Someone By My Side
“You’re a warrior goddess, you can do this!” I was deep in the throes of labor, experiencing the worst pain of my life. It was around 8:30 PM on April 26 and I was nowhere near ready to deliver my second daughter.
Over the pain, a soothing voice coached me through the contractions, while gentle hands rubbed my back and guided me through various laboring positions.
I didn’t feel much like a warrior goddess, whatever that means, but those words carried me through and helped me avoid an epidural a while longer.
As I labored through the night, my husband never once left my side. He held my hands and said encouraging words to me as I pushed for two hours. He kissed me when our daughter was finally born and I collapsed into tears.
He was a wonderful birth coach and the person I wanted next to me during labor and delivery.
But he wasn’t the only person in the room. On my other side, helping me get comfortable and breathe through the contractions was my doula, a woman I hired to be part of my birthing experience.
Our first daughter had been a scheduled C-section because she was in breech position. I never experienced a contraction or anything else relating to labor. My husband had never been a birth coach before.
I was determined to have a successful vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), but even the idea of going through labor terrified me. Still, I wanted to do everything in my power to achieve the delivery I hoped for.
To that end, after doing a ton of research, I decided to hire a doula.
I had never heard that term before my first pregnancy. A doula is defined as “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”
Historically, women have always been assisted through birth by other women. There are studies showing that having support from another woman has positively impacted the labor and delivery process.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says, “Continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by support personnel, such as a doula, is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor.”
Doula-assisted mothers are less likely to face birth complications or have babies with low birth weight. They are less likely to need Cesareans and more likely to breastfeed. Typically doula-assisted mothers have babies with high Apgar scores and need less painkillers.
My research into doulas showed me that a birth assistant would help me to feel safe, comfortable, supported and informed. A labor companion would help me design a birth plan and advocate for me during labor and delivery.
I spent a lot of time looking for a local doula that I felt comfortable with. Finally, I hired Heidi, a doula who specialized in music therapy for laboring moms.
We communicated initially through email and then met with her and my husband to go over her role and determine if she would be a good fit.
I connected with her quickly. We met three times in person before my due date. She was instrumental in supporting me through switching practices at 31 weeks when I discovered that my current doctors were not VBAC friendly as I had initially thought.
She never offered me medical advice, but she helped me to weigh out the pros and cons of changing practices without ever giving me her opinion.
I was upfront with Heidi about wanting a medicated birth. There was definitely going to be a moment when I would get an epidural. However, I wanted support in holding out as long as I could without one.
She helped us practice breathing and positions, keeping in mind that since I was a VBAC candidate that I would lack freedom of movement. I would be hooked up to monitoring machines during my entire labor. She answered my questions, or advised me to direct those questions to the doctor if they involved medical advice, which she is not trained to give. She worked with me to write a simple birth plan.
The morning my water broke, she was one of my first phone calls.
She arrived at the hospital around 7:45 that evening when I was in early active labor. While I was coping well when she first arrived, I was still in a lot of pain. She encourage my husband with his efforts to comfort me. When I felt most comfortable sitting in the bathroom, she asked the nurses to bring me a portable commode that I could sit on while still being hooked up to the monitoring machines.
When I requested an epidural around 9 PM, I was only 4 centimeters dilated. She did not discourage me in any way, even though I had hoped to make it to 7 centimeters before having pain medication. She encouraged me to rest after the epidural and helped me get comfortable when the doctor allowed me to labor down. I was fully dilated, but the baby still had not descended far enough for pushing. She helped me rest until I could push.
When I pushed, she held my leg and helped me breathe through the contractions. When I become too hot, she asked for a cool washcloth for my head. When I threw up, she held my hair back. She was on my right side for the entire process, while my husband was on my left.
When I finally delivered, she took incredible pictures of the moments after my daughter was born.
After the birth, we met once more in person and then had several check ins over skype and the phone up until my daughter turned a year old. She guided me through the early days when I was close to postpartum depression and she cheered us on as we got into a rhythm of being a family of four.
It was incredible to have that kind of support, especially after a second child when most people assume you know what you’re doing and don’t need any help.
To learn more about what a doula does and the different types of doulas, visit https://www.dona.org.
Most often the term doula refers to the birth doula, or labor support companion. However, there are also antepartum doulas and postpartum doulas. Most of the following information relates to the labor doula. Doulas can also be referred to as labor companions, labor support specialists, labor support professionals, birth assistants, or labor assistants.
Continuous labor support has many benefits for both mother and child. I firmly believe that I owe my VBAC success to Heidi, who helped prepare me for birth and who advocated for me and supported me during delivery and who continued to check in with me for months after. I’m so glad that I did the research and chose to have a doula help guide me through my second pregnancy.