Forgive me a few minutes to vent about doulas, those crunchier-than-thou pregnancy helpers that are as necessary now to the Park Slope set as a baby sling or Babycook steamer.
But I’m pulling the Boppy pillow from under those mommy helpers. In my house, they are don’tulas.
I have hired two doulas in my life–one for each pregnancy. But for all their talk of the beauty of birth and the exhilaration of labor (not to mention their $1500 fees), neither was present for the birth of my children.
Let me explain:
In 2010, pregnant with my first child, I dreamed of a natural childbirth. I persuaded my husband to spend six full weekends attending birthing classes, evenings watching documentaries on the evils of the modern birthing experience, and dinners reading chapters from Ina Mae Gaskin’s
But when it came time to give birth, I needed to be induced. This meant spending two days in the hospital with a Pitocin drip and a balloon catheter while my doctors worked heroically to avoid an eventually unavoidable caesarean section. As my husband and I went from optimistic and excited to ultimately deflated and confused at the outcome of the birth, our doula was nowhere to be found.
The doula, as is often the case with a solo practitioner, was busy with another patient. Her other client was actually successfully in labor, and she regretfully informed us she couldn’t leave to attend to me while I sat in my hospital gown, desperately hoping that each little discomfiture was the start of a contraction.
The doula did finally show up, minutes before I went into emergency surgery. She gave me a foot rub. It was a far cry from the hours spent together in ecstatic pain that I had envisioned.
The doula managed to make me feel even worse when, during her post-partum visit that was part of the package of services that we had paid for, she told me I could achieve a natural birth next time around. Between my daughter’s hungry screams and my painful gasps as she failed to latch on to my engorged breasts, it was the last thing I wanted to hear. It made us feel as if our birthing story was significant merely in light of her vague feminist agenda.
So when I became pregnant with our son earlier this year, my husband and I promised ourselves we would not hire another doula. But at week 37, when we decided to try for a VBAC, or vaginal birth after C-section, our doctor urged us to hire a doula. I rolled my eyes, but she insisted.
Well, if we were going to hire another doula, I was determined to find someone experienced who could ensure our greatest chance of success. The new doula came with a deep knowledge of VBACs, a close relationship with our doctor, and a hefty price tag.
We told her how our previous doula had been absent during the birth, and she said that while she couldn’t promise a successful VBAC, she could assure us she would be present. I felt a connection with her easy, relatable manner, the fact she had achieved a VBAC herself, and our shared Jewish heritage. It was the last connector, however, that led to trouble.
In September, I was nine months pregnant and facing a familiar scenario: a baby that was reluctant to come down the birth canal. So I willingly took the doula’s advice and began popping increasing dosages of primrose oil and shelling out hundreds of dollars for acupuncture. Still, no labor. A week past my due date, I began prepping for a repeat caesarian. The only date available at the hospital was erev Yom Kippur.
The doula, an observant Jew, couldn’t make it. It was hard to believe, but I once again found myself without the help of the woman I had paid thousands of dollars to so she could be present on one single day.
To her credit, she did repeatedly call my husband to check in. But this meant mostly that he was forced to leave my bedside and stand in the hallway on the cell phone, expending energy reassuring her that we were doing fine. For all her talk of emotional support, it seemed to me that she was demanding far more of it than she was providing.
And she did eventually show up at the hospital–in her synagogue garb on her way to services–but it was too late. No visitors were allowed into the pre-op room. And that post-partum visit? I never called her back.