M y first birth was incredibly difficult. I went in for an induction at two weeks past my due date and waited in triage for the first 14 hours because the nurse couldn’t seem to find me a bed; then I waited another 12 hours for the Pitocin to start working. The pain rocketed off the charts and I needed an epidural. One of the nurses really wanted me to have a Cesarean because my water had broken long ago. When the time came, I pushed for two hours on my back, birthed my daughter, then endured 45 minutes of being stitched back together.
My baby girl was 11 pounds, 9 ounces. Without my doula, I would have felt alone and powerless. My husband did his best to help me, but he was as overwhelmed as I was. My doula was the one who sat by my bed and told me it was okay to cry about the epidural, it was okay to cry because I was so tired. She helped me feel better about the fact that everything went the opposite of the way I wanted.
Through all the pain, the overwhelming emotion, the self-doubt, I remember listening to the women around me — including one who screamed for drugs while pushing her baby out. The nurse was trying to calm her down and prep her for delivery at the same time. I desperately wanted to cross the hall and hold her hand; to let her know she wasn’t alone, either. That was the moment I knew I wanted to become a doula.
I was a birth doula for four years. Doulas are birth workers trained in the emotional and physical aspects of childbirth, and they attend all kinds of births in all kinds of places. They offer a continuous presence, information regarding various birth options and the potential effects of interventions, and non-medical support such as suggestions for labor positions, gentle massage, and relaxation techniques. Doulas, particularly those certified through organizations like DONA International, are not supposed to judge individual birth choices or make decisions for their clients.
People have had birth attendants for all of human history. Despite the fact that doulas have become increasingly common in the past decade, misconceptions still abound. Doulas don’t replace nurses, or doctors, or midwives, or partners, and a doula who judges their client’s choices is not doing their job. The best doulas walk into expectant…