When I was pregnant with Potato, the word “doula” was a foreign word. I’d never heard of it, or uttered it. The idea that I could have someone be in support with The Hubby and I during birth? Unfathomable. It wasn’t until Potato was out of his first year of life, that I stumbled upon the term doula through the Mothering Forums.
What is a doula?
The word, “doula,” comes from the Greek word for the most important female slave or servant in an ancient Greek household, the woman who probably helped the lady of the house through her childbearing. The word has come to refer to “a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during and just after childbirth.” (Klaus, Kennell and Klaus, Mothering the Mother)
However, since Potato’s birth, I’d become more knowledgable in the field of birthing, and options that were actually at my disposable. Despite all of that knowledge, I was faced with some hard decisions; a paid out of pocket at home, glorious wonderful, amazing waterbirth (my dream), unassisted birthing, or going to the hospital.
The Hubby was laid off mere weeks into my pregnancy, and lost the bonus that was supposed to be coming in two months; the one we’d intended to use for the cost of having a homebirth. Add to that, the cost of a local lay-midwife was by far too astronmical for us. We would have had to give up a lot of necessary, daily items in order to pay for it; we just couldn’t do it. I’ll admit, I cried, mourning the loss of a birth I’d dreamed of, and hoped for so desperately.
For weeks, I honestly looked at the idea of an unassisted homebirth. Likely, I won’t be able to convey this message properly, but I was terrified of giving birth in my local hospital. While my birth with Potato wasn’t traumatic as some of the stories I had heard, I still had distinct memories of the nurse telling me to be quiet, to get over myself and the pain. I still remember the lack of help or support I had in the early hours and days of breastfeeding. I just couldn’t deal with the idea of being there. That’s one of the reasons unassisted childbirth looked so appealing. I know many amazing women who have done it, and have incredible things to say about it. As I researched, I just couldn’t envision myself in that role; I just didn’t feel confident enough. Could I see myself doing it down the line? Yeah, I think so. But at this point, for this birth, I just couldn’t see myself doing it. Lacking that confidence, and having a partner who looked at me like was I completely out to lunch for even suggesting the idea, (not that unassisted birthers are; he’d just never heard of the idea before), we crossed that off our list.
As I spent months bemoaning the idea of having a hospital birth, I decided that instead of having mild panic attacks regarding the setting, I’d have to make a plan. I would start envisioning myself in the hospital, and creating postive situations in my mind. I would find my voice and I would prepare, prepare, prepare. Part of that preparation? Getting a doula. A damn good doula.
I technically had TWO doulas. The first was Lynn from Woman to Woman Birth Care, an amazing, sweet spirited, gentle woman who was a perfect fit for The Hubby and I. Due to illness and partially finances, we ended up with my back up. Krystal, from Nine Months & Beyond Doula.
Krystal, who I lovingly refer to as “Bestie” in this blog, was up for the challenge. Our switch ended up being for the best; I adored Lynn, and would recommend her to any and every birthing couple or woman. Krystal ended up making an incredible team with The Hubby, and she totally knew how to get through to me when I wasn’t really listening to anyone. It ended up being for the best.
Based on our experience with her, I’ve compiled a short list of WHY a doula, is absolutely a must at any birth, home or hospital.
1. They help with “the birth plan”
Now, I’m not the type of gal to always get things in writing; I like flexibility, and I know, when walking into a hospital, where natural births are few and far between, that you need to have some flexibility. Krystal sat down with us at a pre-natal session, and we did an activity where we had a stack of birth options, and things that generally can happen during a birth. The Hubby and I worked together to discuss, and figure out what we envisioned for our birth. We eliminated our options down to ten, thus creating our birth plan. It was an amazing talking piece, and for The Hubby, it allowed him to actively be involved in the process. I’d tell him my reasons, he’d tell me his, and we’d make a choice.
We then created an internal birth plan; I didn’t like the idea of walking into the hospital with a piece of paper to hand to the nurses/doctors. I wanted all three of us to know, and understand what we wanted to happen but didn’t feel like I needed to hand it to the nurse. The things that the nurses needed to know, I felt comfortable telling them. And I did.
