A birth doula is like a library of tools for labor support that goes beyond the clinical skills a midwife or a doctor can offer you. Labor support is her specialty. That’s the whole reason she’s there. A midwife is there for your safety. That’s her primary role. Yes, she does also provide labor support, but that’s secondary to your safety. Doulas have unique skills to help you progress, feel more comfortable, and support you emotionally, spiritually, and physically, so you can have the best possible birth experience.
For this blog post, I’m referring to birth doulas. There are other kinds of doulas, too (LOVE THEM!). More on other doulas in a future blog post…
Doula work is HARD! It requires a strength that is almost impossible to put into words. Doula work and midwifery work are not the same. Sure, some doulas become midwives, and some midwives also do doula work. Our skills overlap in some areas. But, the roles are very different and require very different skill sets.
In addition to support for the mother, doulas are support for the mother’s partner. That, to me, is one of the biggest benefits of having a doula at a home birth. I’ve heard partners express concern that the doula will somehow replace him at the birth or diminish his role. Nothing could be farther from the truth! A good doula will help the partner so he can be the best possible support person. Sometimes, a little direction (“maybe try a little pressure here on her back”) or suggestion (“some labor aid might be good”) can be priceless when you’re going on very little sleep and are wondering what to do next. Sometimes, a break so the partner can get a catnap can help bring some fresh energy back to the room. Laboring women benefit from endorphins to help them get through the labor; laboring dads don’t, but they can hire a doula to help them out!
A mother talks about her home birth experience with her doula:
My doula taught my husband how to help me. She went so far as feeding him lines from the other side of the door where I couldn’t see her. That was what he and I needed. I needed reassurance from him and he didn’t know what to say. After our first birth with a doula, my husband said he didn’t want to have any more babies without her involved.
An experienced doula shares her own experience in having a doula serve her at her birth:
I had doulaed a few moms but had our first 5 children with only my husband. When our 6th came along a friend asked me if she could come to our birth and help as our doula. We decided to have her come, even though my husband was just perfect for me at our births. He is a man that NEVER shows emotions and says very few words. After that birth he said with GREAT EMOTION as he swung around and threw his hands in the air, ‘that was GREAT!!! I am NEVER doing that again with out a doula! It totally took the monkey off my back!!!’ We had a doula for the last 4 births. I loved it and he did too.
Doulas at home births can help in so many ways. Whether it’s taking pictures, cooking meals, making cold compresses, fanning mama when she’s hot and sweaty, giving a pep talk, massaging away a leg cramp, getting the birth pool ready… whatever… doulas are an important part of the birth team.
And, of course, whenever you plan a home birth, you do need to plan for the possibility of a home birth transfer to the hospital. It does happen sometimes. Your midwife will be with you as a support person, and depending upon the situation with her backup doctor it can be a really positive experience. But, experienced doulas are very accustomed to supporting women at hospital births. In fact, they may be better at supporting you at the hospital than many home birth midwives are (don’t throw rocks at me please, sisters!). Doulas just see a lot more hospital births than we do, have more experience with a wider variety of hospitals, and, for many reasons, are likely to feel more comfortable working in a hospital setting than we do.
Carte Blanche Birth Co.
Birth can be awesome, intense and transformative. My hope is for pregnant women and their partners to find their collective inner voice and author their own birth story.
Families ought to be respected, honored and loved during the birth process, not treated as patients along for the ride. I help mothers and their partners explore their options during pregnancy so they can make whatever decisions are best for their family. As a doula, I support whatever those are. I believe in you, your body and your baby.