I don’t give a lot of birth advice to other moms. Birth is a sensitive subject. I’m always happy to share my thoughts and experience when asked, but I’m careful to never impose what I care about in regards to birth on others. My journey is my journey, your journey is yours. But there is one topic that I’d love to address simply because I don’t think there is a lot of great information out there, and, as in every aspect of life, knowledge is power.
Knowledge is especially power when you are pregnant. In particular, knowledge that is pro mom, pro baby, and grounded in a belief in a woman’s ability to have that baby. For that reason, I’d love to share with you today why we have used a doula for each of our birth experiences!
For starters, I want to acknowledge how MUCH I just didn’t know when I was pregnant with our first baby. I didn’t know what a doula was. I had never even heard of a doula. I didn’t know there were different ways to have a baby. I didn’t know there were different birthing methods that you could take classes on to learn about. I didn’t know what happened in labor because I never actually considered it.
I didn’t know much about anything, is the point I’m trying to make here.
Anyways, a friend of mine happened to mention the birthing classes that she took from her doula.
“What’s a doula,” I asked? “And What are birthing classes?”
My friend was kind enough to explain that a doula is someone who knows a lot about birth and who is there to help you get the best possible experience based on your birth goals. She explained that birthing classes not only teach you about what happens during labor and delivery, but that they also help you formulate an idea of what is important for your own labor and delivery experience.
These all seemed like really important details. It dawned on me for the first time that these felt like the kind of details that deserved some thought and some research. It also occurred to me that it was a little strange that my understanding of what was about to happen to me and my baby wasn’t a more obvious topic of conversation.
It felt important. Why wasn’t it being treated as important?
I did some digging on my own and learned that a doula is “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and information support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible (source). This all sounded good to me, so I followed my friend’s advice and contacted her doula. We spoke on the phone. She told me more about what a doula does and about her classes. She told me that she taught *The Bradley Method, a birthing method that helps moms achieve unmedicated births in a low risk way through natural labor techniques and by helping a mom stay in tune with her body. I’ve always felt strongly about my ability to know what was going on with my own body, even before I got pregnant, so this really sparked my interest.
I had had too many experiences over the years with doctors who viewed themselves as the expert of their field AND my body, as opposed to simply the expert of their field of study. No one knows my body better than me. Again, it occurred to me, rather frighteningly so this time, that despite this belief I still hadn’t educated myself on the ins and outs of pregnancy, labor, and delivery so that I had actual knowledge to go along with what I was feeling within my own body. It bothered me that this wasn’t being presented as important when I went in for my initial OB visits. No one was giving me any tools to be proactive in my own experience. One that, really, is one of the most singularly personal experience a woman will have. Doctors might have all the training on how to intervene when things went wrong, but my body was the one growing the baby without their influence. It was my body, my baby. I knew right then and there that I needed some additional tools so I could start making informed decisions about this process.
So my husband and I met with our future Doula, Katie, and signed up for her 10 week birthing classes. Every Sunday for 10 weeks, we sat in a little circle with a handful of other expecting couples and learned everything – and I do mean everything – about pregnancy, labor and delivery. I had no idea just HOW MUCH I didn’t know until those classes. I had no idea just how many important and life altering decisions were left to strangers to make when women don’t take a proactive approach to pregnancy, labor and delivery. I had no idea how many things are discussed as a forgone conclusion by OB’s that moms actually have the power to weigh in on when properly informed.
So many things. Big things. Important things.
We learned so much through Katie’s classes, and they raised a lot of important questions that Mike and I then talked through and came to a mutual understanding of what we were hoping for with this labor and birth experience. Bottom line, one of the most important take aways was this: there will be a ton of variables you won’t be able to control with any pregnancy, labor and delivery. But the less you know, the less you’ll be able to control. Conversely, the more you know, the more you’ll be able to make informed decisions to help you achieve best possible outcomes based on the experience YOU hope for.
The weekend we completed our final birthing class came and went and I was left feeling confident. We did it. We prepared ourselves to the best of our abilities. We had a game plan in place. We had hired a doula. We were ready. I was 30 weeks at the time, and excited for all that I had learned and feeling more and more excited for the experience to come in 10 weeks.
And then the very next week, I went into labor. I was admitted to the hospital for a few days to have the labor stopped. And then…after being sent home to rest, my water broke. And suddenly, our baby was here.
And this, my friends, is where having a doula makes all the difference in the world.
