To put it plainly, having a Doula changed my life - as well as that of my daughter's, even before she arrived. Not exaggerating there. The experience of having a Doula changed my pregnancy, my birth experience, my perspective on advocating for my own medical care and that of my family, my views on work life balance, my perception of myself as a woman, and as a mother.
I grew up in the Midwest, and had pretty mainstream, conservative views when it came to pregnancy and childbirth. That may actually be an overstatement, because it implies I had some extensive viewpoint to begin with. I really didn't. I am NOT a woman who'd had lifelong visions of having babies, and hadn't put a whole lot of thought at ALL into what the process would be like. I was blown away at the prospect of it actually, once it was upon me. One of my dearest friends initially introduced me to the concept during her pregnancy with the ray of sunshine that would become my goddaughter (long before I myself became pregnant). Living in a pretty progressive area, I also wound up with several other close friends, as well as some vague acquaintances, who had used Doulas and had very high recommendations about the process. Curious what all the buzz was about, I investigated.
In my opinion, every woman who sees a positive sign on that at-home pregnancy stick should 1) go get a blood test & confirm it; 2) get an awesome OBGYN; and 3) GET A DOULA. Not necessarily in that order... a doula's perspective is helpful in selecting an OBGYN. So maybe do that first ; ) Also, make sure your doc is one who respects the Doula's involvement and is open to their participation. Some will say they are, despite it still rubbing their ego the wrong way, but to at least have a basic agreement that it's your preference and they'll support it is key.
OK, why do I think Doula's are the end-all-be-all? Here are some of the reasons, also doubling as a stab at dispelling some highly inaccurate preconceptions about Doulas. After all, it's a funny word to begin with -- and despite the increasing popularity of using a Doula, many may dismiss them as some hippy-dippy, earth-mother concept (which I'd debate as not being a bad thing in the first place, but one thing at a time). Which, they are in some ways... but in all the good ways ; )
- This is not your momma's doula. Or rather, a Doula is not your mother - nor intended to replace her or usurp her. There are some pretty deep-rooted conventions about your mom and/or mother-in-law's involvement in this process. This plan really is not optimal for the following reasons: 1) Your mom is WAY too emotionally invested to help give impartial advice or guidance, particularly in the heat of the moment. 2) It's probable that it's been at LEAST a couple of decades since your mother gave birth, and things DO change. Plus memories fade. AND using your mother as a birth coach or counselor of any kind is preconditioned by you two having identical value systems and philosophies on the birth process (often not the case at all, whether you realize it or not at the time). Another key factor is that any form of a birth coach should ideally be much more than a cheerleader. Doulas provide instructional, step by step direction, which is so necessary. So much of what's written and told about the whole process is sort of vague and nonspecific, leaving parents to be blindsided when the nitty gritty specifics start presenting themselves (that goes for pregnancy, birth, and child rearing as well). Note: A doula is also NOT the same a a nurse nor the in-hostpital lactation consultants. By and large, they are incredibly over-worked and understaffed, and simply don't have the time and focus to invest with each woman on the personal level that's necessary. They also can't benefit from the pre-established relationship that a Doula has with her client. It's pretty hard to go from 0 to 60 with a total stranger coaching you in such an intimate situation.
- Doulas ROCK for Dads. One of the major indicators we had to get a Doula was that about half a dozen different MEN in my husband's social circle insisted it was the best thing ever. It takes enormous pressure off of the father to be the sole support system - allowing him to actually engage and participate in his own way AND in more meaningful ways b/c he actually has some guidance as to what his role can be. A Doula helps dads cue in on how they can be productive and helpful (often something guys are at a loss for during this process). Many of the things that men think will help actually can do quite the opposite in these circumstances, and the Doula can help clear a lot of that up -- which comes much better from her as an impartial yet invested third party, as opposed to coming from their hormonal partner. But most importantly, your Doula will help dad have an really genuine participatory role, not just an outdated bystander. AND this role will be customized to what he as an individual is personally comfortable with, which is key. What stands to be gained here is HUGE -- a deeper, more established connection to baby that lasts a lifetime. What my husband established with our daughter from her first breath on could never really be replaced or "caught up." Considering our culture demands that dads go back to work shockingly fast after a new baby, this is an even more crucial opportunity to take advantage of. After all, the woman is physically carrying the child for nearly a year -- it's only logical that dad could use some help catching up.
- A Doula is NOT your doctor. Your doctor is there for a very specific reason -- to keep you and your child alive and physically / medically out of harms way. Not to coddle you, or even ensure your basic comforts for that matter. By contrast, your Doula IS there to guide you emotionally and to a certain extent spiritually. She is to remind you of your original intentions when the going gets rough and you want to bail on the whole plan and opt for things you'd previously found barely remote options. She's there to center you amidst the chaos AND the calm, whichever the case may be. The concept of women helping women through childbirth is old as time, and I can honestly say I understand why. But most of all, she's there to ADVOCATE. She knows all the medical jargon and lingo (and can translate!), she knows how to work in concert with the nurses and doctors (balancing the turf issues with diplomacy). If you do not have an empowered, informed, experienced advocate in this process, you will get trampled by the system and loose your own personal stake in what is the most personal journey of your life. That sounds melodramatic, I realize. However, it's really not an overstatement.
