One perk I offer in my birth doula package is access to my lending library about pregnancy, birth, and newborns. My library is still growing and I plan to add to it forever (because you can never have too many book!), but here’s a look at my top three on my shelf right now:
1. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina Many Gaskin
Ina May Gaskin is a midwife genius with piles and piles of wisdom born of experience. This book is half birth stories (gotta love ‘em!) and half explanations of physiological principles related to birth. Here’s a favorite: Sphincter Law. Sphincters are ring-shaped muscles that occur in a few places in your body, notably your throat and cervix. And it turns out that relaxing one set of sphincter muscles helps others in the body to relax and open! So blowing out with “horse lips” and making low, loose vocalizations helps your cervix to relax and dilate. This and other gems are found in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth!
2. The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Felice Austin, Lani Axman, Robyn Allgood, Heather Farrell, and Sheridan Ripley
This book is a beautiful collection of essays and birth stories written by LDS mother and birthworkers. In it, the authors faithfully discuss the divine role that women play as co-creators with God. It addresses topics from infertility to the role of agency in birth to infant care. It’s an empowering, thought-provoking, and life-changing read!
3. Mothering the Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier, and Healthier Birth by Marshall H. Klaus, John Kennell, and Phyllis H. Klaus
Did you read that subtitle? A shorter, easier, and healthier birth—how awesome is that? This one’s an oldie, but a goodie! Referencing evidence collected in studies around the globe, the authors explain in depth the way that having a doula can positively affect your birth experience.
Here are the other titles on my shelf:
Birth is an exciting, joyous time! It’s also unpredictable. Having a doula by your side ensures that there will be at least one person at your birth who knows you and your preferences and has an in-depth understanding of labor and birth. When nurses and midwives/OBs come in and out, your doula will be there from the moment you need her until your baby is born.
Here are some other awesome perks to hiring a doula, as shown in numerous studies (see References).
You may be thinking, “How is that even possible? How can having a doula at a birth make that much of a difference in so many ways?” The studies I cited don’t attempt to answer the questions of how or why, but here are some possible explanations.
Women labor differently around sympathetic women. Ina May Gaskin, one of the nation’s foremost midwives, is huge on this point. Women are able to progress more quickly, feel more comfortable, and better do the work of labor when they have another familiar woman in the room.
Doulas know stuff. Stuff that can make a real difference! We know a variety of labor positions and can recommend helpful ones throughout your labor: early labor, active labor, stalled labor, pushing, positions for when baby is having trouble descending, positions for when labor is coming waaay hard and fast, positions to help mom continue to progress when largely immobilized due to an epidural, and more!
Doulas give constant positive support. Throughout labor, doulas give moms positive feedback, leading to further confidence and renewed energy and focus.
All of this means that mothers who labor with a doula have a higher likelihood of shorter labor, fewer interventions, and a more positive birth and postpartum experience. You still won’t be able to predict the twists and turns that your labor may take, but you’ll have someone in your corner every moment!
Have you had a doula at a birth? What was your favorite part of the experience? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
(Apologies for my stylistic inconsistencies.)
Katy Backes Kozhimannil, Rachel R. Hardeman, Laura B. Attanasio, Cori Blauer-Peterson, Michelle O’Brien, “Doula Care, Birth Outcomes, and Costs Among Medicaid Beneficiaries”, American Journal of Public Health 103, no. 4 (April 1, 2013): pp. e113-e121.
Will Chapple, MPH; Amy Gilliland, PhD, BDT(DONA); Dongmei Li, PhD; Emily Shier, MSEd, CD(DONA); Emily Wright, RN, BSN, CD(DONA) “An Economic Model of the Benefits of Professional Doula Labor Support in Wisconsin Births”, WMJ : official publication of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin. 112. 58-64.
MH Klaus, JH Kennell “The doula: an essential ingredient of childbirth rediscovered”, Acta Paediatrica. 86:10. (October 1997): 1034-1036
MH Klaus JH Kennel, PH Klaus Mothering the Mother Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Reading, Massachusetts: 1993
Campbell, Della A., et al. “A Randomized Control Trial of Continuous Support in Labor by a Lay Doula.” Journal of Obstestric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, vol. 35, no. 4, 2006, pp. 456-464.
Katy B. Kozhimannil, PhD, MPA,1 Larua B. Attanasio,1 Judy Jou, MPH,1 Lauren K. Joarnt,1 Pamela J. Johnson, PhD,2,3 and Dwenda K. Gjerdingen, MD4. “Potential benefits of increased access to doula support during childbirth”, The American Journal of Managed Care. 2014 Aug 1; 20(8): e340-e352.
