What is a Doula - Part 1, What my Doula did for me
After our 2nd baby was born I was sure that there had to me more to birth than I had previously experienced. It just didn’t feel right that what I had experienced was all there was. I had no idea how to find what I needed, but I did have the internet. I can not remember what I looked into first, how I stumbled across homebirths, but I do remember thinking something along the lines of “people still do THAT?!?” and then it being a long time before I realized that while it’s an isolated event, it’s out there if you know where to look.
I loved the idea of a homebirth. I imagined what it would be like to birth my next baby at home. I wasn’t even pregnant, and I imagined it. I live in central Nebraska. As I searched the internet for a shred of info about how I can have a homebirth, I found almost nothing. I found something that told me “homebirth is illegal in Nebraska” (which is NOT true!) and I was so disappointed, and I did the worst thing I could have done. I stopped looking. I resigned to it being true and looked how to have a truly natural birth in a hospital. (I had previously felt I had a natural birth. But I was defining natural as “vaginal and pain med free” … my definition has since changed. Drastically.) I learned about many things I wanted, many I didn’t want. I knew I could birth my baby without the interventions. I didn’t want to be on my back. I didn’t want to be told to push. I knew what I wanted and I was sure I would get it.
Oh, how naïve I was! I thought that if I just hoped for the best and went in thinking I’d do this how I wanted to that surely it would just happen. That was not the case. (it rarely is!). I thought I was prepared to tell them I would refuse the wheelchair and walk upstairs. I would say no IV. I would refuse to get on the bed. Because I knew that once I got on the bed, it would all be “over”. I knew it would be easier to give in to everything else. It’s a domino effect. Once you start compromising, you keep compromising.
I remember how I felt when I gave in to a cervical exam, instead of saying "NO!" like I was repeating in my head. I just wanted to get things out of my bag, preparing for this baby who would be here soon (in less than an hour upon arrival to the hospital!), but they wanted to check my dilation.
Once I was in the bed I kept thinking: ”just tell them! Just say it! SAY NO!” – but I had no voice. I felt it would be denied and somehow it was easier to not ask.
Have I mentioned I’m also, by nature an introvert and non-assertive? This is something I’ve had to learn. Speaking up for myself was unheard of at that time in my life. Saying NO! is "not what a lady is supposed to do". I'm so glad I've changed that opinion!
I let them poke my arm with a needle, 3 times actually, for an IV I didn't want. I let them check my cervix. I let them break my water. I let them tell me that being on the bed and on my back was best.
I knew better. I KNEW better. I FREAKING KNEW BETTER! But I didn’t speak up. I still, to this day feel sad about that.
This feeling of lack of control carried over when my baby was slightly jaundice. I should have fought to keep him in my arms to be skin to skin and breastfeed constantly, as he'd already been doing. I let them take him to the nursery to the bili lights. (Bili lights don’t actually help in the way most people think they do, the way I was told they did. and I knew nothing. [Dr. Jack Newman has good info on Jaundice!] ) When we finally got home, I remember feeling “I finally get to be alone with my baby!” I felt sad that I missed his first 3 days. I was there – sort of…. But it was NOT what it should’ve been.
My first introduction to unassisted birth
I continued learning and with my 4th baby I really wanted a homebirth, but still falsely believed it was illegal in Nebraska. I went to a friend’s house for an MLM party and met someone who talked about homebirth in Nebraska. I was her new best friend and no longer cared what sales pitch was going on right in front of me (I was even so focused that I was oblivious to how rude I'm sure I was being. Homebirth was that important to me!) I asked her if she knew of doulas or midwives and how her homebirths happened without a midwife.
I couldn’t get enough information. I read and talked to anyone who would listen. I found a hospital based CNM (certified nurse midwife) 1 ½ hours from me, and it seemed like a long drive. But I realized it was only a little further than my previous drives had been, just a different direction.
I first saw the CNM at 30 weeks. I asked her all about homebirth, knowing it would be unassisted. I loved her. She was open and honest and made me feel my body could birth!
Meeting My Doula
The same day I met 2 homebirth mamas, who were also doulas. Everything they said was exactly what I had always wanted. I chose one of them to be my doula, but I still wanted a homebirth.
I really wanted to birth at home. I even tentatively planned to birth alone. Until 35 weeks. And my husband came home scared of the baby dying. I gave in to his fears. I did love my midwife.
I saw the CNM 2-3 times before I went into labor. I called the hospital as we drove out the driveway. They said they’d wait for me to get there before calling my midwife. I knew that wouldn’t work! My doula was friends with the midwife, so when I called her, I asked her to call the midwife too, or she’d miss the birth. I knew she’d miss it if they waited.
Long story short, because you can read that in it’s own blog post. I bring it up here to point out my doula!
My Doula's support
I remember she pulled up right as we did (she came from a different direction). She rubbed my back through a contraction as I got up to the admissions desk. I declined the wheel chair, knowing I had her support if they tried to question.
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to.
Just knowing someone was on my side was enough for me! She supported me through 2 contractions in the hallway. Another in the elevator. The nurse was nervous because I was walking instead of riding in a wheel chair. I grabbed my doula’s arm as the nurses exited the elevator in front of us. I said “NO IV!” she nodded and let me lead the way to the room. She asked what I brought to wear and I changed into my comfy sundress!
She pushed on my back during a contraction. – which stunned me – in a good way! The pain was GONE. Gone. As if the contraction was gone. And yet the pressure remained and I knew I was still contracting. But the pain. Was. Gone.
She started the bath for me (they allowed labor in the bath, but not birth), as the nurse listened to baby without strapping anything to my belly – she didn’t even ask, she just held the monitor on and said “you do your thing, I’ll move along with you!" (BEST. NURSE. EVER!) The bath was amazing. My doula stayed by my side, and the nurses stayed out of the bathroom. No one asked to check my cervix until I had the urge to push. My doula took pictures, suggested how I may be more comfortable. When the midwife asked if I was ready to cut the cord, my doula asked me if I was ready (I wanted to wait).
My doula sat with me after the craziness died down and the nurses left. She had been exactly what I needed.
My calling became apparent
Soon after this birth, I knew I wanted to help other women – being exactly what they needed, each to their individual needs and desires.
What is a Doula?
The question I get asked the most is “A what? What’s that?” or “huh?” Almost like they’re sure they heard me wrong, because they’ve never heard that word before. Others may know that I’m “the person to ask about birth questions” but they don’t get all of what I do, they don't get that there's so much more than back rubbing and getting ice water.
Basic overview is to say I help women prenatally to make their plans. I help with education and I help them during labor and birth with comfort, natural pain relief, and to remind them to advocate for themselves, and if need be, I’ll advocate for them. But the true power in birth, comes when a woman speaks up for herself! I can help her with that by "hinting" at what we talked about prenatally.
Still confused? Stay tuned for my next blog post to explain this a little further.
Marsena Beck lives in south central Nebraska with her husband and 6 kids; she is a Birth and Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Educator, Lactation Counselor who loves talking about birth, breastfeeding, mothering, homeschooling, and being a doula in Nebraska. She understands the frustrations of not having a birth you wanted and the freedom that comes from an empowering birth. She's had three births with family doctor, one with a midwife (CNM) and a doula, two unassisted births at home; one of them she was completely alone, the other she had a friend/doula/photographer. She's a homebirth advocate, and shouts to the world that yes! homebirth in Nebraska is an option! She also loves helping moms to have that "homebirth in a hospital" experience, as she had with her 4th baby. She loves working with moms as they walk on their parenting journey.