Let me start by saying at first, I didn’t even know what a doula was. I had heard the word, and knew it had something to do with babies, but that was as far as my knowledge went. Once I found out I was pregnant again, (see the announcement here) I knew I needed my birth experience to be different this time. So I started researching, and came to the conclusion – I need a doula!
I convinced myself that by first birth wasn’t tragic, because in essence, it went according to plan. I wanted to have a natural, medicine-free birth, and I was able to achieve that. Often as mothers we are told the only that matters is that the baby is OK. While I wholeheartedly agree that baby’s safety is of the utmost importance, we cannot deny our own human need for security. But I can tell you I was scarred by my labor.
Let me start at the beginning by telling you a more about pregnancy and labor with my first born…
For me, and I think this is true for all women, giving birth was a life changing event. And not just physically having a baby to take home at the end. I felt like a different person. I related to my new and completely different body, completely differently. I felt unrecognizable in so many ways. I took sex-ed in school, I took a breastfeeding class and a birthing class while pregnant. I had plenty of head knowledge about what was going to happen, but experiencing it myself was a whole new ballgame.
I was told by other women who had already become moms that your pregnant body gets so uncomfortable at the end you are ready for birth because you’re willing to go through just about anything to get that baby out! I never hit that point. I was so worried and fearful about the birth process and what having a newborn baby would be like that I would have rather remained pregnant forever than find out.
One of the big lessons I took away from my birthing class was that as a first time mom, I did not know what labor was going to feel like and that it often goes differently from the birth plan you’ve imagined. For that reason, the teacher tried to instill in us the importance of having an open mind. If you decide you want something to go a certain way, and for whatever reason it doesn’t, it’s important not to feel guilty and beat yourself up. After that, I loosened up a bit on my self-imposed strict no medicine policy. Please know, I’m firmly in the “labor-however-you-want” camp – but I wanted to do natural if I could.
The nurses at my labor were wonderful, but to be honest, they had other women to tend to and were really just in and out (mostly out) and out of the room until it was time to push. And trust me when I say, the time before that is very important. I often hear about the phenomena where women forget the pain they went through during childbirth. I sure do wish I had that type of amnesia, but the agony is still fresh in my mind!
My doctor advised me to stay home as long as possible since my goal was to do it naturally. When I arrived at the hospital I was 6cm dilated and they escorted me right into my room. Once I dilated to 8cm I hit a metaphorical wall. I asked, not for an epidural, but IV medication to help with the pain. The nurses informed me that it was too late for me to have any medicine, and I essentially lost it. I just kept repeating “I can’t do this!” I wasn’t able to get myself out of the mental state I was in, and my poor sweet husband wanted to help but didn’t know what to do to help. Even my mom and mother-in-law were in the room, between the two of them they have 7 kids, and they weren’t able to bring me back to reality. My labor stalled based on my inability to get out of my own head. And the nurses were had moved on to other patients – I wasn’t ready to push, so why did they need to be there?
After a couple hours with no change in my cervix, I was given Pitocin, though I didn’t want it. I was told I needed it to get labor going again. I wasn’t given more information or options. Later, I was given an episiotomy I didn’t want. Again, no information or options. As soon as he was born they took him right away, my husband wasn’t allowed to cut the cord, no skin-to-skin. Again, no explanation as to what was happening.
I feel like if anyone had taken more time and attempted to calm me down, the interventions would have been lessened, and perhaps things might have been. I really needed things explained to me. I’m guessing they don’t want to tell a laboring woman WHY they’re doing what they’re doing – but for me, information is power. Help me understand the WHY behind decisions and keep my focus on the big picture, and I’ll likely calm down. My husband knows me well enough to know this aspect of my personality, but this was a huge and traumatic event for him, also. He was being ushered into parenthood for the first time as well, and was overwhelmed by the situation. Like lots of guys, he didn’t want to see his wife in pain, and just wanted to “fix the problem” but wasn’t able to do so. The experience felt very medical and impersonal. As a result, I view my own body that way now – very medically. It’s definitely caused issues for me.
I wanted a little less this…
and a little more this.
I knew I needed this time to be different. For my sanity. For my relationship. So here’s where a doula comes in…
First things first – What is a doula? According to DONA International (Doulas of North America), the oldest and most respected doula organization in the world,
“The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period…We offer a loving touch, positioning and comfort measures that make childbearing women and families feel nurtured and cared for…
A birth doula…
- Assists the woman in preparing for and carrying out her plans for birth
- Stays with the woman throughout the labor
- Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decisions
- Facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her clinical care providers
- Allows the woman’s partner to participate at his/her comfort level”
Liz Griffin, DONA certified doula, and one of her clients
Well that sounds fantastic, right? Who wouldn’t want to feel nurtured and cared for while going through something physically excruciating and emotionally exhausting? But research shows the benefits of having a doula go well beyond that. Check out these three pieces of information that jumped out at me (also reported on the DONA website):
- “Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily.”
- “Research shows parents who receive support can:
- Feel more secure and cared for
- Have greater success with breastfeeding
- Have greater self-confidence
- Have less postpartum depression”
- “Numerous clinical studies have found that a doula’s presence at birth
- tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications
- reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
- reduces the need for pitocin (a labor-inducing drug), forceps or vacuum extraction and cesareans
- reduces the mother’s request for pain medication and/or epidurals”
OK, now I’m convinced. A caring, nurturing individual, whose presence will guide myself and my husband through the entire birth process. Informing me of everything along the way, helping me through the toughest parts. Someone who is experienced and knows what to expect, but is not as close as a parent or husband, so they’ll be able to remain focused and not get too emotionally involved. They’ll be able to suggest different positions, and help keep my mind in the moment. And, my personal favorite, there are studies and statistics to back up the fact their presence will likely make my labor shorter and less painful. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Now, all I need to do is find my own!