I didn’t have a doula with me when I had my first child. Even though a good friend of mine is a doula and I respected the work that she did, I thought it sounded a bit weird to have a stranger involved in something sure to be so intimate, and so gross.
I was wrong.
I have a lovely son who came into being via a not-so-lovely emergency C-section. The second time around, I was determined to have a different experience. I set my mind on a Vaginal Birth After Delivery (VBAC) and engaged a doula to support me in getting there.
I found an experienced doula who had supported many VBACs — and looked a bit like Tori Amos, which I found comforting. We had several meetings during my pregnancy, during which I exhaustively shared my pregnancy symptoms and motivations to have a VBAC: faster healing, the need to run around after a toddler, an elemental desire to complete labor (I have always been very goal oriented).
This decision to hire a doula to support my second birth felt like an investment in my goal and in myself. It ultimately paid off with a beautiful baby girl who came into the world “the old fashioned way.” My doula provided a wide range of support, including:
My goal was to get into active labor before asking for an epidural, as I was pretty sure that an early epidural had slowed my progression the first time around. My doula used massage, essential oils, a TENS machine, a birthing ball, breathing coaching, and other strategies to help me bear it. She also helped me with the nitrous machine provided by the hospital, which I never quite got the hang of but helped me feel like I was doing something.
I am a firm believer in Western medicine and feel safest giving birth in hospitals. I trust that doctors and nurses have my best interests in mind and will do everything they can to ensure a healthy baby, and a healthy mom. They will keep you monitored, hydrated, and as medicated as you want to be. They will not, however, overly concern themselves with your mental state or how you are feeling emotionally during the incredibly intense experience of childbirth. A doula can, and will.
It can be hard for the non-birthing partner to know how to provide support. My husband was with me, but didn’t know what to do with himself the first time around. The doula gave him suggestions and small tasks to help. We were both grateful, him even more so after she got him a sandwich and encouraged him to eat after hours by my side.
From helping me try new positions to get the baby to descend the birth canal to literally holding one of my legs during pushing, my doula helped me meet the exhausting physical challenges of birth. The labor and delivery nurse holding the other leg must have had a second career as a CrossFit trainer, yelling at me to “push with my butt!” over and over again. My doula held my other leg, let me crush her hand with my pain-stricken grip, and looked me in the eye which helped me to feel human in an animal moment.
C-sections are difficult, with protracted healing and unexpected issues . Vaginal birth is incredibly difficult, even before you get to the hell of pushing. Frankly, if it weren’t for my beautiful babies, I wouldn’t recommend either experience. A few minutes into pushing out my daughter, I wanted to give up. I begged to give up. My doula wouldn’t let me, and her words and encouragement helped me dig into the last reserve of strength I had in order to get through the “ring of fire” after two hours of pushing.
Recovery and celebration.
After the doctors cleaned my daughter and placed her on my chest, my doula gazed at her in wonder, despite this being one of hundreds of babies which she had helped to deliver. She congratulated me, assured me that I had done it all myself, and then got me a sandwich. She waited to make sure all of us were okay before heading home to her own kids. A few weeks later she visited me to check in on my postpartum experience and told me I had great boobs, which the perfect complement to an exhausted, bleeding, and breastfeeding new mom.
My entire care team, including my doctors, was supportive of my goal to have a healthy VBAC, but I am convinced that my doula played a crucial role in making sure I could actually do it. This is not a prescription. Every birth is different, departure from your plan is not failure, and a healthy baby to love is really the only success that matters. But if you’ve made up your mind to try for a VBAC, hire a doula to be in your corner and no matter what happens, you’ll thank yourself later.