When I was pregnant with my daughter (my first), and making decisions about her imminent birth, I was caught between two worlds. I value the traditions of yesteryear (considered a non-medicated birth), and question whether the modern approach to things is always best. Meanwhile, I was immersed in a community of student doctors, my husband among them, studying and advocating for the betterment of humanity through modern medicine.
I decided to look into using the services of a doula for the birth of my child, but at the time, I knew little about them.
“I am using a doula to try to have a v-bac since I felt so alone and confused during my last birth” said one pregnant friend.
“Doulas are terrible, and get in the way. They are crazy and don’t respect the research and evidence that goes into being a doctor!” exclaimed one of my husband’s (female) classmates.
At the advice of a friend, I attended a ‘birth circle,’ a group of moms who advocated for all choices in regards to birth circumstances. It was clear that some really favored the ‘all natural’ approach, but even so, the women attempted to support pregnant moms and inform them of the cost and benefits (physical, mental and emotional) of each decision.
After the first meeting I went home at told my husband that I wanted a doula for our birth. Like me, he had never heard of the profession, so I did my best to explain. “At your school, you focus on health as a collaboration of mind-body-spirit. The OB/Gyn I’ll see at the hospital, and her nurses, will use their expertise to make sure that the birth is healthy and safe, while a doula will work to help me prepare my mind and spirit for this crazy thing I will be going through.”
Always the scientist, he went to uptodate.com, a medical website he and many physicians subscribe to for access to the latest research and practices as they pertain to medicines and procedures. (A version of the site is also available to for patient subscription). To his surprise, and my pleasure, doulas are not only addressed in his trusted information database, but according to most recent research, doulas not only improve a mother’s feelings about childbirth, but are statistically related to shortened duration of labor and use of pain medications.
Although in some cultures, and places in time, mothers are surrounded with the collective wisdom of others (I’m thinking The Red Tent, a novel by Anita Diamant). I didn’t feel that I was to the degree that I wanted. In order to be better informed and to have a person whose express purpose was to address my social-emotional needs, we hired Laurie, a doula.
At first I was nervous to let my guard down in case she was anti-doctor. She wasn’t. Instead, she gave us a folder with brochures and pamphlets, and finally, a contract. A week or so later, we mailed her the signed contract and set up our first meeting.
Over the next few months, Laurie came over with photocopies of helpful information, checklists, things to talk over as parents about our expectations, and eventually, birthing positions. We talked about what medical interventions commonly occur, and why. She, having the experience of her own childbirths and dozens of others in a professional setting, had answers to all of my questions, and treated them with respect, no matter how naive they were (oh, and they were).
I nervously approached my OB/Gyn about the extra person I was planning on bringing into the room. To my delight, she responded with, “oh, ok.” In fact, she had a birth coach at the birth of her own children, and had worked with Laurie several times. She too encouraged all of my medical questions and birth plan with one request: “please call them birth preferences.”
Her job, she stated, was to do, or not do what I wanted while maintaining the safety of her patients. I nervously brought forth my typed out ‘birth preferences.’ Again I was relieved. “These are almost all common practice with my births.” I was comforted to know that some of the books on ‘natural’ birthing are simply out of date. When my OB/Gyn questioned me about my choices it was to clarify, either for her knowledge, or for my education about why certain practices occur in the delivery room.
The long and short of my delivery: My water broke at 6 am (I texted Laurie) and I spend the day in the hospital. At around 7 pm, when contractions started getting serious, my husband gave Laurie a call, and she came over. Through the tough part, she encouraged my husband to give me sips of water and helped him to navigate his biggest supporting role yet, and she reminded me of my own desired when I said “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Our daughter was born shortly after midnight and Laurie gently encouraged me as I began my journey in the (long, sometimes arduous) road of breastfeeding. A few days later she sent an email, and we kept in touch with the mothering questions I had in those first few weeks.
I can’t promise that every doula, or OB/Gyn will be as understanding as mine, but now you know one possible outcome. What I want you to take from my story is for you to be empowered to advocate for yourself and to surround yourself with those who will support a healthy and positive birthing experience.