March 22nd-28th is World Doula Week. If you had asked me when Adalynn was born what a doula was I wouldn't have been able to answer you and I quite honestly, even if I knew what it was, I would have quickly said that it was not for me. I have a very clear memory of checking in for my induction with my first and seeing a laboring mom on a birth ball (or exercise ball) in the waiting room. She was clearly far along in labor and quite uncomfortable. Between contractions her partner would help help her on and off the ball and I remember shaking my head thinking that was not really necessary. Sean even half joked that I forgot mine and I rolled my eyes. Oh how little I knew!! My induction turned into a 24 hour journey to a cesarean. I have no idea the outcome of the mom and her purple birth ball (yes, I remember it was purple) but in hindsight I have a sneaking suspicion that even if she had a c-section her experience was quite different than mine.
The birth of my daughter was a hard lesson in learning about hospitals, and doctors and childbirth. I thought I had an idea in my head of how things would go and that my doctors and nurses were all I needed. When you are a first time mom, you don't know what you don't know. Had I looked beyond the hospital childbirth class and found a doctor who truly cared about me, I would not have had the outcome that I did. On top of that, I had lingering thoughts in my head... Should the doctor have helped me more? Should the nurse have changed my position? Did I really need that csection? Had I made a mistake and it was all my fault? These were thoughts that no woman should have.
Fast forward to 2014 and as a result of an ectopic pregnancy between Shepherd and Adalynn, I found myself in an office with a provider who was more supportive of me as a person. He was open and honest with me about my concerns having lost a pregnancy and his desire for me to make sure this baby came safely into my arms. I remember being concerned about the treatment for an ectopic and he set his clipboard down and person to person communicated how he would want his wife or daughter to look at that situation. It meant the world to me.
I also had some amazing nurses through out my pregnancy with Shepherd who encouraged me, listened to my thoughts and gave me their insight. It put my head in a different place and made me more educated about my options. I researched my chances of having a successful VBAC and even though technically I wasn't an ideal candidate (in 2014 according to ACOG...that would be different now), I knew in my heart that my birth team would make a difference. I went into labor at 37 weeks with Shepherd in a large hospital setting and lucked into a nurse who encouraged me the whole process. VBACs sometimes have lots of fear surrounding them and I was not immune to this. One of the decisions my husband and nurse helped me make was that having an epidural at 7cm would help me not question the pain I was having was due to a rupture. It was an unconventional choice given my fear of stalling and heading into a csection, but it was the right choice for me. Just having someone who encouraged me and helped me make such a decision and who knew about the birth process made all the difference. Husbands are fantastic birth partners, but my first birth we had no idea what we were doing and we lucked into an amazing nurse during Shepherd's birth. (Shout out to all the nurses who are amazing...If we could keep your through our whole labors on the days we delivered, life would be so much better;) I still remember the doctors face when he came in and I was pushing. It was a face of surprise and excitement and genuine joy when he held up my sweet Shepherd guy...pictured below;)
So you would think by then, I might have know what a doula was. Unfortunately, being in a more traditional practice and delivering in the hospital setting, I wasn't introduced to the concept. Technically, my husband and nurse had served as birth partners and advisors, but I didn't know there were people who could do even more and serve me in ways that would have helped me during the my first birth.
Professionally, after having two babies and photographing several births I was feeling more drawn back to the medical setting. I kept telling my best friend who was a nurse that I should just go to nursing school. Somehow in our conversations and research I came across the word doula. At first, the word itself turned me off and so did the concept. Doulas seemed primarily to be with moms who were looking for an unmedicated delivery and I certainly did not fit that description. Randomly, while nursing Shepherd one night, I read about how a doula was a three fold job; they were responsible for clinical education, physical and emotional support. Hmmm? This was something I could get behind. Additionally, while they had been more used in the natural birth community, the concept extended to supporting a mom regardless of how she was planning to deliver. It was a light bulb moment. A combination of things I loved and something I needed in my own births.
2016 saw the completion of my training as a doula, and hiring my own doula team for the birth of my third baby. My mind had shifted from this funky word doula being something not for me to being something I wanted every mom to know about and understand. I look back on the night of his birth with much happiness. One of my favorites was laughing with them as we used all the tricks in our doula books to get labor to progress. They encouraged me and supported me in a way I needed and hadn't experienced before and while his birth was followed by a NICU stay, I still look back at that night positively.
Doulas can take on many roles. Sometimes their role is simply to educate moms on birth and breastfeeding. Often it is to reassure her that what is happening is normal or to support dad in understanding the birth process or hospital setting. Sometimes the role is to work with a birth team to help labor progress through various labor positions. All those things aside, the primary role is to serve a mom in the way she needs so that regardless of what happens, she knows that she was educated, equipped and empowered during her experience.
My births led me to not only understand what a doula was, but about how I could be a doula for other people. It made me passionate about my own experience and training to serve moms as best as I possibly can and especially to work with moms who perhaps haven't thought they needed a doula before.
Will I have a doula for baby number four as a doula myself? Absolutely. I already have my doula team lined for the summer and you better believe I will be bringing my birth ball along;)