What would I gain from having a doula in my birth team???

What would I gain from having a doula in my birth team???

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As a coach and a doula I do a lot of networking online. I was very grateful yesterday to receive this very honest and curious question from an expectant third time mother:

{Q} “As I have only really heard of Doulas on USA TV shows, can I ask what… (sorry I’m trying to word this as my intention is far from to offend you but to learn if this for me)..would I get from you that i wouldn’t get from my midwife, husband, my mum and friends? I’m trying to work out if this service is going to give me anything extra than I’m already lucky enough to have? Thanks x”

{A} “Your midwife’s two priorities are the physical health of your body and the physical health of your baby; my priority is empowering you to make the best choices for your emotional, psychological and spiritual health, and then supporting you and those choices to optimise your enjoyment and empowerment through your birthing experience. A doula supports those aspects of your husband’s/wife’s/boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s health and enjoyment, and if relevant your other children or other birthing partner. In other words your midwife will focus mainly on your cervix, vagina and baby’s health, I’ll focus on making sure you are feeling positive, peaceful, comfortable and powerful as the latter stages of pregnancy, labour and the post partum period unfold.

Your husband/boyfriend as a male (or your wife/girlfriend/friend as a non labouring female) has the potential to be both having their own profound experience as well as being or feeling a little lost in the experience. He can read a lot of books to prepare him, he can empathise as much as his imagination allows him to, he may feel scared, exasperated, helpless, overwhelmed, overjoyed, traumatised, frustrated, squeamish or traumatised at any given moment during labour, birth and immediate post partum.

Michel Odent has infamously asked three confronting questions of fathers being present at a birth:

First question: Does the participation of the father aid or hinder the birth?

Second question: Can the participation of the father at birth influence the sexual life of the couple afterward?

Third question: Can all men cope with the strong emotional reactions they may have while participating in the birth?

For the answers and full exploration of this topic read the full article here: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/fatherpart.asp

A doula can support your partner in their experience of labour, both practically (ie popping the kettle on, making cups of tea, topping the birth pool up, making the placenta smoothie after birth, taking photos with you all in frame, letting him go to the bathroom and take a break for a moment), emotionally (a hand squeeze, a hug, a shared look, a hand on the shoulder, a safe word if he’s squeamish) , and all in the name of helping him to support you best. I love this article, and this quote from it “Our doula really helped bring me together with my wife as she gave birth. My wife remembers my constant support and never failing love or knowledge. She remembers the doula as a nice person who did some stuff in the background. We won’t give birth without a doula.”

Your Mum is your Mum. You were connected at one stage by an umbilical cord, or by adoption papers; either of those things carry a lot of emotional baggage – in a good way most of the time, but sometimes some women find that emotional baggage doesn’t actually keep them in the best place for them to experience their own power during labour….some women need their mothers and can’t imagine labouring or birthing without their mothers in the room. If your mother is there; then a doula can support your mum in supporting you in the best possible way; taking away the things that might take her away from the – the practical and emotional things above. Or, if your mum is not there, then a doula can mother you; take care of your every need in a nurturing way – but without the same weighted emotional ties. And she would probably offer to text your mum to keep her informed of the process so that you are kept away from the bright light of the mobile screen which isn’t so conducive to the labouring mind.

Your friends are family you choose, you mention them so I’m assuming you are close and that’s wonderful that you know they are there to rally around and be supportive. The thing is with friends that we often have a certain point with friends where we stop just before we ask them ‘one more thing’ – because we think “Oh but they’ve already done so much” or “ Oh god should I share that info or is that just TMI” or “ I know she’s having a really tough time with her husband right now – I can’t have a pregnant moan about the fact that I sent my Tim out for hazelnut icecream and he bloody came back with macadamia nut brittle instead” etc. A doula is there to listen to the TMI stuff, to go that extra mile and make up an extra batch of xyz as needed, to realise the difference between a hazelnut and a macadamia and to not think you’re a pregnant or labouring diva but to just get to know you and do those extra little things in just the right way for you….so your friends can come round, have a cuppa, have a two way moan because you know you’ll save that extra moan with your doula so you have space for their stuff too.

