I am the last person you would expect to have a doula. I don’t exactly practice natural parenting. The only thing I consistently buy organic is milk, and when food accidentally drops to the floor, I firmly believe in the two-second rule (OK, five, maybe seven seconds, max). Perhaps even more telling, I have never felt a pain I wasn’t comfortable treating with medication. In short, the only natural thing about me is my hair color. Oh, wait. I recently started coloring that, too.
Those of us who walk through life this way—knowing about chemicals, unsure how to turn our lives upside down to avoid them— tend to find one another. We meet up at fast-food joints or those incredibly large non-biodegradable indoor playgrounds. So when my friend, Kathryn, announced she had become a doula, I was shocked.
At the time I didn’t even think Kathryn liked kids. She seemed amused by some people’s kids (emphasis on some), but she and her husband, Chip, had decided long ago they weren’t the type to have any of their own. Both film buffs, they were the type to turn their basement into a makeshift theatre and take off on spontaneous road trips to independent film festivals. They liked to entertain (Kathryn has been a top chef long before Bravo made it cool) and were happy to spend a hefty bundle designing elaborate menus for their pals (lucky me!). Let’s just say theirs was not a lifestyle ready-made for middle-of-the-night feedings and play date schedules.
It’s no surprise, then, that Kathryn was not the person who came to mind when I became pregnant and suddenly found myself thinking about childbirth. But as she began to explain exactly what a doula is, I realized I had no idea what she was talking about. I had visions of a midwife-type in a nurse uniform grasping my leg at the foot of a hospital bed, encouraging me to time my breaths to the rhythms of Enya playing in the background. She had a much more pragmatic approach. “You might be in labor for hours. Anxiety builds. You’re going to want a buddy there. Having emotional support from a source other than your husband is a good idea in case, you know, he passes out or something,” she said. Then came the clincher. “I can cook meals way better than the hospital food you’ll be getting.” Hmm, I thought. She may be on to something.
At the time I had an executive assistant at work, but what Kathryn was describing was something soooo much better: My very own life assistant! Someone to step into the craziness of this new life stage and establish order amidst chaos sounded…well, fabulous! Whereas the nurses and doctors would take care of me physically, Kathryn explained that doulas are there for emotional support. They’re primary goal is to provide reassurance and comfort throughout labor, delivery and beyond. Having spent many a night on Kathryn’s couch as if it were my personal therapists’ office, with her happily listening and dispensing advice (for free), I finally understood why she was attracted to the notion of becoming a doula.
Still, I was on the fence. I wasn’t sure how I felt about having her in the delivery room when we met our baby for the first time. OK, fine. The real concern stemmed from having someone seemingly repelled by kids near my baby, right from the start. But I was intrigued, so throughout my pregnancy, I had Kathryn on stand by.
Then disaster struck. My blood pressure went through the roof, I delivered prematurely at 30 weeks, and low and behold, I was an emotional wreck. Kathryn swooped into my hospital suite with casseroles, magazines and the most priceless thing of all: good cheer. She reassured me that everything I was feeling—anger, fear, concern, determination, guilt, joy, profound sadness—was completely normal, and that I would not feel that way forever. I don’t know if she knew what she was talking about or she made it all up as she went along, but her positive energy had an incredible effect on me. She was one of only two people who could calm me during several anxiety attacks.
When I was released from the hospital but my son remained for another two months, it was Kathryn who stocked my fridge and checked in on me regularly. Whereas my husband and mom certainly had my back, too, Kathryn’s role—not family, more friend—allowed her to stay positive without being pulled into the emotions overflowing in the rest of us. When my son, Javier, finally came home, she came by the house often…to see me. Her distaste for babies in general never quite went away, but we found a new rhythm to our friendship. She was always good with adults.
If I had to do it over again, and I hope one day I might, I may give Kathryn a call. She lives on the other side of the country now, but maybe we can Skype throughout my labor. Just keep her away from my baby when it actually gets here.