My husband (partner) is my left hand and my doula is my right.
– from Doulas Making a Difference
So what exactly IS a doula?
I wish I had known before my first labor! Gosh, I was SO not ready for childbirth. I was 28 years old and the first of many of my friends to get pregnant. I didn’t have a huge plethora of people to ask questions, so I did my own research, read blogs and books about childbirth, attended all the birthing classes and after hearing the birth story of my neighbor, decided I would try for all natural birth – no epidural.
Well here’s what I didn’t realize: labor HURTS – along with the fear of NOT KNOWING what was coming next, how long it would last, what was normal and what wasn’t – my first birth included an epidural, pushing for almost three hours, an episiotomy, a vacuum to get my baby out, no immediate skin to skin, and a husband who nearly passed out from witnessing all of this. I didn’t know that nurses and doctors weren’t in the room throughout the whole process and that much of the laboring process would only be my husband and me. Looking back, I may have changed things about the entire process had I known MORE – but I’m glad for the experience, as it helped shape my future birth stories. I don’t think I had ever heard the word doula, much less even known what they do until a friend mentioned it a few months down the road.
The word doula comes from the Greek word doule, meaning women’s servant. That is pretty much the role of a doula for women in labor: to serve her and help her have her desired birth. Their main purpose is to provide physical, emotional and informative support during labor and birth. Their goal is to help the mother experience a safe and positive birth experience, whether it be drug-free, medicated or cesarean. They offer advice in a personal and nonclinical way and can help answer questions that are specific to each mother’s pregnancy. They can help with comfort measures like massages, counter pressure, as well as suggestions of different positions, encouragement and empowerment.
Because I knew so little about doulas and how they could have changed my birth outcome, here’s a few things I know now that I WISH I had known then.
1. Doulas are for all moms – and all birth styles.
There was a brief moment back in the day when I thought that doulas were only for home birth moms, who wanted no medical interventions whatsoever. Ha! Was I ever wrong. I learned that a doula can be beneficial, no matter WHAT type of birth you are planning (or not planning – as we all know that birth can be unpredictable!). Yes, you may need fewer interventions with a doula – but their main goal is to help you have a safe and enjoyable birth. They are not choosing your TYPE of birth. Cesarean moms can also benefit from having a doula present. A doula can be available to you at all times throughout the procedure, letting you know what’s happening next and providing support and encouragement – which can also allow your partner time to attend to the baby and even accompany the newborn to the nursery if there are complications.
2. Doulas do NOT take the place of a husband/partner/other labor support person you may want in the room.
Having a doula allows your partner to support you emotionally during your labor and birth (and maybe even enjoy the experience!) without the added pressure of trying to remember everything they learned in childbirth class. They can give encouragement to your partner on comfort techniques, and help them feel confident and comfortable in helping you! For example, if you like having your lower back rubbed during contractions, a doula can teach your partner how to do it well. On the other hand, if your husband is anything like mine when it comes to a hospital setting, the doula can play a more prominent role for support. My husband does NOT do well when it comes to birth – I think he’s vomited at some point during all four deliveries and he can usually be found wearing a hooded sweatshirt, sitting on a chair facing the wall and trying not to pass out (yet still holding my hand). My doula was front and center the majority of the time and I was totally okay with this. Let’s just say my husband is #teamdoula 100%!!
photo by Jessica Morelli Photography
3. Doula support does not start and end at the hospital/birth center/location of birth.
I had a face to face meeting with my doula early on in my pregnancy. We chatted birth plans, options and expectations. I was able to text/call her throughout my pregnancy with any questions I had (trust me, there are some thing you just don’t want to put into Google). Most doulas provide some sort of post partum care (whether that be a home visit or phone call) and some doulas are hired strictly as post partum support – providing meals, light cleaning around the house, help with other children, watching the baby so moms can get a nap and/or breastfeeding support. My most recent doula stopped by my house about a week after the birth to bring me a hot meal and sit with me for a while to answer any questions I had. She even did the dishes in my sink and played with my three other children while I nursed the baby. The best part about doula support is that you can make it your OWN! You decide what would benefit your pregnancy and birth and your doula is there to help make sure it happens as best they can!
photo by Jessica Morelli Photography
4. There’s a doula for every budget.
The cost of doulas can vary depending on where you live and what type of support you are looking for. In my area, the rate seems to run around $500-$800. While it may be true that your insurance doesn’t cover it – many insurance companies are actually starting to cover these types of labor support costs. In fact, my insurance company told me they didn’t cover doulas, yet I wrote them a letter requesting reimbursement and they sent me a check that covered almost 70% of the total cost. Two of my births were attended by doulas who were working towards their certification and needed births to count towards it, therefore offering discounted/free services. Even when insurance does not cover the costs, often times the use of a doula can help avoid costly interventions. Many doulas are willing to work out payment plans, barter and even adjust their fees on a sliding scale for low-income mamas – pretty much if you truly want birth support, you can find a doula in your price range. I’ve also known moms who have asked for doula services as part of their baby registry!
photo by Jessica Morelli Photography
If you have considered having a doula at your birth, I recommend reaching out to people you know who have worked with one. Get recommendations, meet with more than one and find someone you feel completely comfortable with! It’s important to take the time and do your research – she’ll be a part of one of the biggest and most intimate moments of your life! If you aren’t sure where to start, your hospital or birth center might offer a doula program or know of doulas working towards certifications. You can also check out the following sites to find doulas working near you:
Find a Doula
I have loved my doula experiences SO much that I actually attend friend’s births as their “unofficial” doula. I’m currently up to 7 births attended (not including my own!). Seeing childbirth from the other side is truly amazing and it’s an honor and blessing to be part of such an intense and life-changing moment for each woman!
If you’ve used a doula, I would love to hear about your experiences! If you have additional questions or specifics about anything I mentioned, please comment below!