Other things a doula does above and beyond the team you mention:
– She helps you inform and empower yourself about birth so you can plot out your birth preferences not based on what the hospital protocols/home birth team/birth centre normally “allow” but upon what will work for you and your family, what will make you feel safest and what will hopefully mean a positive, peaceful and empowering birthing experience as opposed to birthing a healthy baby at any cost.
– Unwavering, non-judgemental and non-phased birth support at any birth you choose or need to undergo. In a Pennine stream, in a hospital theatre, in a birthing pool in your living room, the local birth centre or on your kitchen floor: a doula will be there calm and unwavering, with a hug, a smile and an eye to eye look reminding you of your power and strength when you need it most – whatever the setting whatever the situation.
– She holds the space around labour, birth and the golden hour post partum. What does that mean? It means helping you to keep your surroundings during the last weeks of pregnancy as calm, safe and peaceful as possible, and during labour means protecting that space and reminding those who may come in and out of it to respect it, promoting oxytocin amongst everyone who comes in and out; and that oxytocin will help you and your body to remain saturated in it (Oxytocin is one of the main hormones in the birth hormone cocktail)
– She records your birth story for you; the time you really got into the zone, the funny thing you said whilst eating a sandwich, the time the midwife arrived, the time your waters broke, the time the delivery kit was mobilised, the moment baby crowned, the moment baby was fully earthside…and if you’re lucky she will be able to take a few photos too!
– She can offer alternative pain relief methods such as massage, acupressure, rebozo, aromatherapy.
On top of all that I would say that I personally can offer:
– Years of counselling and coaching experience to support in listening, overcoming and setting intentions and goals around pregnancy, labour, post partum and breast feeding
– Reiki and polarity massage before, during and after birth
– Alternative support in helping you with Optimal Foetal positioning )including Moxa for breech presentation
– Massage, acupressure, rebozo sifting and aromatherapy as above
– Birth photography
– Currently offering preparation of placenta smoothies and portioned placenta for the freezer, plans to offer placenta encapsulation in the not so distant future
– Excellent tea making skills; and a penchant for choosing the right herbs to support good health throughout”

I received this reply following my answer:

“Wow thank you for this information, I’ve read, reread and read again for good measure ( it’s peaceful here at 5.30am lol) I think your work of empowering the person going through the labour and pregnancy and her partner is such an incredibly amazing thing and understand how and why many many couples would need and want you by their side especially for a first birth or after a previously traumatic experience. Having laid here digesting your words and reflecting on my previous birth experience ( emm c-section, sick mummy, very cardiac sick baby and then natural, long but brilliant personal birth with my hub by my side then straight home to breath in our own space) I feel my husband and I are all we need to create an environment in which to bring our third child into our family. I do feel for my second child my husband ( his first) would have really gained so much from you bring there from what you’ve said above. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve sent your comment above to two friends who are both due to give birth in August ( one first time parents and the other a mum who’s going to be a mum and a dad soon) who I think will both be very interested in your support.”

What would you add to the list of benefits of having a doula beyond the great statistics that are out there?

Did you have a doula?

Did you not have a doula but wish you had? Why?

Did the experience live up to your expectation?

What would you tell someone who was thinking about having a doula to support them and their family?

A quote I love which is a good one to end on (and also features on my business cards) is this one from John H Kennell MD:

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it”

(So impressive are the positive birthing outcomes for mothers supported by doulas)

Still need convincing?!
Here are some other articles on why you might like to hire a doula:

http://expectingthebestbirth.com/50-reasons-to-hire-a-doula

http://taprootdoula.com/2015/03/23/stop-worrying-and-hire-a-doula/

http://www.bellybelly.com.au/pregnancy/doulas-what-is-a-doula/

#worlddoulaweek 22-28 March 2015

#worlddoulaweek 22-28 March 2015

I am a birth doula because I believe passionately that if we change our birth stories, one at a time; we can change the world – one mother and one baby at a time.

To have the honour of supporting and nurturing a woman during her pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum period; to help her stay in touch with her power, her vulnerability, and her courage; to hold and protect those sacred spaces during this time in her life to allow her to surrender into them; is utter oxytocin-fuelled loveliness.

To celebrate: I’m currently able to offer my voluntary services as a doula for three families within Calderdale and Kirklees, in exchange for evaluation of my service and support to facilitate my full certification and for my ongoing learning.

I am looking for families that are due to give birth somewhere in the next 2 to 10 weeks; as this will give them the optimal time to enjoy the benefits of being supported and nurtured by a doula.

If you engage me to support and serve you as your doula, you can expect:
– to be listened to and be heard
– to be seen and be appreciated
– to be encouraged and empowered
– to be served and honoured
– to be nourished and nurtured
– to be supported unconditionally; no questions, no judgements, no compromise

Having completed an advanced skills course with Penny Simkin on supporting survivors of abuse (sexual, physical or emotional) and PTSD sufferers, I am very well equipped to support women who have survived childhood or adult abuse, and would be pleased to be able to offer such support on a voluntary basis. I am also interested in supporting single mothers, and mothers having a VBAC, please make contact directly.

