My son is now almost four weeks old, and I keep thinking back to my labour with a little bit of awe - each time I'm asked questions about how it went, it feels more and more like I'm talking about a fond memory than recalling the gory side of it, which I think people secretly want to know all about. I was told that this would happen - that the "will this never end?" part of the day will fade away through a hormonal "erasing" of the memory. After all, if birthing a baby was that bad then women wouldn't keep doing it.
My birth was fairly "average" in the grand scheme of things. I have heard all the birth stories from the mothers in my mommy-group, and I was lucky to have had an uncomplicated birth, but it definitely wasn't quick and pain-free. However, each time I tell people how it went, it seems the “fun” elements make their way into the story - on the day I went into labor I went to the farmers market to walk off my early contractions (and yes, I bumped into more people than I would have liked), our cabbie was dodging Central Park horse carriages and got pulled over for running red lights en-route to the hospital (and the female NYPD cops who pulled him over were encouraging and offered us a police escort like in a sit-com), and I had an insatiable craving for a vanilla milkshake all through the "pushing stage" (which was fulfilled immediately after by my amazing husband). But the one part of the story that I will never neglect to include is that I felt absolutely loved and supported throughout my entire labour because of the amazing "birth team" I had that day - my husband and my doula.
So, what exactly is a doula? The word "doule" is an ancient Greek word that means "a woman who serves" and is used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides physical and emotional support to a birthing mother. A doula is not a midwife or a doctor, and is not trained to give medical advice, but is more like "that wise woman who knows a thing or two about having a baby". She's an expert at knowing how to make the mother feel her best, and knows how to help her feel confident and strong during a very difficult time.
There are two types of doula - a birth doula and a post-partum doula. Some doulas are trained to do the role of both. A birth doula will help the mother throughout the birth - meeting with her before the baby is born to help her with her birth plan, educate her about the process, and to be there on the day to help provide comfort measures during the difficult and painful part of the labour - almost like a birth coach. It's very much an emotional and physical job. Frankela, my birth doula, had the best poker face - and her calmness helped make every situation seem perfectly part of the plan. She also had the most magic hands and helped massage away my contraction pains for over 12 hours. The birth doula will also help provide the same kind of emotional support for the father, who is likely to be very overwhelmed in the process. Frankela and my husband worked as an unbelievable team and my husband and I cannot even imagine how the day would have gone without her.
A post-partum doula helps once the baby is home - and can walk the new parents through newborn care, help the family adjust, and can provide an extra set of hands for meal preparation and light household tidying. Tia, my post-partum doula, made sure that my husband and I were well rested, fed, and helped get us through our weekly agenda with all the calmness we didn't have walking out of the hospital. She took us through our baby's first bath at home, baby wearing, helped talk me through the emotional distress I was experiencing during painful breastfeeding, and took the time to make sure I felt like I was doing an amazing job and that I took each day at a time.
Some studies show that having a birth doula can mean a lower chance of medical interventions (use of Pitocin, emergency C-sections, etc) and shorter and less painful labours. Having a post-partum doula can help you through the hormonal journey you experience the days after your birth and keep you from having an endless rollercoaster of meltdowns in the first week with the inevitable bouts of depression that can kick in once your baby is home. There's an *endless* amount of resources online that will list the advantages of having a doula and I will happily recommend having a doula to any mother because a doula will make having a baby in a cold large city feel like a warm hug and welcome to motherhood.
So THANK YOU to both Frankela and Tia and I'd like to raise a glass to all doulas out there who help millions of mothers go through this amazing journey!