Four Tips for Choosing A Birth Doula
I don't think I could ever have a baby without a doula. Both of my doulas were so special and so necessary to getting my babies earth side. Before becoming pregnant and planning my own labor, I thought doulas and midwives were one in the same but that is just not the truth. Doulas serve a really special and unique role during the birth experience and I thought I would take a few moments to talk about doula births and why I have continued to make having a doula present a part of my birth plan.
What Is The Difference Between A Midwife and A Doula?
So the first question you might be asking is what is the difference between a doula and a midwife? A question that I had myself. A doula and midwife offer different types of services to support childbirth. A midwife has the medical training needing during the birth process to focus on supporting the birth of a healthy baby and their job is to make sure your baby makes it earth side, alive and well and that you don't suffer any medical problems or surprises during the process, while a doula provides the focus and attention on the needs of the mother by offering mental, physical, emotional and even spiritual support.
If you have a doula, you can also have a midwife. They are a beautiful partnership for a fun authentic birth experience, but if you have your baby in a hospital you can also opt for both because many hospital offer a midwifery program OR you can have a traditional hospital birth and hire a doula to come and be your support when in the hospital room. I personally have done both.
With Wisdom, I opted to give birth with a midwife at a birth center and brought my doula with me along for the experience. This second time around, because of the high-risk nature of my pregnancy I would need to have several doctors monitoring my labor experience and so I was not allowed to have a non-traditional birth, but I chose to still bring my doula along with me to the hospital because I knew I would need the additional support that only a doula could provide.
What Does A Doula Do And Why Are They Beneficial?
As I mentioned above, a doula is available to provide support to the mother exclusively. Where the doctor or the mid-wife are focused on the baby, the doula exists to bring attention to the needs of the mother and act as an advocate and voice for the mother when she finds herself unable or too tired to talk for herself. The word "doula" comes from ancient Greek and means "woman's servant," because that was their job during those times, to serve the woman. Much like in Ancient Greece, the doula is on hand to provide support for the mother in ways that others cannot. They do this by communicating your birth plan to your provider and reminding the partner of your wishes OR the agreed upon plan when things get a little hairy in the labor room. They also help coach the mother through breathing, provide massages, natural ways to work through pain and provide emotional support and encouragement to the mother.
Coming into this second birth, I knew I needed a doula because there is a certain kind of attention and care I need when giving birth that my husband isn't able to provide and a really important part of the birth experience is knowing what you need and knowing who the right people are that you can put into place to provide that for you. My births tend to be very long, painful and hard. In both births, I have labor for more than 30 hours before getting drugs and I rarely dilate without some type of intervention. I have found myself, in both situation, in a tremendous amount of pain and extremely exhausted. Having a doula present to help pace me through that process has been absolutely necessary in making sure my births haven't ended in Cesarean sections, which for me, is something I had hoped not to experience. The other thing that has made having a doula powerful for me is them being on the journey with me and assuring me that it is okay to transition into another plan and knowing that together, in partnership, that we exhausted every option before we headed into a different direction.
A doula also can help you:
track your birth and the sensations, contractions and changes in your process
set up a birth pooling, home birth situation or help you get settled into the hospital or birth center
will collaborate with your partner or spouse to help make you comfortable and to support you in the best way possible
focus on your breathing and provide breathing exercises
communicate on your behalf and keep the joy and peace in the room
help your partner or spouse feel confident and keep them calm when crisis comes up
take pictures and video
clean up after you
help you with breastfeeding
get excited with you, cry with you and pray with you
get their hands dirty
Is It Worth It To Get A Doula?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Is it worth it to have more love? That is really the question you are asking. If you have a good doula there is ONLY a return on your investment over and over again. Doulas are so equipped to manage births and to help you manage yours. They can speak for you when you can't. They have the tricks to move you through labor as quickly and efficiently as possible - ideas and techniques that we would never come up with or think about on our own. They have experienced so many births they have catalog of examples to pull from to support and walk you through almost any situation that might come up and/or occur and they become your personal assistant during birth. Who doesn't want that type of care and attention when bringing a human into the world? And it doesn't stop there, they are happy to support you and provide services for as long and as often as you need it after birth. Breastfeeding support? They are there. Additional help transitioning into motherhood, they can come to your side or provide resources. They are a wealth of knowledge that runs deep and worth every single penny. My first time around, my doula was also a photographer so I got some pretty special pictures laboring with Wisdom that only a photographer/doula would know to capture. It was so special.
Tips For Finding A Doula and Picking A Doula
When choosing or looking for a doula, here are a few tips to get started:
Make sure your doula is DONA certified (or on their way to a DONA certification.) One of the ways to know that your doula is the real deal and not playing one on television is to make sure that they are certified. DONA International is the world's first, largest and leading doula certifying organization. They make sure that doulas meet the standard of doula education and training and that your doula isn't out there serving up the okey doke. You want a professional, not someone who is out here play playing on your birth.
