Doulas love doulas. Moms and dads love doulas. But what intrigued me about this piece is, Crystal is an aunt who now loves doulas. She shares her experience witnessing a doula-supported birth -- after just learning what a doula even does. I can think of no other powerful witness of the care doulas offer than this -- one that comes from a family member who not only saw the affects of a doula offered to Mom, but also to Dad and the extended family.
My brother and his wife were expecting their second daughter any day and I desperately wanted to be there for her arrival. Now, it should be known that we are a family of “moderate hippies." Grow-ing up in the Pacific Northwest, you are subject to crunchy granola-ism by proxy. Like it or not, you will be more “green” than people from, say, Detroit, just by default. So I was confused, but not surprised when my sister-in-law announced that she would be using a doula for her second child’s delivery. “A what?” I asked…”a doula.” was the reply. “What is that? Is that like a midwife?” “No, it’s like a birthing coach or a mother’s helper.” “Huh.” I was picturing a stern matronly woman that smelled of patchouli and wore Birkenstocks. Someone that espoused the virtues of going drug-free while standing on your head and breathing like an Iditarod racer through contractions…no thank you. With three children to my credit, I have always been happily pro-drug, pro-hospital, pro-doctor.
Despite the fact that I have given birth more than once, I still became quite excitable as we timed the contractions. My sister-in-law braved the pains from the comfort of her upstairs bedroom as we waited for her doula to arrive at the house. I was timing them at three minutes apart and was wondering why we weren’t just meeting this delivery person at the hospital. I harbored secret fears that my niece would be accidentally born at home and I don’t know if I could’ve kept from passing out if she had tried that business…
The doorbell rang and I was quite surprised to meet the woman that (I still thought) was coming to deliver this baby. She looked fresh from a yoga workout and she drove a Volvo. What happened to the flowing mu-mu and the hippie mobile, I wondered silently. Brief introductions ensued and Ashley the doula was ushered upstairs. Right away, I was impressed at how she commandeered the situation. She went directly to Carla, asked a whole series of questions in a very calming way, and the whole mood in the room changed. I fear that between my hushed anxiety, and grandmas verbal duress, you could have cut the tension running through that house with a knife. In came the doula and palpable anxiousness lifted from the room like a fog. In its place, there was a quiet calm punctuated by breathing and gentle coaxing. I think I could actually see the colors of her aura, that’s how calming her demeanor was.
It was also interesting to watch her “work the crowd." You could tell she had assessed the situation (slightly hysterical grandmother, worried sister-in-law, sick husband – did I mention at that very moment, my brother, the father-to-be, had been struck by a gastrointestinal bug?) Ashley diffused all that was ramping up. Focusing on mom, but speaking to all present, she assured everyone that the baby would not be there in the next hour and that we would calmly work our way to the hospital. I’m certain that my sigh of relief was audible when she made it clear that this baby would not be born in the upstairs bedroom of their family home.
I stopped perspiring when it became more-and-more clear that this gal knew what she was talking about. So far the baby had not fallen out en route, despite my misgivings about contractions that were three minutes apart and our not being hauled by screaming ambulance to the emergency department. Remain calm faithful reader.
Our doula (yes, at this point she has become “our doula”) was as steadfast in her calm and patient demeanor as I was borderline hysterical. I watched this magical gift of a woman do her thing. Yes, at the risk of sounding like a crazy, hippie-dippy, magical loving, fruit loop of a nut job, I will put it out there. I will say it: This magical gift of a woman, this doula, was wonderful.
In what was, for me, the comfort zone of beeping machines, copious hand sanitizer and droves of personnel equipped with advanced degrees and special badges, I watched the most basic of all things natural unfold: A woman, comforted, coached and calmed a laboring mother while the laboring mother brought her baby into the world. It was a revelation for this mother, how a delivery could go so smoothly…
Because we are led to believe that laboring women need monitoring, constant checking, IV’s, medications, interventions and whole carts of instruments to bring a human being into the world. When maybe the most effective, and dare I say, most important vehicle to assist in delivery is a calm companion -- someone who knows, with unshakable conviction that women were designed to have babies. That birth is not an instantaneous process. A person comfortable with the fact that labor and delivery take as long as they take, a person adept at soothing a laboring mother through the pain and anxiety of childbirth.
Having seen it for myself, watching a team work with a laboring mother in that hospital room, it dawned on me what a genius arrangement this was. Dad was watching the progress, eagerly engaged, free to ask questions and procure ice chips while mom was fully tended by a constant, unwavering support person.
