Thank you to everyone for submitting your beautiful and touching stories of birth and doulas at work. For those of you reading who have had a doula for your birth, the following details will resonate and bring back wonderful memories. For those considering hiring a doula, read closely -- you may be surprised to learn the many roles that doulas play.
Most of the entries submitted answered two basic questions: Why hire a doula; and What does a doula do during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period? It's a long post, but well worth the read!
Why Did You Hire a Doula?
Alisa Harrison, who blogs at The Juggling Matriarch, hired a doula for her first birth, but not her second -- and she wishes she would have. In reflecting on her second birth, which ended in cesarean surgery, she says: "I could have really used someone who was there only for me not for my baby, just for me. Who had nothing more invested in the scenario than to support and help me. Who wasn't watching monitors or checking dilation or recommending any procedures, but who would have been watching my face and hearing my voice, doing laps around the hospital with me and my husband, or maybe urging me to stop doing laps, stop trying so hard to make things happen and instead just look me in the eye and help me experience each moment for the moment it was. Who knows what a doula might have been able to help me do?"
Sophie Messager, who sent in her story of planned hospital birth turned planned home birth, knew how a doula could help her during birth: "I wanted to have a doula because, although I wanted a hospital birth, I was very conscious of the fact that being looked after by midwives that you had not even met before was not a good setting to make you feel relaxed. I understood how stress could affect the progress of labour."
A common thread among women with positive doula experiences (myself included) is the added confidence she brings. Ramya Ram, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, says of her VBAC: "It was my second pregnancy, but I was about to face something for the first time... a vaginal birth. In spite of changing my doctor at 34 weeks, having people around me who encouraged me for a VBAC, the one lady who I looked upon with confidence was Barrie Glasscock, my doula."
Sometimes, partners aren't as convinced that hiring a doula is necessary. Ed Reese, guest blogger at Bloom Spokane, explains: "[Men] don't like paying extra. We also know childbirth is very expensive. To many fathers-to-be, a doula just isn't needed. It's the equivalent of buying the warranty and we never get the warranty." But as Ed later found, their doula made a difference: "We were able to make several requests (with Katie's help) that made labor and delivery more comfortable for Tine, and ultimately helped her achieve a natural birth. It also took a huge weight off of my shoulders."
Similar to the misconceptions I experienced when telling others about my doula, Karen Goldstein wasn't clear on a doula's role: "When I first started thinking about my birth plan, I did not consider a doula mainly because I did not think it was an option if I chose to deliver my baby in a hospital. I know other women who were under the same impression."
And for some women, hiring a doula is a result of peer influence, like Melissa, who said: "One of my best friends talked me into hiring a doula for my first (and so far only) birth and I'm so glad I did! I'd never even heard of a doula before my friend had one."
Jamie Parker knew she wanted the assistance of a doula to assist her with natural birth, but had a hard time with the cost. She sought the help of Doulas Care, a service in her area that matches doulas who volunteer their services to low-income families.
How Did Your Doula Help?
As you'll read below, doulas do more than assist women through birth. As it turns out, doulas help expectant families throughout pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
In addition to a good childbirth class, doulas can provide solid, evidence-based information to help women in their decision-making process. Karen Mabe says, "My doula, Tequita Williamson, helped guide me through the slew of decisions leading up to my birth by answering my million-and-a-half questions and providing resources to help me achieve the unmedicated birth I wanted."
Sophie, who described herself as "very scared of childbirth," found her doula helpful earlier on in her pregnancy: "At one stage [in my pregnancy] when I was feeling overwhelmed, she lent me Ina May Gaskin's book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. That was a turning point for me."
Similarly, Karen Goldstein's doula helped change her perspective on childbirth: "[My doula] relayed the simple yet powerful message to trust my body.' Many of the resources I had until that point seemed to direct my focus on 'overcoming' the birth experience. Her approach had a different effect on me. It was the first time I felt confident about the pregnancy and delivery process and my role in it."
Sometimes, a doula can take the place of a partner who is unable to attend your birth, as in Elizabeth's case: "My doula was the best thing that could have helped me during the delivery of my child. My husband was deployed and I was dilating very early, along with having to deal with a toddler at home. She was the one thing that made me feel that I could make it through."
When it comes to early labor vs. active labor, a doula is an excellent guide for when it's time to go to the hospital -- and when it's not, as in Ed's experience: "As I was prepping the car for a hasty get-a-way to the hospital, [my wife] called Katie to talk about what she was feeling. Katie quickly determined that it wasn't time yet. Sure enough, the contractions stopped after about an hour and we were able to spend one last Saturday night playing cards with our friends before Mac was born. Her insight kept us from going to the hospital too soon."
Alisa's doula was pivotal in helping her avoid routine interventions at the hospital: "At one point, she poked me in the shoulder hard enough to jar me to reality, just long enough for me to hear her say, 'Your doctor is going to cut you. Your birth plan says you don't want an episiotomy.' In that brief moment of clarity, I sat straight up, told my doctor, 'Do not cut me.' And she didn't."
Jen, a doula herself who blogs at Twisting Willows, describes how her doula supported her husband: "I often run into the perception that a doula will intrude on a birth or take over the father's support role in the birth, but mine gave me back my husband. Upon her arrival she took over all the tedium so he could give me that physical contact I needed. She gave him a quick refresher course in counter pressure so he could apply it."
Jen's doula was also instrumental in the immediate postpartum during her home birth: "After the delivery, she, along with other parts of my birth team and my mother, made most of the evidence that I had just had a baby in my living room disappear before most of the family appeared. To top it all off, my wonderful doula even cooked us dinner before she headed out."
Karen Mabe also describes her doula's help after birth: "While my husband was off seeing to our daughter in the nursery, Tequita came to our room with me. She also made the bed in our room for my husband I gave birth after midnight and stayed with me until he returned."
Doulas are well known for being an ally in long labors, as Sophie describes: "My labour was long (32 hours) and it was hard work and it was painful. But I never felt scared. Maddie's support was wonderful: she made me feel cared for and safe. She also helped [my husband] to support me. There is something about a woman's support in labour, particularly when she has had children herself, that is irreplaceable."
A doula can also provide support in an unexpected complication, as in Jamie's situation: "And when my uterus wouldn't contract and I was bleeding out, she held my hand and stroked my forehead as my husband watched over our new baby."
And of course, the practical comfort measures during birth are what doulas are best known for:"
I had back labor and she applied the valuable tool of Double Hip Squeeze almost without a break! Her smile never faded and her eyes never lost the glow throughout! Her care was that of my mother." (Ramya)"
During the labor, her encouraging words and massage techniques all helped me stay focused and 'ride the wave' of each contraction. I truly believe it was because of her I was able to have a delivery that was free of pain medication." (Karen Goldstein)
"She ran me a bath and sat quietly beside the tub as I slept between contractions, and she was ready and waiting to pour water over me when each contraction crested. Out of the tub, at some point, I remember that she took my hands, put her face close to mine and said firmly, 'Open your eyes. Look at me. Don't let the contractions swallow you up. Keep your eyes open and look at me.' I remember that moment like it was a lifeline, locking eyes, re-centering myself." (Alisa)
To read more doula testimonials and find a doula in your area, check out www.DoulaMatch.net, which allows you to search for doulas by zip code and due date.