“Benefits of a Doula Present at the Birth of a child”, Pediatrics. Nov 2004, 114 (Supplement 6) 1488-1491.
Doula? What's that?
If you’re asking, you're not the only one. A few years ago, I was asking that, too. And now I am a doula! Here's my story.
I love pregnancy. No, not the nausea or the joint pain or the fatigue, but the baby kicks, the hiccups, and the wonder of having another person (or two) inside my body! Breastfeeding, too, amazes me: my body, without my conscious thought, can produce all the necessary nutrients and even protective antibodies for my babies! With all three of my children (and two pregnancies), I've loved bonding with my babies through pregnancy and breastfeeding. My two birth experiences, however, were drastically different.
My first birth experience felt like a medical emergency. After five weeks of bed rest to hold back preterm labor, I returned to the hospital in active labor. I got an epidural because I'd read that's what you "should" do with twin pregnancies. Then I laid in bed and waited for this labor thing to happen.
After about four hours, I was told, "you've stopped progressing, so we're going to start Pitocin." I thought, "I've been lying in bed for five weeks trying NOT to have these babies, and now you're telling me my labor's moving too slowly?" I wanted desperately to do whatever would keep my babies safe and healthy, but I wasn't educated enough to know which procedures were recommended for safety, and which were offered for convenience or hospital efficiency. Not confident enough to ask, and being just generally compliant, I didn’t say anything.
The Pitocin didn't effectively accelerate my contraction pattern, so a few hours later, the doctor told me he was going to break my water. Again, I consented, not really knowing I had another choice.
Forty short minutes later, I was all but fully dilated and ready to push, when baby B's heart rate dropped. Giving me oxygen didn't help it rise, so an emergency cesarean was called. The second dose of my epidural hadn't quite kicked in, though, so I was given IV anesthesia that made me "a little loopy."
In just minutes, I was the proud mother of two tiny, beautiful, perfect daughters. But I didn't really remember their birth. I remembered swirling blue and white ceiling tiles and taking several minutes to recall my own name, my husband's name, and what was going on. I remembered trying to pucker my heavy lips to kiss my first daughter on the cheek, and the nurse writing a birth time on her arm.
When I became pregnant again two and a half years later, I knew I wanted this birth to be different. I'd always wanted an unmedicated birth, so I started planning for my unmedicated VBAC. I looked around for a birth class that fit me, and found Birth Boot Camp. They didn't have instructors in our area (at that time, Boston), but offered a ten-week online class that worked perfectly for our situation. Over the ten-week class, I learned about my body, how it was made to carry and birth babies, the benefits and risks of various interventions and procedures, and how to relax and work with my body.
“Birth is something that women do—not something that happens to them. The birth-giving woman is the central agent in the ancient drama of life bringing forth new life.”
-Ina May Gaskin
After my little boy was born, friends asked me how the birth was. "It was awesome!" I would say, and their faces would say, "no, Sara, I mean the part where you gave birth. How was that?"
Awesome. Amazing. Incredible. Knowing what my body was doing and that I was working to give life to my beautiful son, I labored in various positions, sounded out each contraction, listened to my body, and was flooded with natural oxytocin as he was brought to my chest. I couldn't get over how perfect this little person was, how amazing he smelled, and how hard we'd worked to meet each other. And I was just overcome with awe for the birthing mother's body.
I should mention, lest I'm misunderstood, that his birth wasn't amazing because it was easy or ideal or because I didn't feel any pain. I passed out and threw up in labor. I had a third-degree tear that took an hour of stitching to repair. But that didn't change my perception of the labor and birth process. What was different this time? To paraphrase Ina May Gaskin, I had been the agent in the process this time. Birth wasn't something that happened to me; I was a birth-giver.
I should also clarify that I don't believe that unmedicated vaginal birth is the only way to be a birth-giver, nor does having an unmedicated vaginal birth necessarily make a woman a birth-giver. A woman with a cesarean can be a birth-giver. A woman with an epidural can be a birth-giver. A woman with unforeseen complications, even medical emergencies, can be a birth-giver. Birth-givers have an active role in the work they're doing. They ask questions to gain understanding and make decisions. They are in awe of the beauty of birth.
A little while after my son's birth, Birth Boot Camp sent me an email advertising their doula training program. I archived it without much thought. A little while after that, I had a weird dream that I was with a friend as she was having a baby. When I told her about it, she said, "Were you my doula? You would be a great doula!"
Doula? Doula! I would be a great doula! I fished out that old email and started making plans. I chose a workshop, registered, started reading and watching and learning, and continued to feed my love for birth.
I believe that birth is beautiful. I want to help other women feel that way, too. So I became a doula.