Helping Clients Build Personal Advocacy Skills: Step Four

The Power of the Birth Community

By Michal Klau-Stevens

There is a saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Community is a powerful mechanism for learning, accessing resources, and getting physical and emotional support. It also can either serve to make us feel alienated from others, or can reinforce or enhance our beliefs about our choices and our actions. In this post, which is part of a series on personal healthcare advocacy skills, we’ll explore the value of helping our clients connect with their birth community.

What is a “birth community?” It is the group of people who are active in working with expectant families, and it can be local, national, or online. Members of the birth community may include doctors, midwives, nurses, doulas, childbirth educators, lactation experts, chiropractors, activists, advocates, parents, and others with an interest in maternity care. The birth community may be well organized, such as a birth network with a diverse membership, or may be a loosely connected group of people with a willingness to share knowledge with people who seek information. Although many of the members of the birth community may be paid professionals in the healthcare field, healthcare practices with a business stake in caring for pregnant patients do not constitute the whole community, which includes those who are outside the medical establishment as well. The birth community is the group of people with expertise and passion about birth, and they are an excellent resource for clients who seek to advocate for themselves throughout their maternity care experience.

Meeting the birth community puts our clients on a fast track to information and empowerment. Imagine trying to learn something new all on your own. It’s a process of trial and error which can be time-consuming and frustrating. Maybe you’ll be successful with it, but maybe you won’t. Maybe it will feel too hard and you’ll give up. Now imagine that you have a supportive community to help you learn. Not only do you learn more, faster, you have experienced people who point out the pitfalls and the shortcuts, and you are not alone on your journey. When we help our clients connect with the birth community, we make it easier for them to get access to the resources they require to advocate for themselves to get their needs met.

Like any community, there are some people who have similar beliefs to us, and others who hold different beliefs from us. Who we choose to spend time with can shape the actions we take and how we think and feel about ourselves. Diversity in a community is a positive thing, since different people have different needs, and one size rarely fits all. Having a variety of resources and approaches allows more people to get what they need from participating in the community. Sometimes our clients need our help to identify who in the community will create a positive effect for them. For example, I had a client, a medical doctor, who followed attachment parenting practices. With her medical peers she felt uncomfortable talking about her parenting, and she often felt judged for the choices she made. With the other parents from her child’s preschool, who mostly followed attachment parenting practices too, she felt more comfortable and accepted. The suggestion that she develop her relationships with the parents from her child’s preschool, because that’s where she found more connections to solve the challenges she faced, provided a surprisingly simple solution for her. Similarly, helping our clients connect with resources in the birth community that align with their needs and their care philosophy lays the groundwork for them to find the solutions that work for them.

You can be the gatekeeper who introduces your clients to the larger birth community:

• Offer to attend meetings of the local birth network, birth circle, or breastfeeding support group with your clients. Having a “wingman” makes checking out a new group less intimidating, and it’s a great way for you to network and learn more about the resources in your community too.

• Maintain a list of local resources to share with your clients.

• Stay connected online with national and international experts through online forums.

• Make introductions between like-minded people who can be helpful to each other.

• Be open to answering the particular needs of seekers, even if they don’t become your clients. They might need or want something different than what you are offering as a service provider, but your reputation for helping them get the care that works best for them will be spotless.

We, as care providers, comprise the birth community. It’s important that we nurture our connections to each other and that we provide the knowledge, resources, and support that newcomers to our community need. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of offering a name or a piece of information to someone who is seeking help. That outstreched hand and welcoming embrace into the birth community can set people onto the path for an empowered birth, and we know what a difference that can make.

If you missed last month’s advocacy step, you can catch up here:

https://birthperspectives.com/2016/11/16/helping-clients-build-personal-advocacy-skills-step-3/

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