I didn't hire a doula for Kaspar's delivery; I'd heard of them, but only vaguely, and I think I understood their work to be mostly post-delivery-related. (As it turns out, while there are strictly postpartum doulas, most work with mamas and couples before, during and after D-day itself.)
In fact, I wasn’t super informed about a lot of birth-y things before having my first baby; I took a decidedly go-with-the-flow, Doctor-knows-best approach. Turns out that ended up being a kind of high-intervention approach – a pretty common experience here in the States – as I was induced and had an epidural, but, that said, my experience was a positive one overall. My default ‘birth team’ – my nurse, doctor and husband -- were caring and engaged, and Kaspar’s birth felt collaborative and fun. I know I experienced some pain, despite the epidural, while in labor, but that was harder on my hubs than it was on me. (When I say I had a great time giving birth, Aaron looks totally confused. I guess, as moms, we get blurry on the details as soon as our sweet babies arrive.)
I do remember a crucial fight-or-flight moment when the contractions got serious, though; I turned to Aaron and told him I’d changed my mind, suggesting we “go home and try this another day.” Of course, going home without giving birth simply wasn’t an option, (Aaron’s response: “Umm… I’m pretty sure you bought a one-way ticket, babe,”) and thus we stayed the course, and I had myself a baby.
It's been three years since then, and I'm looking ahead just four short months to having another one. I feel like that first experience gave me some sense of what to expect. I know a lot more about birth now than I did then, too -- I’ve become kind of a birth nerd by way of my work -- and have since realized how many options I may have overlooked at the time, from forming a birth plan to building a birth team to support it. I don't regret my approach back then, as I've experienced one way of having a baby, and thus have some personal perspective in considering other approaches. (My post-delivery hospital stay was, for what it's worth, not positive, and has informed a lot of my decision-making this time around.)
There's no 'right' way to do this thing, but I have a solid sense, going into this next birth, that I'd like to approach labor, delivery, and post-delivery a bit differently this time. Which is to say, sans induction and interventions. Because I've had a baby before, the actual process of vaginal delivery is no longer a mystery to me, and I'm confident I can handle it naturally.
I also know I want a doula by my side telling me exactly that so that I maintain my confidence in the midst of a potential 'let's go home' moment of panic: “You’ve done this before, you can handle this.” I want someone on board who's entire job is to help me make it happen, and to help make it awesome, at that. A doula won’t force me not to go for the drugs, but she will remind me of my goals, and help me to manage my pain naturally, through breathing techniques, positional-changes, and so forth.
(Did you know moms who employ natural pain management instead of high-intervention methods report greater satisfaction with their birth experiences later? True story.)
There are a lot of doulas out there, and each has her own style. I was initially planning on hiring a doula-in-training, for the price-point (around Austin, they run about $300 or so), but a midwife friend of mine suggested I hire someone with more experience navigating the hospital scene, since it’s not my first choice birth location. I'd ideally like to have a home birth, actually, but am categorized as high risk due to a blood clot history, so will be rocking the hospital instead.
She suggested a few doulas she knows who fit the bill, and I met last week with two seasoned doulas in town, Erica Hope and Amanda Wyzkowski, who’ve recently teamed up to offer their combined services to expecting families.
Here’s what those services include:
- Two prenatal visits (in addition to the first meeting – ours lasted an hour)
- Information on birth (and breastfeeding, etc.) resources
- Early labor support either at home or in the hospital
- Constant care and support in active labor
- Every effort and attention in maintaining a calm birth experience
- Assistance in gathering information needed to make informed decisions
- One postpartum visit at home
- Unlimited breastfeeding support and information
- Unlimited access to their lending library
That’s a lot. They’re also totally accessible via email and phone – far more so than my OB practice’s nurse line. When it comes to weird pregnancy or birth questions, too, they're a lot more reassuring and informative than Google. (Me + Google = hypochondria.)
When we all sat down to talk for the first time, Erica and Amanda asked me about my blood clot history and preventative treatment (I’m on blood thinners while pregnant), and also about what I want for my upcoming birth. I ran through my list: limited fetal monitoring, no interventions or drugs, a calm and positive birth, immediate skin-to-skin contact with my baby once he’s born, no vaccinations, for my baby to stay with me at all times, to breastfeed like a champ, etc.
Aaron was a big part of the conversation, too, and Amanda and Erica spoke to the importance of dads; they view their role as facilitating – rather than replacing -- dads’ involvement in a birth. They spoke to each of my concerns and desires within the context of a hospital birth, too, and specifically in the context of the hospital I’m giving birth in. They're clearly familiar with the hospital’s procedures and practices, and already had tips to offer on how I’ll be able to advocate for myself and my baby in the ways that feel right to me when I’m there.
At $900 it’s definitely an expense, but we feel it’s well worth it. And I was surprised by how reasonable their fee is -- I've seen other doulas around here charge upwards of $1500 -- considering they’re offering a comprehensive two-for-one deal. (Whomever is on call will attend my actual birth, but they’ll both take part in everything else, from home visits to email, and they both offer different areas of experience and expertise). They left us to talk it over and follow up whenever, and we got in touch later that day to tell them we look forward to their participation in our new baby’s birth.
I know birth plans can change on the fly, and I can always go with the flow in the event that ours needs to. I trust my doctor -- another key member of my birth team -- to recommend interventions only if she really thinks they're necessary; she supports my goals for a natural birth, too. Bearing in mind that anything can happen, I feel good about developing a plan to begin with this time around. I think it's a powerful tool. Step one – hiring a doula – is now checked off on my list, and it’s made this whole ‘having a baby’ thing that much more real. That and the dance party taking place in my belly right now. There's a baby in there, and, sometime in September, he's going to meet us out here. I'm getting excited!
Did you have a doula at your birth? Was she (or he) helpful? How so, or why not? (My editor's doula fell asleep during his wife's labor! WHAT.) Do you think having a doula helped you to carry out your birth plan or goals? Would you hire one again, or, if you didn’t have one, would you want one next time? How much do doulas cost in your neck of the woods? Did your insurance cover the fee? Tell me about your birth experiences with doulas on board!