2. A doula is NOT a replacement for your partner, just an additional member of your support team.
So often, I hear women say, “My husband is good enough. He’s all the support I need”. The Hubby will not be the first husband to admit, “I had no idea how to help her, what to do, or how to be involved”. Two things were quite apparent after my birth with Potato; even the long drawn out conversations I had with The Hubby was not prepared for what labor looked like; I had a good idea having had already given birth, but nothing I could have said, none of the books we read, none of long drawn out conversations were enough. During Potato’s birth, he was completely shell shocked at the whole process, and I often ended up frustrated with our communication. Originally, the idea of a doula was more for him; I knew I needed support, but I needed someone neutral who could guide both of us; who could speak up for me, when I couldn’t give my needs a proper voice, and someone who would gently nudge The Hubby for me. So I could forget about having to tell him how to help.
Krystal did all of this. She guided The Hubby when she knew he needed it, she made herself invisible when she knew that we had it altogether, and she trusted The Hubby to know my needs best of all. There was no tug of war between them, and they worked remarkably well together, especially when I needed them both.
3. A doula helps with the little things, too.
With Potato’s birth there are things, small things that didn’t get to happen because there was no one to do them. Pictures of Potato immediately after birth? None. Pictures of his weight? None. Help with latching? Nadda (unless you count a nurse telling me I was doing it wrong, then walking away). With Girlie’s birth, Krystal was there doing all the little things. When we moved into the delivery suite, she went to our car, and got our bag so I wouldn’t be alone, and so The Hubby could climb into the tub with me. She brought The Hubby coffee, food, whatever he needed. She brought me water, ice chips, cold cloths. She got me the birthing ball when I asked for it. When Girlie was born, Krystal took the pictures- so I now have amazing pictures of Girlie when she was first placed on my chest. When I first nursed her. Little things that mean the world to me. I didn’t need the breastfeeding help, but she was still there, encouraging me to get Girlie skin to skin, and was excited when Girlie latched on within the first fifteen minutes after birth- the real reason I believe our breastfeeding relationship didn’t have the same rocky start that I did with Potato.
She helped us in ways that weren’t in our contract, things we didn’t even realize that we’d need. But when we needed her, for anything, she was there. Ready to serve us the best she could.
4. Having a doula lowers your rate of intervention
For my birth, it wasn’t necessarily her knowledge, although Krystal had lots to say about positions to get the baby to move down, and ideas on how to calm the back pain, it was her persistence in telling me that she knew what I truly wanted. My labors are fast and hard; when I transition, I transition quickly, and it is not a lovely experience. Having a doula who knew what I wanted, even when my mouth was saying something different, was incredible. I had a voice through her, and she honored my wishes by pushing me to challenge myself a little bit further. As result of having her and my husband working together for ME, I was able to achieve the birth I wanted; no drugs, spontaneous pushing, with minor interventions (breaking of my waters- but I agreed to this for various reasons). She was always there, reminding me what I wanted, and encouraging me ever so gently.
Besides these things, a doula can help lower your risk of intervention further:
After having a Doula present during your labor and birth, women have expressed greater fulfillment with their birth experiences, they have said to bond better with their babies. Women also have fewer cesareans and requests for medical interventions, and less postpartum depression.
Research shows that hiring a doula reduces:
- the length of labour by 25% with fewer complications
- negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
- the need for pitocin by 40%
- the use of forceps by 34%
- the need for vacuum extraction
- requests for epidurals by 10-60%
- the use of narcotic pain relief by 30%
- the overall cesarean section rate by 45%
(list copied from here)
5. Doulas are a source of AMAZING information
I live in a city where, if you want a midwife, you must travel or pay for a lay-midwife or even have one come to you. Very few family doctors still practice, so most women are shipped off to an OB-GYN. My OB-GYN was always, ALWAYS busy. My appointments were significantly shorter then the lengthy wait times. If I didn’t have my question ready right as he was about to race out the door onto the next waiting Mama, I was going to have to figure it out on my own. Here’s where a doula comes in handy.
Being able to ask her about things as simple as, “what’s an epidural?” or “What are some comfort measures I can use during labor?” is completely priceless. Most doulas will have access to an amazing library of books that they can share with you; and they also will willingly tell you, “You need to talk to your health care provider about that”. This is the best part; you have a willing party who will answer your questions, giving your partner and you an opportunity to make the best decision for your birth.
Our experience with a doula was one we’ll never forget; The Hubby has even said that he actually felt more useful this time, that having Krystal there didn’t make him feel erased or forgotten but actually helped him shine more in his role of my primary supporter. My birth was as close to perfect as it could have been in the setting it was in, but Krystal helped turn my fear into a positive situation; something that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have a doula.
If you are pregnant, or know someone who is, suggest a doula! Check out the links below for more information on doulas, or how to find one in your area! If you are a doula and have more suggestions for parents to be, post them in the comments!