How To Advocate For Yourself During, Before, and After a Hospital Birth
Pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is often the season in which you are the most and the least connected to your body, and self advocacy may not be the first thing to cross your mind. You experience feelings and sensations you’ve never felt before, and for the first time ever your body is not just your own, but rather shared with this wonderful little baby in the most intimate and incredible ways.
In a time where your body feels both foreign and more sacred than ever before, remembering that you have the ultimate control over it can be daunting and vulnerable. Take a deep breath, because if you are educated and well prepared, I promise you can have an incredible pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience no matter where you are.
Whether a hospital birth has been your plan from the start or your very last option, it’s incredibly important to understand how to be your own advocate during such a life changing and surreal experience.
- How To Advocate For Yourself During, Before, and After a Hospital Birth
- Do Your Research!
- Ask All The Questions
- You Are Not Married to Your Provider
- Create Multiple Birth Plans
- Practice Makes Perfect
- Know What You Can Refuse ANYTHING!
- Ensure That Your Support Person is Prepared
- It’s Okay to Change Your Plans
- If Something Doesn’t Feel Right, Speak Up
- Advocacy in the Fourth Trimester
- Most Importantly, Your Always Voice Matters
Do Your Research!
Navigating pregnancy and birth can be a whirlwind and seem incredibly intimidating to a first time mama, making it easy to just “go with the flow” and accept whatever you are told is best or standard. The good news is, you have plenty of time to prepare yourself from the moment you get that positive test until you are walking into that delivery room.
We are so lucky to have access to endless amounts of information at our fingertips. Use that smartphone or laptop to your advantage by doing all of the research you can on local hospitals, providers, birthing centers, midwives, and doulas.
Take the time to look into all of the tests and procedures being offered to you and don’t be scared to question anything that concerns you. Talk to the women in your life about their experiences, familiarize yourself with a variety of birthing outcomes, and search for a provider that welcomes your questions and can provide you with substantial answers.
Not only does it take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to bring a child into the world. Lean into the stories and advice from the women around you and draw from their strength!
The updated edition of Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel provides new moms with concise and reassuring guidance on how to have the most natural birth possible in a hospital setting.
Gabriel provides expectant mothers with information on how they can avoid unnecessary medical interventions, understand the process of giving birth and plan for their desired type of delivery.
Ask All The Questions
In our society, women are generally taught to be agreeable, pleasant, and passive from an incredibly early age – This mentality needs to go out the birthing suite window. Do not refrain from asking any and all of the questions, and avoid any provider that makes you feel uncomfortable doing so.
If a provider is not welcoming to all of your questions this is a HUGE red flag. Remember that you know your body better than anyone else does, and that you have the ultimate say in what takes place. Some questions to ask when choosing your provider may be :
- Under what circumstances would you recommend a cesarean, and what is your hospital’s cesarean rate?
- Are there restrictions on where and how I can deliver?
- What tests and procedures do you typically perform on a baby after birth?
- What pain management options will be available to me, and are there restrictions on when I can access them?
- Will my baby be allowed to stay with me or my birthing partner for the entirety of our stay?
You Are Not Married to Your Provider
There is no rule that states you have to deliver with the first practitioner that sees you after finding out that you are expecting. You may be lucky and immediately click with the first practitioner you visit, or it may take you quite a while to find a doctor that you feel will be the best fit for your growing family.
Look out for providers that are hesitant to provide clear answers to you, seem to tiptoe around your questions, or are unable to be flexible about how you will deliver. Remember – It is possible to change providers at any point during your pregnancy.
Don’t feel like just because you were with one provider for the majority of your pregnancy that you have to deliver with them if they no longer seem like the right fit.
Create Multiple Birth Plans
Whether a hospital birth is your worst case scenario or your first choice, the best way to go into it is as prepared as possible. The last thing you want is to be scrambling to put together a hospital bag and coaching your flustered partner on what you do and do not want to take place during your delivery.
Take the time to craft a birth plan for all possible scenarios and have it ready to go at any moment. It will take a significant amount of stress off of you and your birthing partner to know you have a physical list of how you would like things to go ready to hand off to your doctor or nurse, and the focus can stay on keeping mama and baby as healthy, safe, and supported as possible.
Not only will stress be reduced in the moment, but you will also feel better prepared for any birthing situation if you have taken the time to sit down and really visualize what birth could look like from multiple perspectives.
Practice Makes Perfect
Don’t beat yourself up if you come home from an appointment disappointed that you didn’t ask the questions you had planned to, or clammed up when speaking to your provider. Challenging or questioning someone you have been taught knows what is best for you is difficult, and a learning curve for most of us.
