Guest Post – Jessica Roberts

On why hiring a doula is worth “every last red cent!”

Miss Rosalind, so lovely!

This happy girl is the product of two doting and enamored parents. She’ll probably be told the story of her birth one day, but it won’t be the usual “this many hours of terrible labor!” version. It will be one about the joys, happiness and wonders of giving birth. It won’t be about ME – but about what WE had to do together. I know the baby has a lot to do in the labor too. I learned that from my doula.

I decided to write this because every night even now I put the baby to bed smelling the diffused essential oil our doula, InsightDoula, gave us that calms us both, and she continues to be a positive influence in our lives even though we hardly ever get to see her. But the one negative thing I remember from my pregnancy was all the explaining and justifying I had to do over my adamant decision to hire this doula. Throughout my entire pregnancy, people responded to me mentioning our doula with “What’s a doula?” or questioning the need for all that cost or insinuating I was replacing John for emotional support, or reacting as if I had gone off a hippie deep-end.

It’s true doulas tell you about naturopathic/holistic health things to prepare and endure through labor. It’s true they give priceless emotional support, and it’s true that at first the price tag can be surprising. But let me tell you, it is worth every last red cent, the homeopathic recommendations are steeped in science, and no one will ever replace or misplace John for my emotional support.

First of all, let me tell you what a doula does. A doula is a trained pregnancy, labor and delivery support person who can make your birthing experience a positive and healthy one in a number of ways. In fact, doulas:
-decrease the risk of c-sections by 39%
-shorten labors by 40 minutes on average
-decrease the chance of postpartum depression. 
-understands and can educate you through the anatomical birthing process
-know all kinds of tips and tricks to help you manage through contractions
-prepare you mentally and physically for the birth in advance. 
-usually are aware of all the latest evidence-based research on pregnancy, labor, and birth or can at least direct you to it
-are invaluable at directing you to the many free services and resources available in your community most of your friends won’t even know exist.
source: https://evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/

It was the latter two things I was after originally, but I reaped the benefits of all the above.

For example, my doula taught us that eating dates daily helps to shorten labor and prepare your cervix for easier birth. That sounds like hippie stuff, but the study abstract from the National Institutes of Health can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21280989.

My active labor and delivery ended up being only 5.5 hours even with an epidural (which slows it down), being a first time mother, an 8.5 pound baby, and a stall due to a complication.

It’s important to pair a doula with a doctor who supports mothers who are empowered to be part of their medical decisions and who want a doula. I don’t think there’s a better doctor on the planet than Dr. Sara Gerhards at Pacific Women’s Center. Both my doctor and my doula knew I had an appreciation for the science, and during my labor at one point my doctor brought me print outs of study statistics to help me make a key decision. My doula talked with me about the likely pain, time, worries and outcomes of our options – and both allowed me to make the decision for myself.

Unfortunately after our daughter arrived, I had a pretty uncommon bad reaction to the epidural (that I only had to get to deal with the complication) and a rapid response team was called in to help me regain consciousness, get my blood pressure back up out of the basement (it dropped to 53/18), and my heart rate back up to normal levels.

My doula was luckily there to help show us how to guide the baby to latch for breastfeeding afterwards and make sure we still got plenty of skin to skin contact despite my arms being hard to move due to all the IVs and blood pressure cuffs, etc. restricting my movement. Usually a nurse could help you do that, but my nurse was having to attend to keeping me alive. This can happen, and we would have been fumbling, completely inexperienced, to learn to do it on our own.

I think a lot of points through my birthing experience would probably have been pretty dramatic and maybe even traumatizing to process afterwards if it had not been for my doula. It’s pretty commonly known mothers process their birthing experiences for the rest of their lives, but not many people talk about it or what that means for mental health. And yet, still only 6% of women are taking doulas into their deliveries with them. I’ll never forget a question our doula brought up in our childbirth classes:

“Raise your hand if you think the best coaches are those who have never played the sport they coach”

Doulas have attended far more births than any mother (although most doulas are also mothers). They don’t have to remember things from that one class that one night after work like most people are expecting their partners to – they have the experience and just habitually know what to do. They teach even the labor and delivery nurses a few tricks they haven’t seen before. Finally, they allow your partner to be just what they always are – the person who loves you, holds your hand, cheers you on, and helps to soothe your mind without them having to stress about coaching you through a sport they know nothing about.

