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Doulas (and Why I Love Them)

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16w, 1d. My husband and I hired doulas for both previous births, and while the women were complete strangers to me just months before I went into labor, by the time I’d delivered our boys, both were like old friends.

The first time around, I was feeling really nervous about aiming for a natural birth in a hospital (and rightfully so, as it turned out). I forget just how I found her, but we hired a really lovely woman who was a yoga teacher and birth instructor. She met with us twice during my pregnancy and then was on call for us from around 37 weeks. When my water broke around 10 pm just shy of 40 weeks, we called my OB and then her. She listened to me through a few contractions, said she thought it would be a while (because I could still speak without much effort during the contractions) and told us to call her as needed. We headed to the hospital a few hours later, as per my OB’s instructions, and she offered to come with us, but I said that I didn’t think I needed her yet. I waited a few hours longer, and when my husband checked in with her around 5 or 6 am, I said that I still thought I was okay without her support—and then I made him call her back 15 minutes later to say that she had to come immediately; things were kicking into gear.

I have no idea why I delayed having her there—the whole point of a doula is to offer emotional support during labor, and I was definitely in labor. I guess because my water broke right before I would have gone to bed, I felt guilty depriving someone else of sleep as well—but if I could do it all over again (that particular birth), I would have asked her to join us right at the beginning to help me feel calm in the face of some particularly unfriendly nurses. Having her there was invaluable both for my husband and myself—it allowed him to get outside for a walk and a quick bite because he knew I was being cared for, and for whatever reason, I was able to tune out all of the shouting from the doctors and nurses (“PUSH! PUSH! PUSH!”) and just listen to her speaking calmly into my ear for the TWO HOURS I pushed. Despite not having quite the labor I had hoped for (continuous fetal monitoring didn’t allow me much flexibility in terms of dealing with contractions while basically tethered to the bed—which led to an epidural, later some Pitocin, and eventually an episiotomy and fourth-degree tearing), she kept me mostly calm, helped my son latch on right after birth, and made me feel cared for in a way that I didn’t by the nursing staff.

During the birth of my second son two years later, my husband and I hired a novice doula who was also a professional masseuse (a prenatal massage was part of her doula offerings). Mine was perhaps the ninth birth she had attended, and the first home birth. Because she was new to the profession, she charged lower rates than many others—and actually offered us a sliding scale, which was super helpful, given that my husband had just lost his job. When I expressed an interest in HypnoBirthing as a method of coping with labor, she joined me for a private class with a teacher so that she’d be able to help me with it during labor. And when I realized that I was in labor (no dramatic water-breaking cue this time), we called her and asked her to come over, right after we’d called my midwives.

Her massage training was supremely helpful during labor. When my midwives asked me to get out of the tub and switch to the bed (I forget exactly why, but I remember that the water was no longer hot, and I was shivering), I had to stop for contractions in the hallway between the bathroom and bedroom, fully naked because the thought of anything on me at that point was repulsive. I remember that she did these full-body massage strokes, running from my shoulders to my ankles during the worst of the contractions, which helped me to relax (my midwives and my husband later commented on just how surprisingly calm and quiet I remained through most of labor). She quietly coaxed me during the pushing stage too—her voice being the only one I chose to hear. And then once our son was born, I had cut the cord (my husband was too chicken), and my midwife had stitched up a tiny tear (in the same place where I’d had the episiotomy), our doula brought me a cup of hot tea and a peanut butter and honey sandwich, which seemed like the most delicious meal I’d had in years.

I’m already on the hunt for a doula for this third birth. Because I’m due on 1/2/13 and have delivered a few days shy of 40 weeks both times before, I’m mindful of the fact that many folks may have holiday plans elsewhere (heck, I might want to have plans elsewhere—but I know my butt will be firmly planted in Brooklyn by that point). I recently reached out to the NYC Doula Co-op, which Jo, another former Project Pregnancy blogger, belonged to (she just moved away from NYC!), and did a search on Doula Match. I’m starting to line up interviews for doulas through the co-op, which offers five levels of experience (and a corresponding fee structure), and I’m excited to find someone who feels right.

With this being my third birth, some folks have asked why I’d want a doula again this time around—aren’t I thoroughly prepared at this point? Don’t I trust my husband and midwives? And of course I trust them implicitly and rely on them tremendously, and yes, I’ve been through this twice before, but there are a lot of good reasons to have a doula present, whether this is a first birth or a fifth. For example, according to DONA International, a number of clinical studies have shown that having a doula present can result in shorter labors with fewer complications, as well as reduce the need for Pitocin, forceps, c-sections, pain medication or other interventions. For me, I’ve just really enjoyed the connections I have felt with my doulas in the past and enjoy having additional support from someone who has witnessed many births and appreciates being part of the birth experience. For more on the invaluable work doulas do, check out these posts from Birthing Beautiful Ideas and the Feminist Breeder

Have you had a doula at any births? Would you consider hiring one?

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