Every doula I know smacks her palm to her forehead whenever she hears or reads some version of the headline above.
But guess what? We hear it a lot… so our foreheads are pretty sore.
And we must be somewhat to blame. It would seem that our efforts to educate are falling very short. Of course, this perception doesn’t come from nowhere. Definitely, doulas tend to relish birth in all of its raw, primal intensity. Witnessing a birth like that or experiencing it firsthand might be what brought a doula to her work in the first place. I, myself, never fail to enjoy supporting an unmedicated birth, but then again, I’ve never failed to enjoy supporting a medicated birth either. Supporting natural (unmedicated) birth is NOT the crux of what I do.
A am awed and impressed by the birthing mother*. Always. I don’t care what the birth looks like. The person giving birth is a complex human, with a complex past and complex feelings and motivations. Her partner or other support people are multi-faceted and her relationship with this person or these people is unique. Her pregnancy is one-of-a-kind. Trying to bring a healthy human in the world is hard and vulnerable work. It takes thought, guts, control, surrender, strength, vulnerability and so much more. And that is true for anyone giving birth. Whether a person gives birth with Pitocin (a drug that causes contractions), without Pitocin, with pain medication, without pain medication, by planned cesarean, unplanned cesarean or crash, emergency cesarean, none of it is easy.
The crux of what I do is support the pregnant person and the father/partner when present.
That support starts in pregnancy. Are you planning to have an epidural? Great! Is that alone enough to make you feel secure and confident about giving birth? Probably not… Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who is well-versed in birth (in all its forms) to whom you can ask your questions, who can send you information, and can listen to your worries and your partner’s worries and help you work through them without judging what you’re feeling? That’s just some of what I do as a doula.
As your doula, I can help you learn what to expect from an epidural, talk to you about when you might want to get the epidural, how to cope with contractions until the epidural arrives, keep you massaged and hydrated once the epidural is in place, help you change positions, reassure you when you feel nauseous or shaky, apply cool washcloths to your forehead, and translate “medicalese” to you and your partner. I can talk to you in advance about how to isolate the muscles used to push, so that it’s easier to push when the time comes.
As your doula, I am your constant. When you plan to give birth at a hospital you won’t know the nurse that will attend to you–the nurses change with the shift–and it’s not uncommon to see your OB or midwife only at the very end, when it’s time to deliver your baby. With all of those variables, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have your own, dedicated birth consultant at your side?
If in your pregnancy you begin to be faced with the possibility of induction or planned cesarean for medical reasons, you may need to change your “plan” drastically from what you imagined. What if you had a person who could help you process your emotions and talk out your options? There is such a person. You guessed it! It’s a doula.
I have attended planned cesarean births, in which I was allowed into the operating room with the mother and the father and I took pictures of the birth, held the mother’s hand or stroked her head when she needed it. I let the parents know what kinds of requests they could make of the birth team (for instance asking for delayed cord clamping or skin-to-skin contact soon after delivery). These mothers and fathers have told me how precious it was to have photographs of their baby’s first moments and their first meeting of their baby.
Perhaps I could try to list every different situation in which a birth doula could be a helpful addition to the birth team, but that could go on forever. Mostly, what I want to say is that giving birth is a profoundly physical and a profoundly emotional process. No matter how your baby comes out, that statement is true. The medical members of the birth team can get caught up in the purely physical aspects of the labor (and this can make sense, since they are tasked with the job of keeping you and your baby safe), but it’s not the only aspect that needs tending to. You and your partner need considerable emotional support also. A professional doula’s focus is on support and comfort for you, both physically and emotionally. This is something that all birthing families need. For this reason I am not, nor will I ever be, just for “natural” birth.
*Mostly I serve mothers, but a birthing father, non-binary birthing person, or person who was not planning to parent the child is equally awe-inspiring.