Whether you are in the midst of a pregnancy or this is a subsequent pregnancy, it is never too late to learn how to be an advocate for yourself and your baby during pregnancy and birth. Many of the new parents I treat have similar stories of the mistrust that developed between them and medical professionals due to a variety of factors. I want to emphasize that this is not an attack on the medical profession. I truly empathize with medical professionals for the hard and emotional work they do each and every day.
Doctors must understand how to skillfully and empathically deliver difficult news during a pregnancy. Doctors must be trained to recognize and show empathy towards the emotions elicited during a tough pregnancy and birth experience. They almost must be equipped with the resources (in this case counseling support) to refer their patients to if the patient is showing signs of distress or a possible PMAD during pregnancy. Unfortunately, when this is not the reality or when trust has been lost between a medical provider and patient, we must teach expectant parents the skills to advocate for themselves and their unborn child during their pregnancy.
I have included some tips below to help parents prepare to be their own advocates:
Establish Clear Communication with Healthcare Providers
Building a strong foundation for advocacy begins with open and honest communication with your healthcare providers. Establish a relationship of trust and ensure that you feel comfortable discussing your concerns, preferences, and any fears you may have. Ask questions, seek clarification, and actively participate in your care. Remember, you are an equal partner in the decision-making process. If you feel your health care provider cannot clearly communicate with you; run… don’t walk! Find someone who you feel more comfortable with and who allows you to discuss your concerns and answers your questions in a satisfactory manner. Many parents are scared to switch providers after they have gotten to a certain point in their pregnancy. If someone has shown you that they are not going to provide you with the care you need; it is most likely not going to change.
Knowledge is power, and being informed about the various aspects of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care empowers you to make informed decisions. Attend prenatal classes, read reputable books, and explore research-based and reputable online resources.
Create a Birth Plan
Developing a birth plan is an effective way to communicate your preferences and expectations to your healthcare team. There are many great templates online that you can choose from. Outline your desired birthing environment, pain management preferences, and any specific cultural or religious considerations. As always, keep a flexible mindset with regard to your birth plan. Things may not go as planned, so you also have to be prepared to expect the unexpected (this is different from someone blatantly ignoring or disregarding your birth plan).
Assemble Your Support Team
Advocacy doesn't have to be a solo journey. Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, and professionals. Make sure you talk extensively to your partner about your hopes and dreams for your pregnancy and birth. Your partner can be the one to advocate for you when you cannot; so they must be fully aware of what your wishes are.
Now that I am further into the world of maternal mental health, I have met so many wonderful allied health care professionals. Consider hiring a doula who can provide both emotional and physical support during your pregnancy and labor and more importantly, act as another advocate during delivery. Other allied health professionals that would make great members of your support team are lactation consultants, pelvic floor physical therapists and of course a perinatal trained therapist! I am more than happy to provide you with my trusted list of resources if you are looking for any of the above!
Know Your Rights
Familiarize yourself with your rights as a patient during pregnancy and childbirth. Understand hospital policies, your right to informed consent, and the importance of obtaining a second opinion if necessary.
Throughout the pregnancy and birthing process, be attuned to your own needs and communicate them clearly. Don't hesitate to speak up if you feel uncomfortable, uncertain, or require additional information. Trust your instincts and advocate for the experience you desire. It is not silly to practice advocating with a partner or friend. If you need to have a tough conversation with a medical provider, write it out and practice what you want to say with someone you trust.
Advocacy doesn't end with the birth of your baby. Consider your postpartum needs, including feeding support, mental health resources, and recovery support such as a postpartum doula. Needs can rapidly change postpartum, so be prepared with some resources before you deliver so that you and your partner have them on hand when you may need to call upon them.
The bottom-line is… your voice matters! Advocating for your needs is not pushy or selfish. Advocacy is crucial to shaping an empowering, memorable and fulfilling pregnancy and birth journey. You matter, your needs matter, and your baby’s needs matter. Do not allow anyone to take that away from you.