- A Doula is a compass to navigate our convoluted health care system. The variety of topics to understand when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth, and early stages of child rearing is positively daunting. Many phenomenon, such as the rise of pre-scheduled deliveries, dramatic increase of C-sections over the years, and vaccination issues, can make for a minefield of decision making that most average people are ill-equipped and under informed to deal with. Having a trusted and informed resource at your disposal is priceless. PARTICULARLY one who is diplomatic and refrains from influencing the info provided with their own personal views. I suppose that can be one pitfall of the Doula process -- you need to find one who is not a zealot or extremist. This is one of the many reasons I adore our Doula. While she does have VERY specific and at times polarizing views -- she never for a moment skewed us or pressed us in any one direction. She only kept us true to our own hearts and minds and helped us to navigate this intense road. I felt totally in control and not pushed or pressured. Whether I opted for full tilt boogie drugged up labor, or all bets off natural (or what ultimately happened - somewhere in between) -- I knew I 'd have her complete support and dedication. I find that quite incredible.
- A Doula helps you build the essential self confidendce that enables you to OWN one of the most Empowering experiences of your life. I feel quite passionately about this. Whether you have a natural birth or not, there is a way for ANY scenario to provide a woman with an incredible experience of feeling like you just conquered the world (and you basically DID -- a whole human is now here who wasn't just moments ago!!). To have that robbed from you by blindly following a set path that's not based at all on helping you achieve this immense accomplishment -- but rather based on outdated traditions, convenience for health insurance companies, and totally hampered by an overtaxed and under performing medical system -- well, that's just tragic. If you can experience this process in a positive and liberating way, it's something you'll draw on for the rest of your life -- in every aspect of your life. Let ALONE the dramatic effect of entering into an unbelievably challenging first year of raising baby. You can enter that phase full, empowered, and balanced -- or, you can enter it drained, defeated and unconfident. That all depends on your pregnancy and birth experience.
- Doulas open up a whole world of ideas. From tried and true tips and tricks, to entire parenting philosophies, a Doula is an immeasurable resource. As I mentioned, I didn't come to this process with many preconceived notions. In the end, my eyes were SO much more open to some really wonderful new ideas and ways of doing things. In fact, several of the things that our Doula presented, which my husband and I found to be curious or "not for us," wound up being the best decisions we made in the whole shebang. I feel totally confident in saying that our daughter's well being is directly related to having had a Doula involved. From the moment she arrived, we had almost entirely positive ... well, results. Funny word to use for it, but it seems fitting. Were there challenges? Um, TONS!! But on the whole, our daughter is incredibly balanced, confident, capable, open, and Alive in the most wonderful sense of the word. I attribute MUCH of that to the start and style in which she arrived.
- Um... there's a mini-human in our house.. NOW WHAT?!? We got the full Doula package, with post-partum included. This means, the Doula comes HOME WITH YOU... how freaking great is that?! We got an incredible start with private, personal, hands-on, in-home tutorial in everything from feeding, bathing, swaddling, swinging... the whole nine yards. PRICELESS!!!! Seriously, to have totally customized guidance based on your personal capability, beliefs, values, lifestyle and equipment is just as ideal as you can get.
Some tips about finding and paying for a Doula:
- MEET YOUR DOULA IN PERSON!! This is not even optional. You need to have at least one live, in-person meeting for a substantial amount of time. You're going to be in some incredibly intimate situations with this person, and you'll wind up divulging all your deepest personal issues (she gets a REAL up close look at your marriage ; ) -- you need to have good chemistry and a real trust with her. Don't compromise on this, or you could jeopardize the whole benefit.
- It's worth EVERY penny. Period. Doula services can range from as low as $300 (in smaller cities and with minimal services, probably birth-only) to $1500 (in bigger cities and with more full-service packages that include pre-birth sessions and post-partum sessions). When you actually add up how much time "on-call" they spend, as well as a what's typically quite a lot of time for the actual birth process alone, this really isn't much at all. It's just a value thing -- it's incredibly worthwhile and the benefits are easily worth the cost. My experience was so amazing I'd pay easily double for it, seriously. I'd so love to see the day where it's just standard course for every pregnant woman to have a Doula, just as you have an OBGYN.
Naturally, there are good and bad people in every profession. This review, and my experience, is based on having an exceptional Doula. I'm sure others may have had different experiences.. though I've never met a single one ; ) I've only heard rave reviews, and they're from dozens of different couples.
I'm sure there are pithier and probably even more compelling accounts of the benefits of Doulas out there, but this is just my take. I'd say do your research and see if it's right for you. I'd also say that since having my daughter, I've witnessed easily a dozen other experiences that had a variety of outcomes -- some great, some not so wonderful, which were significantly impacted by the choice of using a Doula (or not). Of COURSE there are a huge host of other factors, many of which beyond anyone's control, that can determine the quality and nature of your pregnancy and birth experience. There are no guarantees for smooth sailing. In my view, that's just all the more reason to arm yourself with this wealth of a support system.
Ultimately, I feel strongly that there is no right or wrong way to have a baby. There is only YOUR way, what's right for you. I think our society could stand for a major adjustment in the uber-judgmental way we act about procreation and child rearing. It's so acutely personal, that to assume you have the answers for other people's journey is ludicrous. A culture-shift to one of mutual support and respect for the wide variety of approaches would benefit us all greatly. So, whatever your path... good luck, enjoy, and congratulations!! : ) Link to original article http://lunch.com/t/k2d