What is a Doula and why do you NEED one?
In 2013 I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. To put into words what I was feeling at that time would be the definition of contradiction. I was excited, scared, anxious, terrified, elated, overwhelmed, calm, erratic, nervous, confident, lost, alive, confused, cognizant, and everything in between. On top of all of the confusing emotions, I was also exhausted like I had never been before, feeling a type of sick that almost made regular day to day functioning impossible, irrationally emotional and irritable, bloated and uncomfortable. Yet the happiness of knowing that I was going to get to become a mother made all of these new sensations seem completely normal. In fact, I welcomed each new phase, each new ache and pain, and kept my focus on the fact that I WAS MAKING A PERSON!
It was probably then that I became obsessed (yes, obsessed) with pregnancy, labour, and birth. I wanted to know everything about every stage and really started to appreciate what a phenomenal, miraculous and yet oh so natural thing was happening with my body. But it was hard. That is the only word I need to use for this part of the description. Most things in life worth doing are exactly that- HARD. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a natural process and women have been doing this literally forever. The birth process seems to be viewed as more of a trauma than a natural human process by many healthcare professionals, the media, and therefore, the general public. This, in my most humble opinion, perpetuates fear.
Why is fear such an enemy of birth? Well I will tell you. Fear is a major psychological aspect of a person’s perception of pain. The adrenal gland produces adrenaline and cortisol when we are experiencing fear and they travel through our bloodstream resulting in a more widespread fight-or-flight response than the effects of the nervous system. You cannot expect to relax, which is exactly what you need to do when in labour, when your body is in fight or flight mode. What we want physiologically during labour are the happy hormones- endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Relaxin, the pregnancy hormone allows the woman’s joints to be lax, and allows the pelvis to open up for a smooth passage for baby to make her way into the world.
So, what does this have to do with hiring a Birth Doula? Birth Doulas are trained to provide continuous, one-on-one care. We provide emotional support, physical support, advocacy, and information for the birthing mother and her partner. Remember when I said this was HARD? Well it is. But it’s supposed to be. It can be overwhelming, emotionally and physically draining, and confusing. Having an impartial third party there with you can help the birthing mother and her partner to really focus on the only thing they should have to focus on, their birth experience and their baby.
A birth doula has knowledge of the stages of labour, as well as medical interventions, pain relief techniques, and comfort measures that can be quite necessary when in labour. Your doctor is the primary care provider and their job is to keep Mom and baby safe and to deliver the baby. They may have to get Mom’s consent/ input at different phases of labour and in that moment it can be a lot for a birthing Mother to process. Having a Birth Doula there will help to translate to the mother and her partner what the options are, and allow them to make decisions. The Birth Doula also knows your birth plan before go time and can help to ensure you understand all of the information being presented to you to ensure you make choices that stay as true as possible to your preferences.
As a RMT, Mother, and now Birth Doula, I appreciate the role of intentional touch during labour. Doula’s understand what is happening to your body during each phase and can employ physical touch to help keep Mom comfortable, reduce pain, and allow for more relaxation. Your Doula will also help your partner to assist with these techniques. Aside from physical support, a birth doula is very aware of the emotional roller coaster that is labour and delivery. They are trained to help keep both the birthing Mother and her partner(s) emotionally supported and focused on the bigger picture.
The Birth Doula role is one that I have only had the honour of taking on once and it was the most incredible experience aside from having my own two beautiful daughters. I am hoping to provide labour support in 2020 as I truly feel this is an area that I am confident and really feel I can provide value. If you or anyone you know are pregnant, regardless of the birth experience you are hoping for- hospital, home, OB, Midwife, or even cesarian section, consider hiring a birth doula to help make one of the most important experiences of your life more empowering.
Amanda Cooke, RMT