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.