You can have all the training and all the birth education you want, but you know what happens to you in labor? You are in LABOR. And things heat up real quick. And it doesn’t matter how cool and collected you are, sometimes you will have a difficult time putting into words what you want to happen. And sometimes, things will start to happen that you never prepared for. And, because you are in labor, you will sometimes struggle to process what you are being told. Sometimes things happen so far outside of what you ever imagined that you not only struggle to comprehend what’s happening, but you are also additionally trying to handle the emotions that come along with the experience. It’s a lot to take in, and things can go sideways really quick.
This happened when Theo was born early. And this happened again when I was admitted and induced when I was pregnant with Oliver and told that if I didn’t have him soon, we would both die.
You don’t expect to have your first baby premature, and you don’t expect to ever be in a situation where your blood work causes doctors to panic and nurses to start taping up the sides of your bed because they anticipate you going into seizure.
Through it all, the doctors and nurses did what they had to do, which was handle things medically. Mike stood by my side and was an emotional, spiritual, and physical rock for me even though he too was scared and being put to the test.
And then, there was Katie. Our doula, our angel. She was there to advocate for me. For my needs. For my wishes. For my rights as a patient. She knew the things that were important to me (unmedicated birth, delayed cord clamping, baby right to my chest after birth to allow breast crawl, skin to skin, and refusing the eye ointment and circumcision for baby). She was trained and educated in how to help a momma labor to the best of her abilities and reach as many of her birthing goals as possible. She wanted a healthy mom and healthy baby, but not just physically. She wanted me mentally and emotionally healthy, too.
And that, matters.
She fanned my face. She massaged my body. She reminded Mike and I of our rights, which in the case of Oliver’s birth, often looked like gently reminding us that we could ask for time before we made any decisions. Friends, I can’t overstate how huge this service in particular was for us. Yes we were in a dire situation, but Katie reminded us that we could still make thoughtful and good decisions. She helped us carve out little pockets of time to process all the new information that was constantly coming at us. She helped us remain an important part of the decision making team. I can honestly say I was given information and then I made the decisions. Decisions weren’t made for me. And that, makes all the difference in the world, even (especially?) when things go differently than you hoped and planned.
Another incredibly valuable part of our doula’s service was to help me continue to change birthing positions throughout labor to help the baby get into the best position for birth. I can’t overstate how important this is, especially if having a vaginal delivery is high on your priority list. So many of the positions that health care professions want moms in are counterintuitive to the birthing process. No only that, but sometimes babies just are positioned funny, which might stall labor. Often times a change in mom’s position can help labor progress. Doula’s are experts at knowing all the ways to help mommas get into the best possible physical position for a happy and healthy delivery!
I’ve had four babies. Each experience brought with it unexpected hurdles and situations that I wasn’t fully prepared for (no one can prepare for everything). Each time, our doula came along side us to help us better understand what was happening, and to formulate a response that lined up with what we were hoping to accomplish. I can’t begin to describe what a gift her presence was to me. It still is. Katie has talked me through pregnancy struggles and scares, traumatic labors, and held my hand as I quietly and confidently birthed my last two babies in a birthing tub. Every time, she has acted as a confidant, a teacher, an encourager, a guide, and a friend. She reminded me of my strength, she helped Mike and I ask good questions (again, knowledge is power!), she eased discomfort and pain, and she did it all with our birth goals in the forefront of her mind.
She was there for us. She was there for me. She was there, and it made all the difference.
It’s worth mentioning that, while I chose the unmedicated birth route, doulas provide incredible birth support NO MATTER your birth experience. I can say without reservations that I would have wanted our doula along if I would have required surgical intervention. Perhaps even more so then, as she would have been able to support me in a time of disappointed expectations. Again, doula’s goals are to help mommas and babies have a healthy and positive birth experience, something we could all use the extra help to achieve, regardless of how we ultimately bring our babies into the world.
Also, I know some couples are concerned that doulas might step on dad’s toes (figuratively speaking). To this I say, having a doula there frees dad up to focus on mom. There were so many things that Mike was able to leave to Katie to do so that he could be the one looking me in the face, holding my hand, and speaking words of encouragement and inspiration over me. In my experience, Mike and my doula worked as an incredible team. They were not in conflict with each other; they worked in harmony to help me reach my goals. It’s a beautiful thing, my friends. And something I’m eternally grateful to have experienced.
Questions? I’d love to hear em. Leave me a comment below.
*The Bradley Method’s website describes it this way: The Bradley Method® teaches natural childbirth and views birth as a natural process. It is our belief that most women with proper education, preparation, and the help of a loving and supportive coach can be taught to give birth naturally. The Bradley Method® is a system of natural labor techniques in which a woman and her coach play an active part. It is a simple method of increasing self-awareness, teaching a woman how to deal with the stress of labor by tuning in to her own body. The Bradley Method® encourages mothers to trust their bodies using natural breathing, relaxation, nutrition, exercise, and education. (source)