During my own delivery, six years ago, the assigned labor nurse whom I had grown to love, had her shift end smack dab in the middle of my laboring! And she left! She went home because her work day was done. The second shift came on as I was transitioning into hard labor and I hated that second delivery nurse. She was loud and obnoxious, interjecting her belligerent opinions with every breath. And I was too wrapped up in birthing a baby to tell her where I really wished she’d go. What a different experience that could’ve been. If I’d had a doula, as a personal support person at my side, “Nurse Ratchet”, as she’s become infamously known in my birthing story, could have gone away. Or at least shut up. But I had not known there was this option. I only knew what the hospital staff told me…
And let me tell you another story where a doula could have quite possibly changed the course of history. A couple of years back, I was invited to photograph at a delivery. Not a National Geographic-type assignment, but a tasteful, photo-journalistic capture of the first moments of life. Mother laboring, father cord cutting, baby weighing in, all of those moments. At three centimeters, this laboring mom was beside herself with pain and she became petrified at the prospect of having to birth a baby. She screamed frantically until an anesthesiologist came in and gave her an epidural. She was dilated to four centimeters. As her contractions continued, the epidural was not enough and she became terrified. Her mother could not talk her down, the daddy had to leave the room – everyone was asked to leave the room. The epidural was turned up and medication was administered intravenously. The shrieking subsided as we all waited in the hall. She was dilated to seven centimeters. Her labor progressed. Before she was ready, she was at ten centimeters and there was no more medication to be given. This birthing woman screamed and cried and swore and shrieked and there was nothing more to be done (pharmaceutically) as she endured that transition into second stage.
The doctor arrived amidst chaos and hysteria while a crowd stood, wide-eyed, in the hallway. Suddenly and abruptly, all of the ruckus stopped. Dead silence. Minutes later, a nurse emerged with a silent, swaddled infant. I will never know what actually happened in that delivery room in the wee, wee hours of the morning, but I do know there was no audible first squeal from that baby, there was no “war cry” as that laboring mom delivered her infant with her own body. I can speculate that when her practitioner walked in, he evaluated the hysterical situation and whacked that mom up with something akin to the old twilight sedation that women in the 1950’s delivered with, and he pulled that baby out before things got any crazier. That is what I honestly believe happened, but I will never really know for sure. What if she had a doula?
The two experiences I’ve been witness to, (outside of my own personal deliveries) were so vastly contrasting that I’m not even sure they were the same situation. Granted, the outcome was akin – a baby was born – but one was a controlled, comforting example of what every expectant mother hopes for, and the other was an uncontrolled barbaric exper-iment in hysteria. Seriously. I would go that far. And I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that they both could have been calm, satisfying moments. I will tell you that I am now the spokesperson for doulas. I will shout it from the rooftops. If you could have a personal, private labor coach that helped you to implement your birth plan, kept the hospital personnel on track (or at bay, if that’s what you needed), kept your pain levels down, utilizing natural methods – visualization, massage, quiet coaching, positioning, breathing instruction, even aromatherapy – and acted as a liaison between you and the delivery personnel, why would you do it any other way?
“Our doula” as I like to think of her (she was, after all, a huge part of a tremendous family event) met with my sister-in-law for weeks prior to her delivery; she got to know mom and dad. She knew their wishes, their preferences, and mom’s plan B if things were to change. Ashley the doula made sure a birth plan was on file and that the hospital stuck to mom’s wishes. She was invaluable in getting Carla through the tough transitions, sans epidural since she knew Carla’s previous back fracture would be an impediment to epidural placement (as it had after three attempts during the delivery of her first child). My sister-in-law knew what she wanted, and she knew from previous experience how hospital staff struggled to keep up with the wishes of patients from room-to-room. She knew how tough it would be to go without that epidural and I believe Ashley got her through it with confidence and an empowering sense of control regarding her own body. From the time she arrived on the scene, Ashley did not leave Carla’s side. She massaged, coached, offered sips of drinks and held the emesis basin. She kept the nursing staff informed when things changed regarding contractions and transitions. She was a relief for every person involved. I haven’t had a chance to talk to my SIL in-depth about her version of the doula experience since the arrival of their new bundle, but from what I witnessed, a doula is a real birth-saver
Crystal is not what you would call a "doula." In fact, she's not a doula at all. This makes her judgement of doulas all that more credible. She has a zany, crazy, outrageous family she resides with in North Carolina. A passionate blogger, she began writing as a creative outlet and a way to share tales and projects with her extended family who live thousands of miles to the west. Crystal is also a photograper. A Pacific Northwest native, she is currently trying to deny the small twang that may or may not be appearing in her speech. Ashley Greenwald is the one affectionately referred to as "our doula," and she serves the Reno, NV area.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)