Here’s to healthy, happy and relaxed pregnancies;
here’s to cherished and empowered labouring goddesses;
here’s to nurtured and confident mothers:
here’s to the benefits of the extra support, information and nurture that doulas can offer!

Doulas: cherishing, nurturing, informing, coaching and empowering women throughout pregnancy, labour and early motherhood.

Ilena J Standring
Doula & Coach
Amsterdam

+31(0)648688308

An Open Letter To…..

An Open Letter To…..

Dear Natural Birth Movement,

In June this year I gave birth to a beautiful bouncing baby boy. He was born 2 weeks and 3 days over his due date. The 36 hour journey he and I took together was in parts both the highest and the lowest, the lightest and the darkest hours I remember living. The nearly 16 weeks I have spent with him since have been pink, fluffy, warm, fuzzy and heart explodingly incredible. There have been moments where I have had to pinch myself, to check if this new life is really real and even now as I write my heart is full and my body enjoys another flood of Oxytocin just thinking of him.

But then I remember why I write to you, and my heart hurts a little as I access again the grief, the shame, the guilt and the confusion you have caused me. This is a cocktail of emotions I never thought you’d inflict on anyone, let alone me, and yet I see you inflicting it unwittingly on others too. Perpetuating the same self important, frequently impossible standards, the same standards I feel you have measured me up against, and against which I feel I have measured short. I want to write about and share my full birth story – sing it from the rooftops!!!! But before I do, I need to lighten my load and create some more space inside by getting something off my chest.

We need to talk.

I’m leaving you.

I’m moving in with the Empowered Birth Movement. She and I, well we’re better together than you and I ever were. Let’s face it – there were a few moments we stood high on that soap box together weren’t there? My getting together with the Empowered Birth Movement is better for the people around us; our female peers, their partners and birthing companions, the care professionals nurturing new mothers and their babies; and it’s certainly better for me and those I am privileged to assist as a birth coach and doula.

I notice you’re shocked.

When I came to the realisation that I have to break up with you – I was too.

It all started about 14 hours into my birth story. The first sign I was in labour was that upon waking I noticed my waters had broken and I had “menstruation pain”. As Thursday wore on my labour intensified and I was happily astounded by the amniotic fluid which intermittently gushed out around the house (Note to self: I must remember to thank my best friend and doula again for following me around with towels) Then I saw a pale greenish colour appear. The fear kicked in: would this mean that we would have to go to hospital – that dreaded place of unnatural and intervention riddled deliveries?

It did – neither my midwife nor I wanted to stack risks with me being a first time mum, carrying a big baby and being already 42w2d. I felt disappointed. As if I had failed at the first hurdle somehow. My contractions, which I had enjoyed riding at home in the shower chanting Ong Namo with Snatam Kaur, felt painful for the first time as I had to navigate the short 5 minute journey to hospital. The bright fluorescent light seemed to embody all that was unnatural; all that went against what you had promised me when I prepared for this day, told me to believe in myself and in my body, and since I chose to birth at home. I could almost hear you say “I told you so”. I rallied back and forth with the question “Is it really meconium? Do I really need to be here?”

Well there we were in the hospital; you and I and our strongly worded birth preferences which I had negotiated fiercely with the hospital at 42 weeks, then again at 42+1 to gain more clarity in the “grey areas” which had appeared in the conversation you, me and my midwife had had with the senior midwife and the gynaecologist at the hospital. I was fearful. Despite the fear, I drew on the oxytocin my body was saturated with and opened up to the midwife who was on duty. I asked her to stay present with me, to maintain eye contact with me whilst doing internals – to speak to me about the interior of my vagina and cervix and no one else. Hour by hour in doing so with such consideration and tenderness she gained my trust and I in turn hers, and she let me labour on unassisted. You seemed surprised, but I didn’t linger on the growing ill feeling between us, as my son and I had work to do.

Fortunately you stuck around and set up the birthing pool in the labour suite bathroom, you nodded approvingly at the various essential oil compresses, the crystals, the yoga postures, the homeopathy kit, the relaxing music and the affirmations.

Cut to 30 hours into our birth story following a couple of interventions, a journey back and forth and back again between 6cm and 8cm (YES that can happen!); I had an IV dripping synthetic Oxytocin into my veins and my uterus was leading my body in an almighty fight against the invading chemicals. And that’s the moment when you really flaunted your true colours: I felt like a failure asking for pain relief. I asked however, and my wish was granted. I avoided your gaze. During the three hours I spent floating away on the magic carpet of Remifentanil, intermittently glimmers of conversation came through;

“You’re nearly there! 9cm – great!”

