Four million babies are born in the United States each year (heck, 30,000 of those happen right here within 40 miles of where I teach classes) but with fewer than 10% of those births, and in some areas much lower than that, attended by doulas, what is the big secret and the “magic” of doula support? Why do almost all of our clients tell us they couldn’t have done it without us when quite obviously so many people do it without us every single day? Since each and every birth is so different, I think the answer lies in a combination of many factors and in many small details, which all add up to one big feeling of gratefulness. Here’s a list of some of the contributions doulas make:
- Continuous care. Doulas are by your side for a greater percentage of time during your labor than your medical care providers are. Doctors tend to check in once or twice during a labor that’s proceeding as expected, and aren’t called again by the nurse until it’s time to push. Midwives tend to check in more frequently and may sit with you for longer periods of time, observing your labor and offering suggestions, and doulas and midwives make awesome partners, one being focused on your physical health and the other focused on your emotional health. Some doctors are amazing at this role of partnering with doulas as well, but can generally be more hands-off emotionally speaking, and more hands-on with medical tools, than a midwife. Midwives are known for “high-touch, low-tech” care while obstetricians are generally known for high-tech expertise. Nurses check in the most frequently of all, but for shorter visits and those visits are normally focused on charting, monitoring, and other clinical tasks. Don’t get me wrong, nurses are the unsung heroes of the hospital, and it’s always our goal as doulas to support everything those amazing nurses do in the best possible ways. Doulas provide constant reinforcement for the positive support that’s around you and a buffer if there’s any negative energy entering your space.
- Emotional intelligence. As a result of a greater amount of time spent observing your labor and the emotional signposts that come along with it, doulas often have more information than anyone else about how your labor is progressing. Clinical documentation of progress is one important piece of the labor puzzle, but it doesn’t tell us everything that’s important to know about your well-being. Doulas file this information away and that’s how we often seem to know exactly how to comfort you at the right times.
- First responders. Even though it’s not our role to do so, sometimes doulas report observations to the nurse, and then advocate for that nurse to report observations to the care provider, when the nurse wouldn’t have otherwise known to report anything at all. And that’s really not the nurse’s fault. She’s extremely busy and focused on her job. Maybe it’s a strange pain or an unusual contraction pattern or a strong sense of knowing that something isn’t quite right. Again, let me strongly emphasize that it is not the doula’s role to do any sort of medical task or give medical advice of any kind, however sometimes we just notice stuff and we report it. And this information can sometimes turn into life-saving measures.
- Tricks up our sleeve. Approximately 85% of the time, when labor does move along as expected, doulas are very knowledgeable about what that looks like. We have lots of suggestions and techniques we can use to help you and your baby “cross the finish line” safely. From massage and pressure points, to self-hypnosis and breathing with you, to simply being experts at how to be with you calmly during birth, we’re damn good at what we do!
- Respect for your space. Birth is a family affair, and unequivocally the most important thing doulas do is to make sure that you have exactly the right people around you at the right times providing exactly the type of support that you need. Man, have I worked with some amazing husbands! So loving, attentive, involved and comforting. When that happens naturally I am simply waiting in the wings to take over for a few moments when he needs a break: for food or coffee, for sleep, or for a bathroom break. I know how to do it in a way that isn’t disruptive for you. And wow, many of my clients are excellent at handling their contractions on their own too, focusing and breathing and going deep within. What a privilege it is to witness this strength. When I see that happening, I’m simply there for you when you open your eyes to say, “Wow, you are doing such an amazing job! Keep going, you’re almost there!”
The bottom line is you can never have too much support around you during labor. As a doula educator, you can tell I’m pretty passionate about it! There’s a lot more I could say here about doulas but I think the five points above cover a lot in regard to why clients will often say they couldn’t have done it without me. If you’d like to see whether I’d be a good fit to join your birth team, click here to learn more. Can you do it without me? There’s no question that you will. But do you want to? That’s a different story 😉 For a little inspiration, take a look at all the amazing support around this mama as she gave birth at home. Every person who surrounded her had a role, including her sweet little daughters. Grab your tissues!