I’ve written a post about how to write a birth plan (or at least how I went about writing a birth plan), and I’ve been meaning to write this post about how to hire a doula (or how I went about hiring a doula) since October of 2011. Hey! Better late than never.
I’ve emailed or talked through some version of this post with over a dozen women. And after doing so again this past weekend, I thought it was finally time to get it down more publicly on the blog.
First let me refer you to http://dona.org to a. help you find a doula in your area and b. prepare you to interview potential doulas.
And for those of you wondering what the heck a doula is, she’s a birth coach. A woman (or man? are there male doulas? I don’t even know! But I imagine the pool is limited… I did a google search, and there are indeed male doulas. Noted!) that will be by your side for your entire labor, looking out for you. She’s not a baby catcher. Or medical staff. Nor does she have to worry about other patients – she is there for you, and your birth team, to help you get through this often scary, overwhelming experience. And unlike your doctor, or midwife, or even the nursing staff, she’ll be with you through your journey from start to finish (within reason, obviously).
The number one thing I recommend to any pregnant mother who asks for my advice is, HIRE A DOULA! I literally cannot imagine how Addison’s birth would have played out without Tracy by my side. She was a game changer. And she also made a world of difference for James and my sister in helping them navigate how best to support me during labor, especially when it got really really hard and I was extremely frantic and anxious
My goal was as intervention-free a birth as possible (I could write a novel about that decision stemming back to my Women and Gender Studies senior seminar at Williams in spring of 2005 titled The Politics of the Family and a resulting conversation with my mother about my birth, but that I will save for another day), and I knew I’d need support and education to make that happen. So hiring a doula was at the top of the list of many pre-baby TO DOs while pregnant with Addison.
I was fortunate that I lived in LA where I had so very many options to explore. Since so much of the doula/mother relationship is about having a comfortable and easy rapport, I decided to talk to each doula I was interested in on the phone before inviting them to my home for an in person interview. This gave me a sense immediately of how we interacted. I wanted to be with someone with whom I felt instantly comfortable and at ease. You don’t get that from an email – so phone calls were what I found most productive.
With my first, I really wanted a doula that could work with both me and James before the birth to help prepare us for what was in store. We didn’t do a birthing class and really worked one on one with our doula to get us ready – everything from pain management techniques, to screening birth videos, to educating us about all the different things that can and do happen while in labor – she even came equipped with medical equipment so I could see what instrument was used to break the bag of water, what an epidural needle looked like, how forceps were used, etc. And, of course, she primed us with questions to help us construct our own birth plan and baby plan catered to our wishes. So, in interviewing, I made sure to ask what kind of preparation the doula would give me, how many visits would I get with her before the birth, and what she would cover during those visits.
I found that I gravitated toward grandmotherly figures. They struck me as calm and wise. They clearly had seen their fair share of life. Had experienced birth personally. And I just instantly trusted their expertise and experience. I’m sure that reactions vary from woman to woman, but it’s no surprise that Tracy (Addison’s doula) and Linda (Courtland’s doula) were both white-haired, older women. They were what I wanted and trusted. But that will vary, so figure out what your gut tells you as you interview and connect with potential doulas.
Ask about her experience. How long has she been a doula? Why? How many births has she attended? The more experienced doula, the better, in my opinion. It means that they’ve seen a lot and can help normalize the situation for you. For example, when I said that I felt like I was about to shit a knife – James started to panic and my doula calmly said, Every woman says that, sweetie. It’s normal. It means your baby’s almost here.
While that’s probably not what you want to hear – it’s to show you how working with someone that has really seen a lot of different births can help immensely at those scarier or more uncertain moments. Because at the end of the day, that’s why I found my doulas so invaluable. They were by my side the whole time, normalizing the situation, helping James and Kimmy help me. It was just so comforting.
Think about the kind of support that you personally want from a doula – do you want to work with her heavily before the birth, or just meet her once or twice to help develop a birth plan? Do you want post-partum support? Breastfeeding support? Other birth services like placenta encapsulation? That will help you determine who to interview. Then see how you feel talking with the doulas who meet your criteria. Obviously more experienced doulas are more expensive, but I found that the one I used in LA brought her price down when I told her that I was concerned that she was more expensive than we’d budgeted, and she let me pay her in installments. In Williamstown, I had fewer options and it was generally much cheaper. Also, many insurance companies will reimburse part of the cost of a doula, so do explore that option with your insurance company. More often than not, working with a doula results in fewer interventions which means less costly medical bills, so the investment is worthwhile from many many angles. Not the least of which is your emotional and mental health during birth.
James commented after Addison’s birth that hiring Tracy was the best decision we’eve ever made, the best money we’ve ever spent. Years later, that statement remains true. While not every woman will feel as strongly about the need for a doula’s presence, I urge you to explore the option, as knowledge is most certainly power when it comes to taking ownership of your birth experience.
Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers ~ strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength. – Barbara Katz Rothman
I recommend you take a look at B*E*S*T Doula Services What is a Doula? and Why Do I Need a Doula? for further information and to see my cameo with Tracy on the site. Please leave any questions or advice I may not have covered in the comments.