I am part of two clubs that pregnant and new mothers don’t ever wish to join: the long-first-labor club and the postpartum depression club. My husband and I did 54 hours of labor, mostly alone. Afterward, I developed postpartum depression, which was also very isolating. During those challenging days and then subsequent challenging months, I know I would have benefited from having a doula.
In honor of World Doula Week this week, I wanted to reflect on my first birth and postpartum experience, and the ways that a doula may have helped me. I don’t believe that a doula would have necessarily changed the physical outcomes. You see, doulas do not fix or prevent the difficult parts of birth or babies or postpartum. Doulas do support families as they walk through their experiences, and out the other side. With a doula on our team, our perspective could have been drastically different.
Prenatal Doula Care
During my pregnancy, the only resources I had about birth were books from the library and my next door neighbor. Wading through the titles on the library shelf, I found that the opinions and ideas about birth were as varied as there are people in the world! I had a hard time sifting through the information and understanding what made the most sense for myself.
Having a doula by my side in pregnancy would have helped me wade through all of the info, and find what fit best, for me as an individual!
I knew that I wanted to have a natural, unmedicated birth. Fortunately, my neighbor, one of the only people I knew in town having just moved, had a water birth in Dayton, and pointed me in her practice’s direction. The practice turned out to be the right fit for me, but if they hadn’t, I don’t know what I would have done.
A doula would have known the local resources, and pointed me in the right direction given my personal goals and desires.
As my third trimester progressed, I developed high blood pressure, and borderline signs of pre-eclampsia, a serious condition. I was completely lost. While my midwives would give me a few answers, and tried to be reassuring, I always left appointments feeling more confused and scared.
If I had a doula, she would have spent time talking to me. She would have listened to and validated my fears. She would have helped me understand what was happening to my body, and what my options might be.
During Early Labor
What pregnant woman hasn’t had the experience of wondering, “Is this it?” I spent weeks thinking my body would never go into labor, until finally, at 41 weeks, contractions started. I was up all night, and like many first-time moms, ended up in Labor and Delivery early the next morning, not quite in active labor yet. After a day of watching and waiting, I was given morphine and 8 hours of sleep to try to reset my labor.
A doula would have helped to calm my fears and anxiety. She would have encouraged me to rest in the early phase. She would have also helped me navigate when to head in to the hospital, either for therapeutic rest like I received, or in active labor!
During Active Labor
Active labor finally hit, 24 hours after being admitted. It was tough! I had back labor, and thankfully, the nurses were incredible. Because they didn’t have any other patients, they were able to be in my room a lot with me. However, they still had other jobs to do, and couldn’t be there constantly. The job fell to my husband to help me work through my labor. He felt woefully unprepared- the 4 week hospital class wasn’t quite enough training!
Having a doula by my side would have meant continuous support in my labor. She would have helped my husband feel more confident about ways to support me. I would not have ever felt alone. She would have suggested techniques, positions, and encouragement to keep going.
I made it, all the way through to pushing, unmedicated. It had been 48 hours or so, and I felt like a rockstar after all of that! Unfortunately, though, my body was so worn out, my daughter stopped descending with each push. After an epidural, Pitocin, and 6 hours of pushing, it was clear that she was stuck. A cesarean was called at 1am, and I finally met my daughter in the OR! I felt like a runaway train had taken off with me though.
A doula would have been by my side through the decisions, encouraging me. She would have helped me to ask the questions I needed to feel like I was a part of the decision making, instead of things just happening to me.
Postpartum Doula Care
Within a week or two of the birth, I spiraled into what I now recognize to be postpartum depression. My husband had to return to work a couple of days after our return home, and we had few friends and no family close. I spent days and then weeks and months in bed, recovering from an arduous labor and major surgery, nursing a crying, colicky baby. Emotionally, I was mourning the birth I had hoped to have. I felt like I had died.
A doula would have been there for me, so that I wouldn’t have had to spend days isolated and alone. She would have let me know that I didn’t fail my baby- some babies are just fussy. I would make it through. I am sure she would have let me know that I didn’t fail my birth- that I gave it my all, and did exactly what was the best next step in the moment as each new thing came. Perhaps she would have done my laundry, cooked me a nutritious meal, and helped me through those early weeks and months. Most importantly, she would have pointed me in the direction of qualified professional help for my depression. I would have gotten help, instead of going for months alone.
I also resented my baby. I loved her, and I was so glad she was there. But I resented her. At 3am, when she would be crying and refusing to sleep, I imagined throwing her out the window. These thoughts alarmed me. I thought she hated me.
A doula would have been available to help me through the night shifts sometimes, giving me some much needed sleep. Looking back, I think a lot of my emotional state was due to sleep-deprivation from a sleepless baby. A doula would have given me the space to rest more. She would have facilitated me to bond to my baby in a healthier way. Again, she would have been able to assess me for postpartum depression and mood disorders, and helped me find someone qualified to help get me on a better track, sooner.
Have You Had a Doula?
After that experience, I went on to plan a VBAC, and later a VBA2C, with a doula. My subsequent births had challenges too, but having a doula by our side absolutely changed everything. So much so, that I became a doula myself after my second child was born.
I want to know from you too: have you had a doula at your birth or births? Why or why not? What do you think a doula could have done for you at your births?