When you’re pregnant there are already SO many decisions you have to make. Which stroller to buy? Which car seat brand to go with? Doctors, hospitals, birth preferences, etc, etc., the list really can seem endless. And for some moms-to-be, hiring a doula is another option to consider.
OK stop me if you’ve never heard of doulas before. Prior to getting pregnant, I had only vaguely heard of doulas and their roles in a woman’s childbirth process. Turns out they’ve been around for some time (the first organization to certify doulas did so in 1992 and unofficially they’ve been around for much, much longer) though, they’ve certainly grown in popularity in more recent years.
However, I had always had a desire to have an epidural-free birth. Maybe it’s because that’s how my mom had us (epidurals were not a thing in Poland in the 80s lol) but for some reason, that’s always how I’d envisioned giving birth. Once I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth my mind was made up. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all pregnant women, essentially it aims to help women overcome their fear of birth and instead embrace our bodies and the incredible power they hold. For me, it really sealed the deal that aiming to give birth naturally, without an epidural is what I wanted to strive for. The more and more I researched, I kept getting led back to doulas. So what are doulas exactly?
It’s explained beautifully in this piece in Mother Mag which I recommend reading but essentially they’re trained individuals who help support mothers as they go through their pregnancy, birth and/or postpartum.
“Traditionally, a doula is a trained person who helps a mother navigate her pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience. A doula’s primary role is to focus in on a mother’s emotional and educational needs. Birth doulas provide childbirth education, introduce women to comfort measures that might ease or improve their labor experience—such as massage, breath work, and aromatherapy—and sometimes serve as a medical liaison.” — Erica Chidi Cohen, doula, author and co-founder of LOOM
Once I decided that hiring a doula would be something I wanted to look into, I had to get my husband onboard. Luckily, he was all game. He figured since it’s my body that this kid is coming out of I get to call the shots (can I get a big hell yes to that?! haha) There are many reasons both for and against hiring a doula, but the way I looked at it was this: I figured since I knew I didn’t want any pain medication I would definitely need help to deal with the pain in other ways. A supportive birth team was the beginning of that and a doula seemed like a natural fit. I was a nervous first-time mom with no idea about what to expect from labor/delivery so the possibility of working with someone whose job it was was to make me feel more comfortable during this process seemed like a win-win.
So the question is, should you hire a doula? I can only speak to working with a birth doula, but here’s what you should ask yourself:
- Are you interested in an unmedicated birth? You can absolutely hire a birth doula even if you’re dead certain you want to receive the epidural, are having a C-section, etc., and of course birth outcomes certainly vary wildly from birth preferences, but in my experience they are much more popular among women who are hoping for an unmedicated birth.
- Would you like extra support during the pregnancy/birth or postpartum experience? For example, maybe you don’t have a lot of family around and you want some extra help, hiring a doula might be a good option.) Or you’re a nervous first-time mom who wants all the help she can get in that delivery room, a doula could certainly help assuage your fears.
- Are you OK receiving directions/advice from a (relative) stranger? Giving birth is painful/emotional/overwhelming among a heap of other emotions. Do you think you’ll respond well to direction from a doula who is there to support you during this admittedly trying time? Yes a doctor is also giving you directions, but doulas are there for literally your entire.birthing.experience (which could be very long) so will you be alright with them on hour 23 for example? If you’re opting for an unmedicated birth then a doula would be helping you with various coping mechanisms to deal with the pain. I figured I’d be better off listening to a stranger than my husband since I’m stubborn like that haha so for me a doula was a perfect choice.
- What kind of birth experience are you hoping for? A home birth surrounded by candles in a tub? Or a hospital birth surrounded by nurses, doctors and machines? Of course, these are two very stereotypical examples but overall asking yourself the answer to this question might shed light on whether a doula would be a good fit. Since I was hoping for an unmedicated birth in a hospital setting where nurses filter in and out and doctors really only make an appearance in the final leg of labor, I knew that a doula would be the perfect way to bridge that gap.
- Can you afford it? Hiring a doula is absolutely a privilege as they are not cheap (though this can vary by where you live.) We couldn’t afford one per se, but my husband and I saved and made it work because it was really important to me. Reflecting back on my pregnancy and birth experience, I’d say it was well worth the investment. Though my labor and birth ended up being very short, I think my meetings and conversations with my doula leading up to the birth helped me so much in preparation and were essential in the positive outcome.
If you’re on the fence, I can confidently say that I’d recommend it. I had a very positive experience and loved working with a doula for the birth of my first child. I learned so much from her and felt so confident and prepared going into it. Though my labor/birth was quite fast, she helped me tremendously when it was game time. And on top of that, she was also able to take some images of my birth and our first pictures as a family of three.
I found myself very interested in the entire labor and birth process years before personally having a baby was even on my mind. After doing a solid amount of research, I had initially tried to convince my husband to get on board with my visions of a peaceful, orgasmic, water birth at home. However, realizing how nervous that would make him instantly popped that bubble.
So, we found that hiring a doula was the perfect compromise for us – it fulfilled many of my crunchy mama desires while granting us the more traditional safety of a hospital birth.
My doula led a beautiful Mother Blessing Ceremony with my closest friends before-hand, and showered me with essential oils, massages, and support on the day of. I had to be induced and therefore couldn’t labor at home as I had planned, so she set the mood of the hospital room with dim lighting, my choice of music (switched to “Ocean” on the sound machine during active labor), and my chosen birth mantras posted wherever I looked.
She ensured that with every shift rotation the doctors and nurses were familiar with my birth preferences and that my voice was heard whenever there were decisions to be made. She coached my husband on ways to comfort me, while also making sure he had food, water, and a chance to rest. And she helped me remain focused on helpful techniques and positions, while distracting me with intermittent showers. Afterward, she also provided the placenta encapsulation services and a postnatal check-in to make sure the baby and I were healthy and breastfeeding was going well.
Overall, after a pitocin-induced, unmedicated, 18-hour labor, we were extremely happy with our decision to hire a doula and felt that her support had a significant impact on our ability to reflect fondly on the experience.
And on the flip side. Here is my friend’s perspective about why they chose not to hire a doula.
Expense was definitely a consideration. Spending that much felt irresponsible with college saving on the horizon. When we planned who we wanted in the room, we were already at the hospital maximum for who could be present. When weighing family versus non-essential professional, family won. A minor consideration was that my mom was offended that we would hire someone else to do what she viewed as her job. When I’m in pain I get real pissed when people tell me what to do. We knew I had to be in charge or everyone was gonna feel my pain. Gotta know yourself.
There are good reasons both for and against hiring a doula and ultimately you need to reflect and decide what is best for you and your family. How about you guys? Have you ever considered a doula, why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And check out these two articles for more info about why to consider hiring a doula: