I was chatting with a fellow doula when I was new into my doula career about how to prepare for everything that can happen during a birth. She said "You know, the more I do this, the more I realize I don't really know anything." We laughed. There is a large part of this that is true, you can read all the books, go to all the workshops, talk and listen to all the experts and you still have no idea what is going to happen in any particular birth.
I'm not making a good point in selling the idea of a doula, am I? Let me explain. So you're getting ready for that big yearly conference and you're supposed to present the project you have been working on for the last four months. You prepare, you practice your speech for your spouse, you rewrite your notes on different note-cards just in case, you have the right amount of jokes and anecdotes to make it seem casual yet professional, you even buy a new shirt for the occasion. You are set, confident and sure that the CEO is going to offer you a promotion. And then you get there, the podium is practically right on top of the front row, the projector doesn't work, and you grabbed the original set of note-cards, not the ones with the best and most recent edits to your presentation. Crap. Yet you proceed on because you are a professional, you have enough of this in your memory, albiet a bit shaken at first, you get back on your feet and do a decent job of presenting your information. No promotion, but the CEO does shake your hand and offers a few words of "Job well done."
Being a doula is our job. We are prepared and we have the tools and the experience to be there through it all. But ultimately the baby is the Captain of this journey and we have yet to find the technology to communicate with them while in the womb. All we have are guesses and scientific studies and knowledge of what has worked in the past. The podium may be two feet from the front seat and the projector may be busted, but we will stand there and communicate with those staring at us because that is what we came here to do. But the last birth we were at there was no podium, the projector wouldn't shut off and the audience was much more talkative than anticipated. Yet, we use the tools we have to do the best job we can. Each birth. Each time.
Every birth is different. I think that is common knowledge. Especially for anyone that has gone through it more than once. Epidural and cesarean at the first birth and home VBAC (Vaginal birth after cesarean. They exist, I promise.) the second. I tend to tell second time parents, that your first birth, as wonderful as it was, reread the story then put the book on the shelf. This next birth isn't just another chapter, it's a whole other book. It's a new baby, new parents (you're a different person than you were when you gave birth the first time), maybe a new venue and/or care provider, it really is a whole new story. You and baby are still the co-authors but the story is as different as Stephen King and Danielle Steel.
As Different as Snowflakes. Each birth is beautiful, each birth is unique. Each is a story like no other.
"I'll be there for you. These five words I swear to you. When you breathe, I want to be the air for you. I'll be there for you."
You're welcome for that little earworm. And my apologies if you're not a Bon Jovi fan. You're missing out.
But seriously folks, you're probably here reading to figure out how a doula can help you in your birth. What are the benefits of hiring one? What will you get out of it? Why can't my partner just do it? All valid questions, all real answers. I've said to people when asked something similar that if you don't hire a doula, you're going to have a baby just fine, you're not going to know what you're missing. But if you do hire a doula, you can't imagine going through the experience without one. Birth is life-changing and being supported through that change helps immensely.
So lets talk numbers first. The risk of the birthing person needing to use Pitocin go down, the risk of having a cesarean go down, the use of any medication for pain relief go down, and the chance of being dissatisfied with the birth experience go down as well. And to top it off, the chances of having a spontaneous vaginal birth go up. To be specific
But there is so much more than just numbers. Imagine watching your loved one in pain and exhaustion and you are nervous on what to do and how to help. A doula eases all of that for you. One of our many roles is to make sure that you, the partner, feel secure and strong in your role as Co-Captain of this ship. It is your journey too, you deserve to feel empowered in your knowledge to help comfort your loved one, to assure them that are doing a wonderful job. I think that when a birthing person says after the birth that they didn't know who was rubbing their back or putting a cool cloth on their face, it was all so nice, then the partner and the doula made a great team. High five, Partner! We did it!