Take a look at this article about the myths of doulas: http://thedoulahouse.com/5-doula-myths-debunked/

I agree wholeheartedly with the part about the expensive cribs, diaper genies, etc. No one questions that expense but they quickly get a judgey eye as soon as you say the word doula. I know people who spend as much or more on a fancy pram/stroller than it cost for our doula’s services and I would throw my stroller and most of our baby’s stuff in the river before I would give up my experience with our doula.

I realize most of my friends who will see this are already past the milestone of starting their families, but I hope you save this info in that brain of yours somewhere, and share it with your own kids when the time comes. Or at least now when you hear someone mention their doula, you’ll know what it is!

Now, don’t even get me started on the value of a postpartum doula during those first few tender weeks at home…

Such a precious family!

Why should I take an independent childbirth education course?

I’ve heard expecting mothers and the people around them make a number of different statements about why they don’t think they need childbirth classes.  As a birth doula, childbirth educator, and mother of five, I’d like to address some of these statements.

Women have been doing this forever.  I’ll just know what to do. 

I have this image of a time long ago, when we all lived in villages and women had babies in their homes, without a lot of ceremony.  Maybe you have an image like this in your mind too.  In this view of the history of women, taking a childbirth class seems like a waste of time and money.  But women who lived in these times witnessed the realities of birth – not the dramatic recreations we see on tv, or even the sweet snippets of peaceful waterbirths we can find on youtube.  Young girls witnessed their mothers, aunts, neighbors, cousins, and sisters labor and give birth.  They may have seen mothers and infants die in the process.  They probably saw women who seemed to cope well with the challenges of labor, and women who struggled and suffered.  They may or may not have been able to identify what factors made the difference between coping and suffering.

Many women today have never witnessed a birth, except made-for-tv-dramatizations.  The stories we hear tend to revolve around doctors and hospital procedures and sometimes, horror stories.  The process of birth is the same for us today as it was for those village women who birthed in the distant past, but our view of birth is very different – mostly because we barely have a view of it at all! Childbirth education provides a clear framework for understanding what is happening in the mother’s body – the physiological, hormonal, and emotional changes that mark the progression from the first contractions to birth.  This understanding helps a mother and her partner translate the physical experience of labor into a journey with mile markers, provisions (tools and skills), and warning signs.  Everybody wants a map when they’re traveling a new road!

My hospital or doctor’s office provides a childbirth class for free (or at a very low cost).  Why would I pay to take an independent childbirth education course?

Childbirth classes offered by hospitals and doctor’s offices tend to be orientation sessions for what you should expect from your care provider and what they will expect from you.  But a good independent childbirth education course typically spans  8 to 16 hours of instruction, covers “normal” birth, variations on “normal”, the benefits, risks, and alternatives to common medical interventions, coping techniques, various positions for labor, laboring with an epidural, and what happens in the event of a c-section.  It will also help you prepare for breastfeeding, caring for a newborn, and transitioning to your new role as a parent.  A great independent childbirth education course is interactive, engaging, and approaches learning from a number of different angles in order to reach parents with the teaching style they are most responsive to.  Childbirth education empowers you to be an informed consumer of the care offered by your doctor or midwife, hospital or birth center.

My doctor or midwife (or doula) will be there to tell me what is happening and what I need to do.

Ina May Gaskin has said this, describing childbirth, “Don’t think of it as pain, think of it as an interesting sensation that requires all of your attention.”  Birth is an experience that calls upon every physical, emotional, and spiritual resource you possess.  Strength, endurance, patience, commitment, love, passion, and courage.  The last thing you’ll want to be doing during labor is getting a lesson on effacement, meconium, how long this will last, and why your legs are shaking.   Find a great independent childbirth education course in your community today!

If you are in the Eugene/Springfield area, I offer just such a class.  Check it out, and register here!