This post isn’t specifically about being pregnant after infertility, but my reasons for wanting a doula are indirectly related to my infertility experience. Since the whole doula thing is relatively new to me, I’m keeping things basic and posting lots of links to some great resources.
A while back, I posted about starting my search for a doula. Since then, I have visited with four recently trained doulas and decided to hire one of them.
What is a doula?
According to DONA.org, a doula is “a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.” Doulas are trained in a variety of techniques to help you labor comfortably and to have the kind of birth experience you desire. A doula probably has her* own labor and birth philosophy, but most will work with you whether your philosophies match up or not. So, even if your doula prefers a medication-free birth, and you plan on an epidural from the start, she will (should) respect your choice. Having a doula can be a positive experience, whether you plan on a vaginal birth or a scheduled c-section.
There are all kinds of benefits to having a doula, including shorter labor, fewer complications, and reduced need for interventions. If you’re the type who likes evidence to back up such claims, I refer you to the DONA International Position Paper on birth doulas, which references several studies that you can look up and read for yourself. I read a couple, but, to be honest, that a doula would improve the birth experience in those ways just made sense to me, so I didn’t need much convincing to know that a doula was right for me.
Doulas are not medical professionals. They do not offer medical advice, or interfere with the medical team treating you. However, one benefit of an experienced doula is that she can help you better understand what the labor and delivery team is doing and saying.
Some doulas offer extras, like photography, help with breastfeeding, birth classes, help with writing a birth plan, and help with writing your birth story (she will be able to help you fill in some of the gaps). Sometimes these are at no extra cost, but you need to ask.
Why hire a doula?
5 Reasons Dads Should Demand a Doula (Sorry for the heteronormativity; it’s still a helpful read)
I decided that I wanted a doula for a couple of reasons. 1) This will be my first time giving birth (assuming all goes well with this pregnancy). I can read and research until my brain melts, but I know that when the time comes, I won’t remember any of it. I want someone who knows labor and birth like the back of her hand, who can coach me and support me in having the birth experience I desire. 2) After everything I’ve gone through during my infertility journey, I believe I deserve to have the very best care and assistance while giving birth the way I want. In a way, it’s wrestling back some of the control I lost during the getting pregnant part. 3) A doula will help relieve some of the pressure on my husband to keep me comfortable and motivated, and even help coach him in techniques that will help me.
I should say a few words about the partner’s role in all of this. Obviously, your partner needs to be on board with having a doula. He or she may initially feel like the doula is meant to replace him or her, but a little education can go a long way in calming that fear. Your partner may or may not want to be part of the decision-making process. My husband basically said, “Your body, your decision.” So, I did all the interviewing myself. We will both meet with the doula a few times before I go into labor, so that we’re all on the same page.
How to find a doula?
Once you decide a doula is right for you – or even if you just want more information before making your decision – it’s time to start interviewing. I found a list of doulas at a local moms group on Facebook. I also emailed DONA International for a list of licensed and trained doulas. (Note: You can search DONA.org for licensed doulas, but you have to email the organization to find the ones who have training but are not yet licensed.) You can also ask your OB, midwife, nurse, or clinic receptionist, as well as friends and family. Of course, there’s always Google.
What questions should you ask?
During the interview process, you will want to ask lots of questions. Again, DONA.org provides a great list to get you started. I also asked about other work/jobs, since the doulas I interviewed were new to the field. I wanted to be sure they could be by my side the moment labor started. In addition, I wanted to know about their experiences (if any) with the hospital where I am planning to deliver, to make sure it’s doula-friendly. Lastly, this was a tough one, but I asked each of them if she would still be my doula if I knew the baby would be stillborn. (This is also something you should consider for your birth plan – how do you want to proceed if you know the baby has already passed?)
What does it cost to hire a doula?
The cost of hiring a doula varies based on the services they offer, level of experience, and geography. The doulas I spoke to range from about $400 to $800, but that’s because they were only recently trained and have very little experience. They need to assist a certain number of births in order to complete their certification and licensing, hence the reduced rate. You’ll have to do some research to find out what the going rate is in your area.
What happens after you hire a doula?
The doula should have you sign a contract that spells out the services she will provide to you and how and when payment is due. The doula will put you on her calendar, reserving the weeks surrounding your due date for you and you alone. If she doesn’t have a regular back up doula, you should let her know which of the other doulas you interviewed you would like to use as a back up, if needed.
I’m obviously a huge supporter of having a doula, but I know it’s not right for everyone. Some women may prefer to have a friend or family member provide support in addition to their partner, while others prefer only their partner. There’s no right or wrong way. I briefly considered asking my mom to be by my side, but her only experience was vastly different from the type of birth experience I want. I know she would provide awesome emotional support, but technical and physical support, not so much. I also like that a professional doula is emotionally detached from me, compared to a friend or family member.
Of course, only time will tell if the doula experience is all I envisioned it would be. I will definitely follow up to let you all know how things go in about 5 months or so.
* I say her and she because the only doulas I know of are women. I wonder if male doulas exist somewhere?