Before I had my kids I didn’t really know what a doula was. I thought they were hippies that rubbed you with patchouli, whispered “you ARE mother earth” and jingled when you trampled them to get to an anesthesiologist.
The truth is doulas are awesome.
The best way I would describe them is like a birthing diplomat. They are there to make your birth better. They “get” what the medical pros are talking about, and they “get” what you are talking about because they’ve been with you throughout your entire pregnancy so they can bridge any gaps between the two.
Childbirth hurts. It really hurts.
The pain is caused by intense muscle fatigue. The womb, or uterus, is a massive muscle. During the first stage of labor, it works overtime. The opening has to get from being not-even-a-smidgy-bit-open, to open-enough-for-a-person-to-squeeze-through-please.
This asks a lot of the uterus and requires a great deal of effort, and the effort hurts. So much that women can become hugely overwhelmed and very frightened by it, which causes their bodies to fill up with adrenalin. This is a real bummer because it makes the pain so much worse.
To be fair to adrenalin, it can be super useful.
Imagine a woman giving birth in a jungle a few thousand years ago. Should she see a tiger up ahead, her adrenalin-filled body would do one of two things; either clamp up so that she could keep the baby inside her and run away to safety, or quickly push it out so that she could scoop it up and scrabble away (imagine).
Nowadays, the birth environment is generally tiger-free, but adrenalin still plays an enormous part in the birth process.
During the second stage of labor, when the baby is being pushed out, this adrenalin is tremendously handy. It generally makes the ‘holy shit, there is a PERSON coming out of me!’ much quicker and easier.
But if the woman becomes frightened in the first stage of labor, (the opening up bit), the adrenalin is a massive hindrance. It makes her clamp up. It tenses and hardens up all her muscles, most annoyingly the uterus, making it much harder for it to open. Oxytocin, the ‘hormone of love’ that facilitates the entire birth process, is trampled on by all the furious adrenalin charging about, which is most unfortunate.
A doula has many jobs.
Managing the woman’s fear is just one of them. By helping her to stay calm, she increases the levels of oxytocin and keeps the adrenalin at bay, which makes everything easier.
But sadly, for many different reasons, birth is not remotely easy or straightforward. There can be all the calmness of a monastery and oceans of oxytocin but if a baby is in a funny position, or if the mother becomes exhausted, things can change. Any number of things can happen. Impossibly unpredictable, birth is full of the unknown. All you can be sure of is that a doula will make whatever happens easier to cope with.
Research shows that having a doula present at the birth can lead to a 50% reduction in cesarean sections, a 60% reduction in epidural requests, a 20% shorter time in labor, a 30% reduction in analgesia use, and a 40% reduction rate of forceps and ventouse (vacuum).
Everyone deserves a doula
Doula and mother-to-be form a relationship with each other throughout the pregnancy. The doula meets with the expectant mother, talks to her, and earns her trust and affection (or in my case, a full on girl crush). Whether the mother hopes to give birth hanging from a tree by her armpit hair or is planning an elective cesarean, the doula is there. Whether she wants an epidural from the onset or plans on going utterly drug free, the doula is there. Completely without judgment, she only serves to support the mother in the birth that she desires.
First timers, fifth timers, mums, dads, babies – everyone deserves a doula!