Friday night. Long week. DVR’d re-runs of the latest show you’re obsessed with play on the TV. Princess Preggers is snuggled into your arms, reminding you every few seconds to keep rubbing her belly because it’s good for the baby and good for her and…wait? Did that commercial just say I could save hundreds of dollars by swi…oh, sorry, honey. (Rub-rub-rub.)
And then…it happens.
“Sweetie? I’d like a doula.”
Your mouth waters. You get that look. “Well…I’m not familiar with that positi…”
And then, YOU get THAT look! (Sorry buddy—a doula is not featured in the updated version of the Kama Sutra.)
So, your beloved has said it—she wants to bring a doula into the birthing team. (Team?!? What team? What happened to her and the doctor and a bed in a hospital somewhere with her screaming she wants drugs, you did this to her, etc., etc.?)
First of all—turn off the TV. It’s not like that.
When it comes to the birth, whether you’ve decided to go to the hospital or have the little one at home, there is a “team” involved. Obviously, there is mom, the doctor or midwife, and even baby.
Yes, baby. Baby’s been in utero for 9-ish months. He or she has gotten to know the area pretty well (let’s face it, there’s not much of anywhere to go). But now, little one is taking the biggest trip of their life thus far, and they’re going to need directions…from you, the people outside.
So at least 3 are involved here. And, hopefully, dad—or whomever the partner is–makes 4. It’s a good team—a strong team. You’ve been through check-ups together, maybe even a few classes, and let’s not forget the myriad of books and movies and shows and documentaries and…long story short, it’s been exhausting. It is exhausting. And you’re not even the one carrying the baby! There’s so much to do and get and remember. And things have been perfect! No complications or issues have come about—and yet, still, you’re struggling to keep everything in line for the birth she—and you—have dreamt about.
The classes and books talked about being there to press on her hips, support and guide, maybe help her keep from getting overly nauseous (nevermind your own!), and be mom’s voice—her advocate—through labor and delivery.
Advocate? Listen—they said mom might push out some other, er, bodily fluids during labor and they are prepared for that. Yours? Not so much. So how are you supposed to advocate and press and all that when, after hours of this, you just seriously need a bathroom break?!
Enter (cue the music) THE DOULA!!
(Okay, so a doula is more—so much more—than the Riker to your Picard during labor and delivery. She (or he (yes, there ARE male doulas!)) does not simply “have the Bridge, Number One” as you go, er, Number One.)
But, in many ways, the Doula is your Riker. Your back-up. Your support. The Doula provides emotional support; suggests and uses different techniques such as breathing, relaxation, movement and positioning to aid in labor and delivery; provides information to mom and dad throughout; helps mom (and dad) become informed about various birth choices; provides an advocacy voice for mom and acts as a liaison between the mother and the care provider; and—beautifully, wonderfully, thankfully—provides reassurance and comfort to the mother (first and foremost) but also to dad or partner.
(To dad? Mr. I-Knocked-Her-Up? Mr. I Don’t Need No Steenking Support?)
Remember how tired you are now on information overload? Add hours of labor, pained moans and groans (hers, not yours), hip pressing, watching and hearing vomiting (don’t worry, it may happen, but that’s okay). So, it’s fine to admit it—a bit of support would be nice.
But why is she wanting a doula? Does she not believe in you? Does she think you don’t have what it takes? Have you failed already?!?! NO. Absolutely not.
Birthing is one of the most beautiful, miraculous, and terribly difficult things she will ever experience. Thing is, the birth experience goes far beyond pushing a person out. It’s not simply physical. Birth—labor and delivery—is extremely emotional for mom. Any hang-ups—guilt about not asking mom to be there, unhappy that the nursery isn’t quite finished, sad that the perfect “first outfit” was never bought—all of these things can throw a wrench into the incredible machine that is her body and make getting baby from there to here more difficult. And that’s not even figuring in time! What if she goes into labor at 1 AM after you’ve just gone to bed and had a terribly long day beforehand? And what if labor then lasts for hours…and hours…and hours?
Doulas are trained for this. They are prepared, ready, willing, and able to be right at mom’s side for the duration of the journey. They are the Superman, Wonder Woman, and (insert favorite comic character here) of the birthing team. They are the Gatorade, the Powerbar, the fire hose at mile 9—for mom AND for you. They summon up a tremendous energy and ability to help everyone stay focused, positive-minded, and as comfortable as possible as baby makes its way from womb to world.
Our Doula did an incredible job. She waved peppermint oil in front of my wife’s nose to fight off nausea. She massaged her back and lead her through contractions with deep, Gregorian-chant like moans. She fed her ice chips to keep her hydrated. On top of all that, she had such a rapport with our midwife that they could communicate with a simple look or silent gesture—no extra sound was uttered so as to break my wife’s concentration and focus. When our son was born, she took photos. She helped clean up. She then sat and praised my wife on the tremendous task she’d accomplished…AND me. She reminded me, throughout, what a support I was. How great I was doing. What a role I was playing. She empowered all of us, like the dad on the sidelines or the third-base coach telling me to round to home or…okay, so maybe not time for the sports metaphors. Fact is—she was the support we needed to complete the team.
There are doulas of all kinds. Most of those in-the-know about them are familiar with the Birth Doula, as described above. But, there are also antepartum doulas (who support moms put on bed rest leading up to birth), grief and loss doulas, and post-partum doulas, who can provide support ranging from light cooking to a comforting ear when things get suddenly overwhelming. They can advise on sleep or nutrition. They can counsel and suggest. Now, this is not to be confused with the doctor or midwife. A doula—be it birth or post-partum–is not a lactation consultant. They don’t perform clinical tasks. They aren’t there to judge you on your decisions to do this or that with your newborn. They are, at heart, just what the word doula means: “a woman who serves” (or, as aforementioned, even a man—many of whom are lovingly referred to in the community as “dudelas”).
Don’t feel broken because mom wants a doula at her side during birth. And mom, don’t feel bad because you’re asking for more support than is already there. A Doula is an excellent part of the birthing team—before, during, and even after baby has arrived. Applaud yourselves for wanting the strongest, most well-oiled machine possible to make the birth experience one of true greatness.