• I used to think that doulas were an upper class luxury. I thought their main purpose was to be available to massage a laboring woman’s lower back, at a ridiculously high price. I was very wrong. After giving birth to my third child, and a doula was ‘accidentally’ with me, I now understand and value their purpose in keeping laboring mothers ‘safe.’

    There was a nature show on television that showed a female deer giving birth. The doe was about to enter the world, when nearby, the mother saw there was smoke from a fire. The mother deer retreated her baby doe up into her body and she ran away to give birth somewhere safe.

    When having a natural, drug-free labor, a woman’s senses tend to be heightened. Negativity, cynicism and fear have no place in a birthing room. Yet, I hear time and time again from friends that they ended up having c-sections. One or two actually did require a c-section. Thank goodness we have the technology and resources to help them.  Most didn’t need intervention and later told me how the experience played out. Someone in the room made a fear-based statement, and the mother’s labor stalled. So c-sections were threatened.

    I recently gave birth to my third child and my wonderful midwife was at another birth and couldn’t be with me. I figured since this was my third time, I knew what I was doing and it would be okay. The minute I met the backup midwife (who was inexperienced and lacked confidence in herself), I could feel that she exuded fear and negativity. The first thing I told her when she came in was, “I need reassurance from you that everything is going well.” Unless she interpreted that as, “I need you to scare the hell out of me and bombard me with your negativity,” I don’t think she understood the importance of positivity during labor.

    I won’t go into details but, basically, as the baby was entering this world, the midwife made a fear-based statement that caused me to freeze. Like the mother deer on the show, the baby went up as though a vacuum had suctioned him back into my uterus. And then my labor stopped. No contractions, nothing. For three whole hours. I started to panic.

    At this point my regular midwife sent an assistant over to help, who also happened to be an experienced doula. The doula figured out what was going on instantly, and she helped me restart my labor by encouraging me with positivity and relaxation techniques. She basically took over for the midwife, even taking the Doppler monitor to check the heart rate while the midwife sat in the corner.

    I don’t know what would have happened if the doula hadn’t been there. I’ve heard this statement from friends many times. I have also heard countless stories about a nurse or a doctor making a fearful or threatening statement and a woman’s labor stalling. Sometimes requiring intervention that might not otherwise be necessary.

    One friend had the nurses in the hospital telling her not to start pushing and she listened. Because she didn’t push when nature was telling her to do so, the baby’s heart rate dropped. It dropped enough to be considered in distress. The doula figured out why they were telling her not to push — because the doctor wasn’t there yet and couldn’t bill unless he delivered the baby. Her doula told her to ignore the nurses and push, which she proceeded to do without the doctor present, and boy were the nurses panicking. And likely, not because they didn’t think she could do it, but because they didn’t want the doctor to get mad at them. But the doula kept calm and carried on.

    Self-trust is crucial during labor, but so is someone else’s reassurance. So if you are considering getting a doula, and can afford it, I say go for it. It will be money well spent and has nothing to do with getting a back massage (although that is helpful too). Doulas are your in-room advocate for a natural birth, the way you want it. Just check his/her references and ask how they were helpful in another person’s labor first. And remember to keep calm and labor on.