Doulas also come with a whole bag of tricks, literally and figuratively, to get you through your labor process. We have positions for you to do to make space for baby, walking, lunging, sitting, (did you know laboring on a toilet is actually really good for you?) counter-pressure spots to show partner to how to do to ease back labor, a tool called a Rebozo that does wonders, heat packs, ice packs, food, tea, birth balls, breathing techniques, etc. (Oddly enough the thing I use most at births are hair ties/bobby pins and chapstick. No joke, every birth.) Usually you will go over much of those laboring positions with your doula before you go into labor, so you're prepared.
A doula is also there as the voice of reason in what can sometimes feel like chaos. Especially for first time parents, you've never done this before, you've never felt a pain/pressure like that before, you've never heard those noises come from your loved one before. It's all on the spectrum of normal. When a wrench is thrown into your plan, a doula is there to help you navigate your choices. I encourage my clients to continuously ask "Am I safe? Is baby safe?" Simple yes and no questions and the answers will help you make your next move. And sometimes that move is nothing. You can continue to labor and just do what you were doing. A doula will help you decide which steps to take.
A doula is there for the expectant parents. Not the medical staff, usually not the other family members (unless previously discussed). You hire a midwife or an OB to help get the baby out. You hire a doula to help ease your mind and your heart. I often tell expectant parents that a laboring person is internally focused on what their body is doing, partner is focused on their loved one, a doula is focused on both. A doula protects your space and your time and your emotions. It's a lot to take in and it can be overwhelming. So much so that the only place the emotions have to go is out your eyeballs. A doula will be there with a tissue when that happens.
At some point in labor, the laboring person will hit a wall, figuratively speaking. (Although sometimes a laboring person actually hits the wall. In a rhythm. That is normal too.) A doula is there to get you up and over that wall and to catch you when you jump. Every time.
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You know the phrase, "Do something you love and you'll never work a day in your life?" I worked for over 20 years in things I thought I loved; theatre, books, coffee, camp counselor (although that was pretty great and if I could make a living doing it, I just might. You just play games all day. Paid to be a kid? Yes please.) I digress...
I worked for years and years trying to use my degree, trying to maintain the number one sales spot in my company, trying to find my niche. And I was really good. I could sell you anything, convince you to buy this book, make you try this coffee blend, get you to donate to charity. Yet everything had that feeling of punching a clock, I liked what I did, I was good at it, but it wasn't fulfilling. It paid the bills and it had me thinking I was going to be in retail for the rest of my life.
And then I gave birth. It has been said that birth changes you. No truer statement has ever been said in my life. I have never worked so hard at something yet felt so powerful and in control than I did while I was in labor. I know what you're thinking, "Crazy doula. In control? Pashaw. I hear labor is the worst. You're nuts, lady." Maybe I am and maybe I am. But I was educated, supported and respected which lead to feeling absolutely in control. I was so in the zone that I even pulled my son out myself. Reached down and pulled him right up to my chest. It felt like the right thing to do.
Months into my son's life, I could not stop talking about how amazing my birth experience was. My doula opened doors for me that I didn't even know existed. "They're not allowed to not allow you." was said to me over and over again. And it was true. Is true. Now, seeing as how I can't give birth over and over again (I suppose I could, Hello Dugger Family! but I can't really.) becoming a doula was a desperate itch that needed to be scratched. I needed to become immersed in the birth world, I needed to help other women learn of their power and their choice. And to bear witness to expectant parents becoming new parents, in that moment, all is right in the world.
I doula (yes, I turned it into a verb) because giving birth is something that needs to be supported. It is an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, for both partners, and someone needs to be there to catch them when they fall. To let them know it's OK to let go. To help them understand everything that is happening. And to assure them they are not alone. I doula because it is one of the purest moments in my life to witness such an intimate transition into parenthood and it feels good to be allowed in.
It has become my calling to be a birth doula. It is the first job that I have had that feels just right, like Goldilocks and the porridge, this job is just right. It doesn't feel like work, it feels like I am fulfilling my life's purpose.
Sarah: Birth doula, wife, mother, coffee and wine drinker, lover of beer, books and tattoos.