Dou-la: definition: a person trained to attend to a woman before, during and/or after childbirth, by providing physical assistance and emotional support.
The birth of a child is a lot like a wedding day, it is yours, it is something no one can take away from you. You spend months planning for it, you have this vision of how it will go, BUT…it doesn’t always happen as planned. When I told my husband I wanted to hire a doula for the birth of our baby, he was skeptical, particularly since I had been clear that I didn’t want friends or family present for the birth.
Part of my motivation for hiring a doula was fear. I had heard horror stories of birth, and it truly scared me. The idea of having someone who had been present at other births before mine, and knew more about what to expect was comforting to me. In addition, I was very worried about my husband. He is a remarkable husband who was right there with me through my 3 days of labor (I’ll come back to that), but had we been having our baby 30 years ago, he would have been perfectly happy to wait in the waiting room. Birth is not something he finds awe-inspiring, interesting, or beautiful. I loved watching the birth videos during our Bradley Birth Class. I really wanted an unmedicated birth, and while my husband appreciated and supported my desire, he would have been happy if I had wanted an epidural and full medical intervention. I knew that watching me in hard labor would be painful for him, and I wanted someone to be there for him.
In truth, convincing my husband to hire a doula wasn’t that hard to do. The idea of someone else who knew what she was doing and what I was supposed to be doing was a relief for him. Having someone there to guide both of us through the process and support our birth plan seemed like a good idea. Next we told our families, and although they needed some explanation of what a doula was, they were the wonderful and supportive family that they always are.
My husband loves to tell people that I was in labor for 3 days, like it were a war story, or something we were lucky to survive. I truly believe that we would not have survived my 3 days of labor without our doula, Dorin. We knew that as a first-time mom, I was likely to have a long labor, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, prepared me for the weekend of labor. I started having contractions Thursday afternoon. Like any first-time mom, I was ready to meet my son and so was excited that it was finely time. My contractions weren’t too strong the evening, so we had dinner and went to bed.
Early Friday morning my contractions woke me up and continued to be strong through the day. Dorin came over to my house. I was having a hard time staying calm and finding a comfortable position in which to labor. She got me settled with a rice sock on my belly and back and we worked on relaxation techniques. I really thought this would be the day my son was born. However, by 6 pm my contractions slowed down and spaced father apart. My husband and I decided to lay down and try to get some rest, and Dorin headed home to get some dinner.
Dorin had received a text from another mom, pregnant with her second child. She was having contractions, but was certain the baby was not coming tonight. She and her husband had tickets to Cirque du Soleil and she was going to the circus! Dorin was pretty sure they were not going to make it to the circus, and we agreed that unless my labor kicked into high gear she would attend the other birth. At 10:30 that night, I woke up to more contractions, and labored for another few hours. My husband (and mother) were beginning to get nervous that something was wrong, since I had been laboring for 24 hours, but my labor kept starting and stopping. We decided to head to the hospital to see how I was progressing and make sure the baby was doing well. As we drove to the hospital, we agreed that if I was less then 5 cm dilated we would head home and labor there some more. I was so nervous I would be 4 cm and consider staying, but as it turned out I was only 3 cm and the baby’s heart rate looked great. Dorin was a trouper and met us at the hospital after attending to the birth of the mom, who was planning on going to the circus that night, but instead gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
While we were at the hospital, my contractions slowed way down and we headed home to get some sleep. Saturday morning I woke up not really feeling like I was in labor. I spent the day sitting in the recliner, watching the Houston Rodeo on TV having contractions every 45 min or so. For those of you not from Houston, the Rodeo is a BIG thing here, and if my son was going to be born in Texas (we moved here the summer before) I figured I better learn something about it.
Labor re-started early Sunday morning, and this time I had the feeling this was it. I really hoped it was, because although Saturday was a pretty relaxing day, it had been a long weekend. Dorin came to the house while I labored, and then accompanied us to the hospital later that evening. My mother pulled me aside to tell me how happy she was that we had Dorin, and that while she had questioned the decision, she didn’t any longer. During my weekend of labor, Dorin helped me to find comfortable birthing positions, encouraged me when I needed it, comforted me when I needed it, she DJ’d for me and endured listening to the same song over and over and over again, because it was a song I used to run to and helped me “get into the zone” for labor. She told us to rest when we needed to, eat when we needed to (but didn’t necessarily want to), and to relax when we needed to. She was my comfort, my support and my friend.
The end of my labor was not pretty; I stalled at 7 cm for 3 hrs (69 hours after I had started labor)… I was exhausted and really didn’t think I could do anymore. I didn’t know the strength I had inside of me. She showed me it was there, and helped me harness it to give birth to my beautiful son at 1 am Monday morning. I know that if it were not for Dorin, I would not have found that strength inside me, and for that I am eternally grateful. My birth could have gone many other ways; I know that if it were not for Dorin, it most likely would have gone differently. She helped us develop our birth plan, stick to it, and when things did not go as planned, she helped us decide how to proceed. She was the calm voice of reason when both my husband and myself were too tired and too emotional to be calm. That is why I encourage everyone I know who is pregnant to consider a doula. You might not have 3 days of labor. You might have the 6 hr labor that the mom who wanted to go to the circus had, but it is called labor for a reason. It is hard. A doula is there for you in what may well be the hardest work your body will ever do.
* Footnote: 3 weeks later, I attended my first North Houston Babywearers meeting, and met Mama Mary and her 3-week-old daughter. In passing she made a comment that her daughter had come early and she and her husband had missed Circle do Soleil. Mama Mary was Dorin’s other client that weekend. We had never met and never guessed that a year and a half later we would launch Woodland Babies along with Mama Emily.