Trust your instincts. Once your know that your doula is legit, you have to lean into your own feelings about your doula. Do you feel this person is the right person for the job? Can you be comfortable inviting them into the most intimate space of your life? Can they meet your needs? Is there a connection? Can you see a long-term relationship with this person? Because the likelihood that this person will be in your life is HIGH so think "would I be friends with this person? Would I invite them into my life?" Just because the doula is a doula does not mean they are the right doula for you. In the case of both my doulas, the answer is "yes," and they are both a special part of our family's life, so trust your gut and follow your heart.
Make Sure Your Values Align. You are inviting a stranger into one of the most personal moments of your life. Do your values, ideologies and beliefs align? Do they come close? When you ask for scripture, are they going to know what you are talking about and believe in the power of prayer? Will they share your same views and approaches to labor and delivery and do they truly believe what you believe. Being aligned with your support is the smartest and wisest decision you can make. It cuts down on confusion and guarantees that you are speaking the same language.
Ask For Referrals. The best way to find a reputable doula is to ask those who believe in doula births. Everyone who has had a great experience with a doula wants everyone they know to also have that same experience. If you are looking for a midwife or a doula, ask those who have had one or wish they did and you will find some of the best in the game.
I had two different birth experiences with two different doulas and BOTH were absolutely incredible for very different reasons and I would recommend either of them to anyone who asked and was looking.
Why I Loved My Doula Birth
I loved my doula birth because I knew that my needs would be met. I knew that I would be heard and I knew the wishes I had for my birth, as extravagant and wild as they might be would be seen, understood, honored and carried out. A few examples of those request include:
an atmosphere of joy and peace
worship music at all times and essential oils on my skin and pillows
a charcuterie board and La Croix sparkling water
that Wisdom would be in the room no matter what time it was that labor started and that nothing started without her (she got the call at 3:15a to come to the hospital)
that I was drug-free for as long as realistically possible, but that I was also encouraged to take the drugs when it appeared I had reached my limit
that no one announced the gender of the baby and that I was told by my husband what we had (she was a surprise - and he announced the wrong gender at first)
that no larnyx was removed from the baby and that they were immediately placed on my chest for the Breast Crawl
that my new baby was prayed into the world
that Wisdom would be the first person (after me) to hold the baby
making sure that I saw the placenta
that I was never rushed into making any decisions and that I was able to take my time
This experience was all the more special because the doula for Courage's birth happened to be a young woman who's senior pictures we did back in 2015. Kate hired us for senior pictures and we had a blast. One day, while scrolling Instagram and catching up on what our alumni were doing, I saw that Kate had changed her bio to "doula." I immediately reached out and asked what she charged and if she might be interested in doing my birth and she replied back that she was in training and wasn't charging. I still wanted her there. Something inside felt that it was right. It has always been important to me to provide space and opportunity for young people (especially young women) to pursue their passions and Kate being my doula felt so aligned with everything I believe about my purpose on earth and what it is that I am supposed to be doing, so I didn't take "no" for an answer.
Kate was the VERY best decision I could have made for my birth. She brought such a beautiful care and spirit to the room. She was so hands on, so wise in her approach to labor, so passionate and so connected to me and my needs. I didn't know until after Courage that my birth ended up being her first because every birth before mine didn't work out or happened so fast she wasn't able to make it on time. For context, at the time of Courage's birth, Kate was a full-time senior with a full class load at the most prestigious university in our state and hour away. During a snow storm, in the middle of class, she walked out and found he way to Tacoma and stayed with me for 2.5 days until Courage was born and even after. She was awake every moment I was awake and never left my side. She served me in a way that I will never forget and will always be a special part of my story, my family's story and most importantly Courage's story. We could not, I could not have done this without Kate and I would never have another baby without her special care.
It was beyond special to share such an important moment in my life with this young girl who had 4 years earlier given me the opportunity to share a transitional moment of hers. I will never forget how special and full circle having Kate there was for me.
Kate in 2015 as a senior in high school above and Kate one week after Courage was born below.
I could not think of a more special experience then inviting a doula into your birth. There is a magic that they bring to the table that only they can provide and bonus points if you have a personal relationship with them OR if you are supporting someone in realizing a dream of theirs, like Kate did me and I was able to do for her. Is a doula worth it? Absolutely.
Kate - there are not enough "thank yous" in the world for what you provided for me one year ago, but thank you anyway. We love you.
To find out more about doulas, doula births or to find a certified one in your area, check out DONA International
With strength, courage and wisdom,