by Ann Waterman
The second person to learn about my latest pregnancy (after my husband, of course) was my doula. Just moments after seeing those two little pink lines appear on the pregnancy test and sharing the news with my husband, I ran downstairs, fired up the laptop, and sent an email to Tara (of Your Body, Your Birth) to tell her the news and lock her in for my due date. I couldn’t imagine going through labor without her.
A doula is a labor coach trained to support a woman before, during, and after childbirth. While not medical professionals per se, most doulas receive certification in labor support (be wary if they don’t) and often have years of experience helping women deliver babies.
A lot of people have asked me why I got a doula and whether it’s worth the expense. As with so many things in life, it’s a very personal decision, and it may not be right for everyone. But after having experienced births both with and without one, my husband and I are definite doula converts, for a few important reasons:
Doulas are a support for you – and your husband. One misconception about doulas is that they’re for women who have husbands who either faint at the sight of blood or think labor and delivery is a woman’s thing. My husband is neither and is as supportive as they get: He never once balked at attending extensive childbirth classes when I was pregnant with my first, and he’s all in during labor and delivery, doing everything from distracting me in between contractions to cutting umbilical cords. I absolutely need his physical and emotional support when I give birth.
But the fact is that my husband and I aren’t birthing experts. This may not be a problem if you have relatively straightforward pregnancies and births, but if it’s your first time, or if you have some complications (like attempting a vaginal birth after a cesarean section (VBAC), like I did), it can be helpful to have someone experienced to guide you through the myriad decisions you face during labor — someone who is committed to helping you achieve the birth you want, rather than something you feel forced into because you’re not aware of all of your options.
In many ways, my doula was a support for both me and my husband by helping us to work most effectively as a team. She helped us to navigate a process that was still very new and unknown to us, at least in the practical realm.
Sometimes, one is not enough. One of the most effective birthing positions for me during my VBAC required a third person: I sat on the edge of the bed and leaned forward for support on my doula, while my husband provided counter-pressure to my back during contractions. After the contraction, I’d fall back into a pillow supported by my husband’s arms until the next contraction came along. This wouldn’t have been possible without a third person present, not to mention that it was my doula who suggested this position in the first place (in addition to many other birthing positions that were helpful at different stages of labor — ones we never would have known to try).
While the nursing staff was very helpful, they simply couldn’t be with me for every moment of labor or provide this level of support. My doula was present during the entire labor and delivery, and she stayed for an additional two hours after the birth to make sure our nursing was off to a good start (something I struggled with the first time around). She gave my husband a moment to take a breather and even snapped some family photos for us. When it was time for her to leave, I was truly sad to see her go; she’d been such an incredible part of my birthing experience.
Not a stranger, but not a family member. Giving birth is one of life’s most private and intimate experiences, so deciding who’s going to be there with you is really important. Naturally, you don’t want someone who is a complete stranger, which is why finding the right doula for you is key.
After an initial in-person interview to see if my doula would be a good fit, I met with her several times before I gave birth to share my thoughts, preferences, and fears about labor. We also talked about ways I could prepare for the big event. She was always available for questions by phone or text, and she had an extensive resource library for me to borrow from.
When game day rolled around, I was happy and reassured to see Tara waiting for me at the hospital as if she were a good friend. But unlike with a close friend or family member, we didn’t have any emotional baggage or hang-ups between us — which can exist even in the closest personal relationships, and which can be magnified in a stressful situation like labor. I felt comfortable telling her that I needed complete silence when my contractions got intense, or neighing like a horse because it relieved stress, or even dropping a profanity or two (please don’t tell my mother).
I also didn’t feel bad about having her spend 18 hours with me, because that was part of our agreement. With friends or family, I might worry I was imposing on their time or keeping them from their own children. (Of course, these are some of my own hang-ups, but you see what I’m getting at.)
The benefits far outweigh the cost. Depending on where you live and how experienced your doula is, services can run anywhere from $300–$1,000. That’s a lot of money, and it’s one of the main reasons I didn’t get a doula the first time around — a decision I later regretted. As I’ve learned time and time again in life, some things are worth the money — and for me, a doula is one of them. I wholly credit Tara with helping me achieve a successful VBAC with my second child, and you just can’t put a price on an easy recovery, renewed confidence in your body, and the joy of achieving something you once thought was impossible.
Who do you bring to the delivery room? Have you used a doula? Why or why not?
P.S. If you’re looking for a for a doula, or simply want to learn more about what kind services they provide or training they receive, please visit Dona International.
Images: Ann Waterman