Monday, November 23, 2009

Why I'm a doula, and what a doula can do for you

Posted as part of the Science and Sensibility Healthy Birth Blog Carnival #3. I've meant to participate in the previous carnivals, but I just couldn't miss this one: on step 3 of the Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices, "Bring a loved one, friend, or doula for continuous support."

By way of talking about continuous support is so important, I want to talk about some reasons that I am a doula.

I am a doula because of the woman I worked with whose husband drew me into the corner as she went through transition. He was worried. "Is this normal?" he asked. "Is this OK? She'd really like to know how much longer this will go on." I reassured him she was completely normal, doing beautifully, and that while no one could predict the course of labor, she would probably be done soon. He went back to his wife's side with renewed conviction and was constantly whispering encouragement and praise into her ear. Their baby was born just a couple of hours later.

I am a doula because of the first VBAC I attended. I was working as a volunteer doula, and her nurse paged me in because this woman became nervous whenever the medical staff would leave her alone. I sat with her, brought her cold washcloths, watched her rock back and forth furiously in the rocking chair, and let her crush my hand. (She kept asking "Am I hurting you?" and I lied and said no.) She said, "No one told me how to do all this last time to bring the baby down. They just said I wasn't making progress and did the surgery." Later that night, she pushed her baby into the midwife's hands.

I am a doula because of the young woman who labored so instinctively despite being restricted to a hospital bed. She spontaneously flipped to her hands and knees, to her side, rocked her hips and made noise. I just watched and told her what a beautiful job she was doing and that she should listen to her body. Her labor lasted longer than any of us expected it would, but she remained strong through the end.

I am a doula because of the woman who was so anxious about her labor that she couldn't relax and rest. I sat next to her and talked quietly to her, visualizing a beautiful labor, a healthy baby, trying to put a smile on her face and let her welcome the next stage of labor. The next morning, her baby was born and placed directly into her arms.

I am a doula because of the family who forgot their camera in their car - I ran down to get it and came back just in time (on the way promising the ladies at the front desk that someone would be back down to move the car as soon as the baby was born!) Baby was born quickly and there were beautiful pictures galore.

I am a doula because of the woman who, as soon as her baby was born, began asking "When can I breastfeed her? When will they give her back? When can she start nursing?" I sidled over to the pediatricians several times to say, "You know, she'd really like to start nursing, whenever you're ready..." When they finally got the baby back to her delighted mom, she latched on like a champ and went on to breastfeed for over a year.

I am a doula because of the family I spent 26 hours straight with, sleeping sitting up in a chair. They went through multiple shifts of nurses and midwives and doctors, but I was there to say "This morning she was feeling nervous about ____, can you discuss it a little more?" They had a long and difficult labor to contend with, and I have never been gladder that I didn't call my back-up and stayed through to the end.

I am a doula because I can make a hot pack out of towels and chux pads, I know where to find the extra stretchy disposable underwear, and I carry lanolin sample packets in my doula bag in case someone forgot their chapstick.

I am a doula because somehow, the things I offer are so simple and yet seem to mean so much. Someone to be a familiar face, to be a reassuring presence, to offer a little extra information, to facilitate with care providers, to bring food or forgotten items, to provide touch and ice water and hot packs, to be a hand to hold, to press in just the right spot, to just be there. It seems like a miracle sometimes that such simple things can mean so much, and yet it does; even the research says so, and just as importantly so do the women who are served by doulas. I have to trust them, because it's hard to believe I can do so much, and have so much fun at the same time!

A loved one or friend can be a fantastic doula, and many people will swear by their husbands, partners, mothers, or friends as doulas. The important thing is to have someone who can provide those simple and necessary things, and who understands the importance of their active participation in the process. Don't bring spectators who will sit in a row on the couch and watch you like a TV show; or people who will undermine your confidence; or people who bring their own issues or focus to the room. If you can't find that person among your personal support circle, or want more back up, consider hiring a professional doula. But no matter what guise they come in, bring doulas to your birth!

1 comment:

Sally said...

This is really beautiful! Thanks Rebecca!