Healthcare Advocacy Skills: The Next Wave in Childbirth Education

by Michal Klau-Stevens

We want our clients to have great birth experiences, but are we giving them all the tools they need to make that happen? As birth workers, we are well acquainted with the promises and the pitfalls of the maternity care system. We know it is overly reliant on technology for healthy, normal births, and we know the benefits it can bring for those families who need to use the life-saving technology and medical skill it offers. We know that each client has their own unique set of needs, wants, and values, and that they are entering a large healthcare system that works in a standardized, structured, impersonal way. We provide information about physiologic birth, common interventions, and their appropriate use, risks, and benefits. We teach about getting evidence-based care. We don’t always teach techniques and skills for navigating the healthcare system itself. For many of our clients, this is the missing piece for being able to fully implement the knowledge they learn through childbirth education and working with their doulas. An opportunity exists to fill those skills gaps by helping our clients learn to advocate for themselves with tools and techniques that make it more likely for them to get their individual needs met. There are advocacy skills we can teach our clients. We can teach them as part of existing programs or as new, innovative classes. These classes can focus on interacting with the maternity care system to make it work better for getting personalized, healthier outcomes. You probably incorporate some of these skills into your work with clients already. Some of them sound simple, but may be more challenging to actually do without practice and support. When clients learn these skills as part of a coherent advocacy process, they are better equipped with the tools to communicate with their doctors, midwives, and nurses more effectively, and with a greater sense of control over their care. That makes it more likely they’ll experience birth in a more positive way. I have a lot of advocacy experience. I served for two years as the President of the consumer maternity advocacy organization BirthNetwork National and a total of eight years with them as a chapter leader, with six years on the National Board of Directors. I also have 15 years of advocating for the special needs of my children through the healthcare and educational systems. I’ve worked extensively with people around the country on developing and implementing programming on steps for people to take to get individualized, evidence-based care. Now, as a teacher and pregnancy coach, I teach expectant parents skills for navigating the maternity care system. I’ve developed a system that incorporates all the elements necessary for effective personal healthcare advocacy. Over the next several months, I’ll be sharing the ten key elements of personal healthcare advocacy in a series of blog posts. I hope you will incorporate these skills into your practice with your clients, and share them with others in your community. While we’ll be focusing on using these skills especially for getting better maternity care, they are actually useful in many settings, even ones outside of healthcare. I think you’ll find them helpful for your clients, and for getting your own needs and wants met too. I’m excited and honored to have this opportunity to share my knowledge and passion with the ICEA community. ICEA brings together some of the best, most experienced maternity care professionals in the world. I look forward to reading your comments and hearing how you are incorporating these concepts into your work with your clients. I also look forward to hearing about their experiences as they step into their power as informed, savvy travelers through the healthcare system on their journey to parenthood. Watch for my post next month about the first step in the personal healthcare advocacy system: learning about maternity care and its controversies.

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