As a doula, I get the amazing opportunity to witness my clients’ very different pregnancies, labors and postpartum experiences. I realize many people hear the word "doula" and picture a woman who will support only the most natural birth experience, relying on meditation instead of medication, and covering your entire family in patchouli.
While there may be doulas who fit this description, most of us don't.
But there are a few ideas that are true for most births. Here are some things most doulas know but might not necessarily tell you:
1. Sure, hire us pros, but please educate yourself, too.
If I were to tell you that Ryan Gosling was flying into your town next week for film shoot and wanted to stay at your house, you’d probably panic. You’d clean, you might buy a new set of sheets, and you’d surely find the time to at least Google him for a little background information. After all, the guy is staying with you for a month, and you’d better have something to talk about over dinner, right?
Now what if I told you it wasn’t the babe, Ryan Gosling, but a child, and that child was going to live with you forever?
Surprisingly, this scenario doesn’t generate as much need to self-educate because people assume they can hire professionals who have it all covered.
While it’s true that childbirth is both a billion-dollar industry AND a completely natural process that will happen as it happens, these contradicting factors should raise some flags for you.
Knowing a little bit about the process and even about your own body will arm you against being misguided. I recommend checking out online resources such as Choices in Childbirth, HenciGoer.com, and books like The Baby Book by Dr. Sears. These are just a few great ways to learn a wealth of information, and they address important questions that many women are simply embarrassed to ask.
2. Don’t blindly trust what any health professional tells you.
Don’t be afraid to use your knowledge during a consultation. If what you’ve learned on your own contradicts something your midwife/doula/doctor recommends, ask them about it.
Be assertive with the knowledge you have, but also be sure to ask them for resources they like. Questions will seem less combative if you’re using the same sources. The resources a professional offers can tell you a lot about them and their values as well.
3. Plan for things to go wrong.
If you’ve chosen to use a doula, chances are you're hoping to have a peaceful, natural childbirth. I’m pretty sure the doula you’ve chosen wants that for you, too. But she’s not going to tell you to prepare for the worst for two reasons: (1) She doesn’t want to frighten you, and (2) She doesn’t want you to fire her.
What really needs to be stressed here is that picking the right midwife or OB won’t ensure that you won't have any complications, but it will ensure that you feel good about the care you will receive if and when potential complications arise. A good care provider will help you feel part of the decision-making process. This is key to having a satisfying birth experience.
4. You have no idea how this whole thing is going to shake out. Trust me, you don’t, and you can’t plan it.
But you can prepare for childbirth and parenting by thinking about the different scenarios that may occur. Taking a childbirth education class will help you understand the process and will give you the basics so you know the right kinds of questions to ask when the plan deviates from what you expected.
As labor and birth unfold, the most important questions for you to remember are:
“What are my options here, what are the risks, what are the benefits, and what are my alternatives?”
Stay in the present moment, expect that things can and will change, and make decisions based on what's actually happening and not based on what you'd hoped would happen.
5. Sometimes what YOU feel is better than what WE know.
You'll get a lot of advice along the way about how to give birth and how to be a parent. What works for one person might not work for you. And that is OK. There is no one way to give birth or to parent.
There are great reasons to have a natural childbirth, and there are great reasons to get an epidural or to induce labor. A client of mine, and good friend, swears that having the epidural was the best thing that ever happened to her and subsequently had the most positive birth experience. Your experience is just that — yours.
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Learn to listen to your inner voice. Trust that intuitively, you know what you are doing. Because you do!
6. The doula can’t do it all.
As doulas, we support you from the very beginning to the end and after. Aside from birth support, we can massage, we can clean, and we can teach you how to feed the child. Some of us are even pretty funny.
But the doula can't — on top of all these duties — shield you from loving relatives who really want to see the little one. You need to set boundaries for yourself.
Practically everyone you know will want a piece of your new joy. Everyone wants to visit you the minute your baby is born. Try to hold off the relatives for a day or two because this will give you a chance to recover and get to know your baby.
7. You take care of the baby; your visitors help take care of you.
Excuse yourself about every hour to be alone with your baby so you don’t miss early feeding cues.
Sleep often and don’t worry about anything besides caring for your baby and yourself.
Delegate tasks to keep everyone busy. Everyone wants to help, but no one knows what to do.
Have lists ready so you can delegate: shopping lists, recipe lists, favorite take-out restaurants, chores, errands to run, etc. People really want to feel useful and giving them tasks ahead of time will help make the postpartum time a lot easier. (Plus, it’ll make your mother-in-law feel good to know she’s really needed. AND truly appreciated.)
Bringing home a baby is an exciting and challenging time in a new family’s life. It's an opportunity for you to grow closer as a family in love and in intimacy.
Keep in mind that most decent doulas will share these tips with you, and most doulas happen to be exceptional professionals who will truly support you. Just don’t tell any of them you heard this stuff from me.