Now that you know a little more about what a doula is and who can become one, you might be asking — Why?
First-time parents-to-be ... Get ready, I’m about to blow your minds. Real childbirth is nothing like it is depicted in the movies. Chances are very slim that your water will break while you are out in public, buying wedding dresses with your friends (somehow this is always a thing in Hollywood?).
It is extremely unlikely that you will get to the hospital and immediately/quickly push your baby out (while still maintaining perfect makeup).
Instead, labor — especially for first babies — can last quite a while. In between the time you get to the hospital and the time you meet your child, you will be faced with a variety of medical options. These options will have great impact on the way that your labor proceeds, very few of which will be presented to you by your health provider as choices — but they are!
You will be embarking on one of the most difficult physical and emotional journeys of your life — one which will have a lasting effect on your health and the health of your newborn baby. It is an indescribable, transformative, excruciating, awe-inspiring, magical, vulnerable time.
Why wouldn’t you want someone there to help guide you through rough patches and offer specialized support? This is what a doula does.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Hannah," you are saying, "We get it. Those are a lot of flowery words, but I’m pregnant and irritable and I want some real examples, not wishy-washy hippie language."
Doulas Help You to Feel Powerful
- To quote an inspirational poster that you might see on the walls of your high school’s gym, “Knowledge is power”. Even before the main event — birth — doulas will provide you and your partner with information about pregnancy, labor and delivery. A doula can give you an idea of what to expect, what decisions you may be faced with, what your options are for handling each possibility, and what questions to ask a medical provider.
Doulas usually meet with you prenatally two or three times so that you can ask questions, weigh your options, and deepen your understanding BEFORE you are gripped with contractions. You and your partner will go into labor feeling more prepared and more equipped to handle whatever happens.
- During delivery, a doula can help to remind you of the options that you discussed during pregnancy — any situations you hoped to avoid (e.g., an epidural) or things you hoped to include (e.g., a shower as pain relief).
However, if you initially envisioned a totally natural, drug-free experience, but then during labor, you decided that you do want pain medication, your doula will never pass judgement. Doulas understand that birth is unpredictable, that every woman experiences it differently, that the best laid plans are often rendered moot by any number of factors that impact labor and delivery.
- No matter what happens, doulas will help to remind you what sort of questions to ask a care provider. Faced with the inevitable unforeseen situation, a doula will ensure that you receive all the pertinent information to make any decisions, and that you feel listened to, respected and in control of what happens to your body.
Often, doctors will tell you what they think is best — and often their suggestions are motivated not by medical evidence, but by convenience (for themselves).
A doula helps to identify whether an intervention (such as pitocin, a synthetic hormone that is used to strengthen your contractions) is truly necessary for maintaining your health and/or the health of your baby. They help to preserve time and space for YOU to make decisions using the best information available.
- When doctors DO explain medical procedures or various stages/phases of labor that you might be experiencing, they sometimes use language that is unfamiliar and confusing. In addition to making sure that you get your questions answered, a doula can re-explain anything that you are unsure about in words that make sense to you.
While a doctor may tell you that you are “fully effaced, 6 cm and station 1,” a doula can interpret this for you by explaining that this means your cervix is soft (effaced) and opening (dilated 6 cm), and that the baby is still sitting relatively high up in your pelvis (station 1).
Moreover, your doula will tell you that you are making incredible progress and that you should consider getting into a position that will help the baby to descend further into your pelvis, in order to keep labor progressing.
- Hospitals are busy, sometimes frightening and for most of us, foreign. Many of us carry negative connotations with hospital rooms, doctors and medical instruments. If you have chosen to give birth in the hospital, when you are tired, uncomfortable, uncertain and often undressed during labor, the environment can feel overwhelming.
Having a doula — someone you are familiar with, who has supported you during pregnancy, who you trust, who is focused only on YOU rather than the 15 other patients in Labor and Delivery that day — can be very comforting.
More likely than not, your doula will already know where the extra pillows are, where to send your partner for food, how to ask nursing staff for various items — and certainly — where the coffee machine is located.
No matter what happens during your birth, having a doula means you have the expert support of someone who cares deeply for you.
Recently, more and more research has been published suggesting the huge benefits of doulas. In my next article, I will explore some of the comfort measures that doulas provide, why doula-supported births are less likely to require medical interventions, and, more importantly — why this is good for you and your babies.
Check out this resource for more information in the meantime: www.evidencebasedbirth.org/
Edited by Jody Smith