“Your contractions are really effective now….”

But I was exhausted; from chanting, swaying and squatting, from the fight for intervention free plateaus and progression, from the 32+ hours with only 2 light meals, from being my own advocate throughout as a solo parent, from you and me fighting about our conflicting expectations of eachother. And despite all that fighting, during those hours floating away I found my truth: that my son had brought me healing enough throughout pregnancy without having to make the passage through my cervix and vagina and heal that trauma too. (I am a [sexual] abuse survivor)

“Don’t worry” I heard, “You’re 9.5cm and in minutes you’ll be at 10 – if you can’t find enough energy to push we have everything we need to help you achieve a vaginal birth.”

‘No. Thank. You.’ I thought. ‘Stay away from my vagina.’

“I want a Csection” I heard myself say with conviction, clarity and absolute certainty.

Whilst my relief at finding the surrender I had been looking for was almost palpable, I couldn’t make eye contact with you.

In the four months since little JT was born, we have come head to head at many crossroads. I have found you tutting in the sympathetic “Oh what a shames” which I receive when I explain he made his way earthside via his own stargate; my Caesarean wound. I have found you lurking self righteously in the Facebook comments of an “informative natural parenting piece” on how epidurals do indeed pass through the placenta and babies’ alertness is adversely affected; callously telling a woman who said she shouldn’t be shamed for giving birth to a dead foetus with the help of an epidural that in her case “it didn’t matter that the epidural crossed the placenta”. I have found you in the form of a prenatal yoga teacher withholding the happy stories of babies born by Csection to clients in my new friends’ post natal meet up class; the insinuation being that these stories weren’t the optimal outcome that the teacher had been encouraging her students to strive for. I found your influence in the story of my brave warrior friend who gave birth to her beautiful daughter at 27 weeks – where she defends the fact she had a Csection by explaining how dangerous it would have been for baby to have become at all distressed during a “natural delivery”.

I hear you dripping all over the expression “normal birth” – for what is a “normal birth” these days anyway??? I hear you in my final doula course training – a fellow student defending a brutal sounding gynaecologist she had witnessed manually dilating a woman from 8cm to 10cm to keep her in the proper timeframe and avoid being transferred to an inferior public hospital (I verbally winced at that idea); and your final defence? “Well at least she didn’t have to have a Csection.”

I read you as I come across a quote stating that it is a women’s right of passage to give birth naturally and vaginally; and I am left once again wondering if somehow my own experience (which is that the right of passage is in fact becoming a mother: a journey which started from the moment I was conscious my body was housing an embryo and not from the moment I felt the ejection reflex and started to push) is somehow invalid?

So no; I’m afraid these militant ideas you keep don’t ring true for me. I’ve opened my eyes to the countless women who also feel they have to apologetically explain their choosing an epidural or outside intervention – through myself having felt that need to defend; and now I’m starting to understand and realise why so many women unquestioningly hand over their power to medical care providers completely in the face of your dogmatic alternative. They’re frightened they won’t make your grade.

There is good news for me, and my fellow sisters who think along the same lines as I do though!

The Empowered Birth Movement is working hard to inform women about their rights, the possible choices and the protocols and side effects of the choices available to us in birth. The Empowered Birth Movement is exploring and inhabiting that vast expansive space between your natural birthing utopia and the carefully scheduled medical approach to delivering babies. The Empowered Birth Movement is bringing information about all options – judgement free – to the public sphere, bringing candid new images from all types of birth stories so that women can visualise for themselves what will feel safest for them.

When we talk about healthiest birth experiences we have to look at “health” holistically; physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And I have you to thank for bringing me to that perspective. Speaking as a mother, as a doula and as a birth coach though, I can tell you first hand that there are many reasons why the “healthiest birth” choices for a woman may well include comprehensive pain relief and or surgical assistance. Those reasons range from having a phobia of blood, to being a survivor of sexual abuse and being keen to avoid a trigger, to simply not wanting to experience the pain of vaginal childbirth…all of these are valid reasons.

Whatever the reason – we are entitled to make our own choices. As female peers, as mothers, as birth workers, and as birth activists we have to STOP pushing preferences and shaming women’s choices. Birth activism and reclaiming birth is about informed consent and empowered birthing experiences – not a natural birth at all costs. And it’s certainly not about attributing shame to any mother’s birth story because she fell short of the latest soft focus home water birth video on Instagram or Youtube.

So here we are.

My bags are packed.

I’m ready to go.

Shall I leave my keys on the shelf in the hall on my way out?