Do you need a doula at your birth?
When I was pregnant 5 years ago with my daughter, I knew I wanted a natural birth (more on that in my next post!). I knew I wanted to give birth at home, with a midwife. I didn’t really know much about doulas, but after an intense 10-week Bradley Technique class that my partner and I took together, we felt as prepared as any couple having their first child could. I had already been working with pregnant women for years as a prenatal yoga instructor, and felt pretty knowledgable when it came to anatomy, labor comfort measures, and preparing mentally and physically for labor. We decided we didn’t need a doula.
I felt intuitively that I could handle the things that arose that weren’t expected or planned. We had Plan B’s and C’s, in the event of a hospital transfer or the dreaded “c” word (more on that in a later post, too). I went into labor with no clear expectations, and with the idea that I had manifested a healthy, happy pregnancy and that I could continue manifesting an easeful labor.
My labor and birth at home were indeed the textbook perfect description of a home birth. I was a first-time mother who had a labor that lasted under 12 hours from my very first contraction. I was able to labor in the comfort of my own home. My midwife showed up when active labor started. My mother was there for support. My birthing space was quiet and peaceful, and my partner Scott was there every step of the way. He held my hand, supported me in various pretzel positions while I was pushing, poured hot water into my birth pool, and was an ideal birth partner.
My daughter was born a healthy 8 lbs 5 oz, I didn’t tear, and she started breastfeeding like a champ from the beginning. I rested for the next few days with help of my mother and Scott’s parents. I was supported by family and friends who showered me with love and food and hugs and tears.
Ideal, right? Looking back on it, yes. Sort of. This is where it gets complicated. 5 years ago, 4 years ago, 3 years ago, if you had asked me about my birth experience, I would have simply described my birth as I just did. Then, something changed. I started supporting women in labor as a doula. On my drive home from a birth, I would compare births and think of things that had gone smoothly and things that could have been dealt with better – either by family members, the care providers, me, or by the birthing mama. My idea of a “great birth” became more nuanced. My awareness to what a birthing mother needs became keener with each birth.
I have read countless books, articles, and watched hundreds of videos of women giving birth in various places around the world. Most importantly, I have attended births in hospitals, homes, and birth centers. I’ve spent hours and hours with birthing women. Women without partners, women without friends, women with mothers and fathers in the hospital room, women in the middle of divorces with ex-partners playing video games, women with super-supportive partners who want to be as involved as possible. In short, I’ve seen all sorts of birth scenarios. And in every instance, I felt helpful. I felt I had made a difference.
I made a difference because of my experience and my knowledge, and my ability to hold space for the birthing woman. I was there in whatever capacity was needed at the time. And that, my friends, is what I didn’t have five years ago at my own birth. I didn’t have a doula.
I thought for a long time after my birth that my partner had been my doula, but he wasn’t. He was my partner. He was the father of the baby being born. And no matter how much support he could offer me, he also was invested in this birth in a different way than a doula could ever be. Scott was an amazing partner, and I’m forever grateful for his presence at my side during the birth of our daughter. It was a magical experience to share. He was my life partner, my baby’s father, but not my doula.
I have a new birth story to share. It sounds similar to the one I related earlier, but there are lingering thoughts that come to mind. Now with my doula experience, I can fully express what they are. I still think my birth experience was pretty near perfect, but there is one thing I wish I could have done differently. I wish I could have had a chance to give birth in a different position. In the end, I ended up pushing in a semi-reclined position on the bed. I had always had the idea that I would end up giving birth on hands and knees or squatting, but ended pushing on my back. How exactly did this happen?
During active labor, I was in the birth tub in a kneeling position with my arms resting on the rim of the tub. I felt like pushing and my midwife checked my cervix. She told me I was 8cm and had an anterior cervical lip. Cervical lips are relatively common, and usually disappear on their own once a mother is fully dilated. They occur when part of your cervix isn’t fully dilated and blocks baby’s head from easily coming through the birth canal. They can occur on any side of the cervix, but are seemingly more common in the anterior, or front of the body. In my case, being in a kneeling position in the birthing tub was not a position that would alleviate the lip, but would increase swelling.
In order to help get rid of the lip, I got on my back in the tub for the next several contractions, thinking that was best. The midwife agreed. After a while, I felt like pushing again, and wanted to get out of the tub. Onto the bed I went. I ended up pushing for over an hour, semi-reclined (because I was still worried about the lip), with my legs by my ears. I held one leg, Scott held the other. I was getting super tired of holding my legs and the position didn’t feel right.
I pushed for a while, with a some progress. At one point, I remember saying, “I need a break.” Someone in the room replied, “You can rest after the baby’s born.” And that’s where it happened. That little miscommunication that made me feel not heard. What I meant was, “Can I try a different position? This one doesn’t feel right. My legs need a break.” But I didn’t have the words at that moment. Not surprising, since I don’t know many women who are totally coherent during the pushing stage. I didn’t have the energy or the right words to express what I needed, so I just let it go. I pushed some more and gave birth to my beautiful daughter… and for a long time, described my birth as “perfect.”
Recently, I came to the realization that if I had had a doula, my birth would have been slightly different. There would have been someone there who was there solely for me. Someone whose entire job and mission was to make sure I felt supported and heard. Someone who maybe would have noticed my discomfort and said, “Are you happy in this position, or would you like to try something else?” Or maybe someone who I might have been comfortable sharing my discomfort with in a shorthand that might have been understood.
I still feel that my home birth was empowering and life changing. I have no regrets regarding my birth choices. I am forever grateful to my midwives and their assistant for their nurturing and attentive care during my pregnancy, labor and postpartum period.
I believe midwifery care for normal birth is the best way to birth a baby. I also believe that a doula or birth attendant who is there solely to take care of the mother’s needs can make a woman’s pregnancy and labor more easeful and can make the midwife’s (or physician’s) job easier when they work together as a team.
My mission as a doula is to make sure you feel heard and respected. I am here to support you, my dear mama. My sole purpose is to be your guide through an experience that is sacred and unique and special, no matter how it happens – without judgement or bias. I am here for you.
An Overview of a Cervical Lip in Labor
Here are some great links to what Spinning Babies has to say about cervical lips and what solutions they offer: