Last week, Julie Satow expressed her disappointing experience with doulas during her first two births. This week, Avital offers a different perspective.
When I was six months pregnant with my son, my husband and I ended up moving to another state. We moved for a variety of reasons, and despite looking forward to our new location, it meant that we were now further away from both sets of parents as well as countless friends.
Our move shook up my plans for a homebirth. We didn’t have a support network in the area built up yet, and I couldn’t imagine we would get there in the three months left before my son was to be born. I wasn’t sure if we could pull one off without one. In retrospect, I had a very uneventful labor and birth that would have been perfectly suited for a homebirth, but ah… hindsight.
Instead, we did everything we could to start working on that intentional community we missed from back home. I started taking prenatal yoga classes and met some great women. It was one of them that suggested I hire a doula for my birth. To be honest, I was a bit wary at first. Why would we need a doula? My husband would be there for the labor, and I was already quite happy with the group of nurse-midwives that we had chosen. But, we still hadn’t quite settled into our new surroundings and I was open to any suggestion to help remedy that.
After Googling around for sample questions I should be asking my potential doula, I felt armed and ready when we met with the first prospective one. Within 10 minutes I could tell that it wasn’t a good fit. Our personalities didn’t click and she seemed to talk over us instead of with us. We politely thanked her for her time and tried to figure out our next step. I wasn’t sure if we should bother meeting with anyone else. Did I really want another person in the room with us when I pushed out my baby?
Just to ease my mind, we met with one more doula. The first time we met, I was taken aback–not only was she Jewish like us, but she was Orthodox! I wasn’t sure why that surprised me, but it did. It also set up a whole other layer of questions for me. Would there be restrictions in what she would or would not be able to do? What would happen if I went into labor on Shabbat? Would she be able to work around my husband while maintaining her modesty and shomer negiah practices? Would she pray while I was in labor?
Any fears I had were quickly eased as we talked. Our shared religion–despite our differing levels of practice–provided a platform of connection and we built up from there. She was completely understanding of our birth plan concerns and provided stories and suggestions for each one. My questions were answered as well. There didn’t seem to be any restrictions except for her being unavailable on Shabbat, but she provided a highly equipped back-up doula in case we needed her during those 24 hours. She also never brought up God or religion during any of our meetings, following our lead with what we were comfortable discussing regarding religion or spirituality. But there was certainly the warmth and nurturing that I have come to connect with Jewish mothering present in her care. In fact, one message she imparted to us in our initial meeting is that part of the work of a doula is to return to the traditional ways of “mothering the mother.”
With every meeting we had with her, I felt more and more comfortable knowing that I had one more champion in my corner for the birth, yet never once did my husband or myself felt like he was being replaced. She was the woman I complained to when my bout with prodromal labor lasted over a week. She was the one that came to my house, fed me a magical concoction of herbs and homeopathic pills in hopes of turning my early labor into something more active. She was the one that not only applied some amazing acupressure to my ankles, but showed my husband how to do so as well.
And she was the one we called later that night when I finally went into “real” labor. She didn’t mind the 2 a.m. call to give her a head’s up, and then another again at 4 in the morning to let her know that my contractions were coming on a more rapid and intense pace.
Within 15 minutes she had arrived and made herself both useful and scarce as the situation dictated. Homemade soup appeared from out of nowhere, while she encouraged me to eat. A warm bath was drawn at just the right time, as my water broke less than a minute after I sat down within it. Since it was my first birth, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as my water broke, I felt like I had to get the baby out right then and there, the pressure was just so great. However, we still had a 10 minute drive to the hospital and I was unsure I could make it while contracting.
Fortunately, an inspiring pep talk from our doula and an only eight minute drive later and we arrived at the hospital. We checked in between midwife shifts, so a nurse was assigned to get all my vitals. Immediately she found something distressing. She had some trouble finding the baby’s heartbeat with a belly monitor and once she did, felt it was too slow for her tastes. I began to panic between contractions, while my husband looked at me helplessly. Here I was, having read numerous books in preparation of this moment and I had no idea what to do. There he was, a man who had just spent the last few years earning a doctorate in pharmacy–completely clueless as to what to do.
But then, a calm voice, a voice of reason, piped in. Our doula requested that I change positions and have the nurse take the reading again. I did. She did. All was fine. More than fine. The baby’s heartbeat was strong and healthy and beautiful. I was allowed to labor unencumbered. Despite having thought I was close to pushing before, I still had a few more hours of labor ahead of me, and they were tough. Due to the baby’s sunnyside up placement, I was wallowing in back-labor land. It wasn’t pleasant. My husband and doula alternated between themselves, each taking a turn pressing down on my lower back and hips, allowing some relief as I draped myself against the other one’s shoulders. Any concerns I had harbored about how my doula would interact with my husband due to her more stringent modesty beliefs completely dissipated as I watched them work together to provide me with comfort and support.
In between nurse or midwife checks, my doula would sneak me some food, ensuring that I would have enough energy to see the labor through until the end. And then, she was the one with the camera, capturing the moment my son emerged into the world. Despite the fact that Shabbat was only a few hours away, she made sure I had a handle on nursing and was feeling comfortable and confident before she left.
There’s a laundry list of all the things my doula–my friend–did for me, my husband and my son during our birth and beyond. She is the reason I tell all my friends–do this! Do this for yourself if you can. It may take a bit to find the right person, but the support, compassion, and cheering we all received from our doula was worth it in the end.