an agenda. By asking questions that help new parents become open to the idea of discussing their mood or emotional state with a medical care provider, that support person is creating the opportunity for self-advocacy.
For many, knowing that they are not standing alone makes it easier to stand at all. Knowing that there is unquestioning support can make all the difference to new parents. While support in birth can be important to a positive birth experience, postpartum support can be crucial in the happy and successful transition to life as a family.
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