Even if it feels silly or embarrassing, taking the time to practice what you’d like to say at your next appointment with someone you trust can help you be more prepared when the situation arises. Work on being direct and clear about what you want, and practice speaking unapologetically when you feel that you know what is best for you and your baby.
Know What You Can Refuse ANYTHING!
As long as you are not in an emergency situation, you can refuse anything you are not comfortable with in prenatal appointments and in the delivery room. Some examples are :
Vaginal exams during labor
Anytime anything is introduced to the vaginal tract during labor, there is a heightened risk of infection. You can decline cervical checks all together, or minimize them if you discuss with your provider.
An induction without medical necessity
Unless you have developed complications that put you or your baby at risk if the pregnancy is continued, you absolutely can decline kick starting labor early, or right at that 40 week mark.
Continuous fetal monitoring
Monitoring the baby in set intervals during labor is shown to be just as effective as continuous monitoring, and much more comfortable for you as you navigate breathing through contractions.
Ultrasounds past the 24 week mark
In fact, you don’t have to get ultrasounds at all through your pregnancy if you so choose, but unless you are monitoring a specific condition there is no new information that will be provided to you via ultrasound after 24 weeks.
Ensure That Your Support Person is Prepared
Studies have shown that overall, births go smoother when they have a calm, collected, and supportive birth partner in tow. Whether that be a significant other, a parent, a doula, or all three, it’s important to make sure that any birthing partner is well versed in how you would like your birth to go and prepared to answer questions for you when you are preoccupied with breathing through contractions.
If your birthing partner is your significant other, or the person you will be raising your little one with, make sure you take time to talk through their own fears and concerns prior to entering the delivery room. Validate the feelings and worries of your birth partner, and work on ways they can feel supported as well.
Taking birthing classes, doing research together, or just simply actively including them in appointments and conversations with your providers will help your birthing partner feel more educated and prepared for the birthing experience.
Seeing the person you love go through an experience as intense as birth can be overwhelming to say the least – So, be sure to really take the time to prepare your partner on how they can support you in being your own advocate.
It’s Okay to Change Your Plans
There is nothing weak about changing your mind. In fact, what is more powerful than surrendering to what is best for your baby?
By the time you get to delivery, if you are surrounded by a birthing support team and providers that you feel have your best interest at heart, it is okay to loosen the reins. Talk about what you are feeling and what is making you nervous, be open to listening to the suggestions from others, and remember to keep an open mind throughout birth.
Bringing a baby into this world is hard work, and it can be extremely discouraging when things don’t go to plan, but that doesn’t make your birth any less valid. Advocate for yourself by being honest about your anxieties and your pain level.
Allow those around you to make adjustments to their actions and methods of care to make you more comfortable. It does not make you weak to admit that you are fearful, or that your original birth plan is not the best fit, it’s okay to make adjustments.
If Something Doesn’t Feel Right, Speak Up
Remember that no one knows your body like you do. If you feel like something is wrong, or could potentially go wrong, speak up until someone listens. It can be scary and jarring when someone doesn’t take our concerns seriously, but this cannot discourage you from continuing to express when you feel like something is not going the way it should be going.
Question everything and demand answers. Coach your birthing team to take your concerns seriously and not to take “Everything is fine” as an answer. Make your provider tell you why everything is okay, what they have checked, how they can address your concerns, and what the next step is towards getting you comfortable.
Advocacy in the Fourth Trimester
Bringing a baby into this world is incredible and life changing and unlike anything else you will ever experience. One of the best forms of self advocacy in the fourth trimester is to draw strength from your experience, validate it, and share it with others.
If your birth did not go to plan, it can be so empowering to take a situation that was out of your control and own it as your own. Not only will the act of owning your birth story help you process what is often referred to as an out of body experience, but it can also help you sort through the whirlwind of feelings and emotions that often bubble up postpartum.
You were so strong, you brought your baby into this world, and you did so in a way that is uniquely your own. Your story is only yours to share, and you can use it to prepare and inspire the next mama that’s going to walk into that delivery room.
Making peace with your birth experience. continuing to educate yourself, and encouraging the women around you to learn how to advocate for themselves continues the beautiful circle of women supporting women.
Most Importantly, Your Always Voice Matters
You absolutely CAN have your ideal birth mamas, no matter what surprise situations arise or where it ends up taking place. Be gentle with yourself and recognize that deviating from your original plan does not indicate a failure, and that compassion for yourself, your birthing partner, and your team of caretakers goes a long way.
Feel confident in knowing that you know what is best for you and your baby in your heart, and that you have taken the steps necessary to educate yourself and surround yourself with people who want to see you have your ideal birth.
Learning how to advocate for yourself during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum is a skill that you will carry with you into motherhood and continually reap the benefits of.