The first time I ever heard the word doula I was 28 years old and getting a therapeutic massage each week to help treat chronic tension headaches. I absolutely LOVED my massage therapist and not just because she made my neck and shoulders feel great. She was also very sweet, easy to talk to, and found a way to help me work through even the most painful treatments.
What is a Doula?
One day we were talking about how my husband and I had decided it was time to start trying for a baby and how excited I was to have found a midwife with whom I really connected. The therapist started telling me about how she was training to be a doula and that when I did get pregnant I should consider having a doula as well as a midwife. I felt like an idiot but I had to ask her, “what’s a doula?”. She explained that basically, a doula is a helper for the laboring mother. Doulas are sometimes referred to as labor coaches but that can be deceptive since many people attend childbirth classes where their spouse or partner learns to be a coach. The doula is not there to take the place of a spouse during labor and delivery. Rather, their purpose is to provide comfort, encouragement, and information as well as to act as an advocate on the mother’s behalf.
My First Labor or Why I Need a Doula This Time
Information and advocacy is ultimately why I chose to hire a doula for this childbirth experience. It took several years before I actually got pregnant and the midwife and doula I had picked out at 28 were both several hundred miles away. Instead, I had a regular OB/GYN and no external support beyond my husband (who was as clueless as I was about childbirth). I had an unwanted induction, nothing on my birth plan was followed, and after 24 hours of labor I ended up with a c-section because my labor never progressed past the first stage. While there is no way to know if having a doula would have changed any of that, going into this pregnancy experience I knew that it was important for both myself and my husband that someone in that room knew more than us about what was going on and could work as our advocate at a time when we were going to be under a lot of stress and frankly not up to questioning nurses or doctors who might not have the same game plan we had.
A Doula is Not a Doctor (or Midwife)
The website www.americanpregnancy.org does a good job of explaining what one should expect from a doula.
Doulas do not provide any type of medical care. However, they are knowledgeable in many medical aspects of labor and delivery. Consequently, they can help their clients gain a better understanding of the procedures and possible complications of late pregnancy or delivery. During delivery, doulas are in constant and close proximity to the mother. A doula acts as an advocate for the mother, encouraging and helping her fulfill specific desires that she might have for her birth. The goal of a doula is to help the mother experience a positive and safe birth, whether an un-medicated birth or cesarean.
As most readers know, midwives can’t practice in the state of Alabama (or at least, it’s near to impossible to find one that does because of all the hoops they have to jump through). I have no desire for a home-birth and I don’t want to travel to Tennessee and give birth at a center. What I really want, a Certified Nurse Midwife who can deliver at a local hospital, I can’t have. The next best thing for me is having a doula, someone who has attended a few (or a few hundred) births and won’t freak out the way my husband and I might. Someone who can knowledgeably talk about what things I might or might not want on my birth plan and who can keep me (and my husband) calm and focused as we try for a VBAC.
I feel so lucky to have found Brittany and we’ve already met a couple times to go over what I can expect, she’s helped me develop a birth plan and even attended my last OB/GYN appointment so she could meet my doctor before the delivery. I feel very confident that no matter what happens this time around, I’m much more prepared than last time and I’m more likely to get an experience I can look back on fondly for the rest of my life.
To find out more about doulas or to find a doula near you, check out the following websites: doulamatch.net, findadoula.com, or doulaworld.com