When people ask me what I do, I always respond by saying, “I’m a doula and a childbirth educator.” And then I wait. I wait for the look of uncertainty to fill the face of the person who asked me the question, or for them to say, “What’s a doula?” The word is still a very unfamiliar one in some parts of the country, and even though I live in a large suburban area outside of Philadelphia, many of the people I come into contact with outside of the birth-world have never heard of a doula.
And that makes me a bit sad.
I think back to a time when women were surrounded by other women during their labors and their births; a time when by the time a woman had reached childbearing age, she would have seen birth happen so many times that she was well-prepared for it herself.
But we don’t live in that time. We live in a time in which birth is unknown and frightening to many women. It is during this time that we need doulas.
We need doulas to help us get the information that we need so that we are empowered to make the right decisions for ourselves and for our babies. Doulas can help us make decisions by providing us with information and guidance. Doulas help us through our labors and our births by offering constant companionship .
The value of having a birth doula cannot be underestimated. As anyone who has given birth can tell you, giving birth is one of the most life-alerting events that one can experience. Birth is an intimate event. It is an event that does not come with a do-over button. And while we can never predict an outcome, especially in an event as unpredictable as birth, we can take steps in order to achieve the birth experience that we dream of. Doulas are one step you can take in order to get the birth that you hope for.
Since the beginning of human history, birth took place in the home, with family present, and with a midwife who was experienced in normal birth. Girls and women witnessed birth and experienced it long before they gave birth to their own children. Today, in a culture in which birth typically takes place outside of the home, most women have no experience with childbirth until they give birth themselves. It is a new and foreign experience for most of us.
On average, the length of time a woman who giving birth for the first time spends in labor is about eighteen hours. During most of that time, she and her partner are left to blaze this unexplored trail on their own. It can sometimes be a scary experience that is full of unknowns.
However, studies have shown that having a doula present at your birth can greatly increase your chance of having a birth outcome that you feel good about. Doulas can help to increase positive birth outcomes and decrease the use of medications such as Pitocin and epidural anesthesia. Doulas can decrease the total length of labor by about 25% and decrease the incidence of cesarean delivery by about 50%. Overall, doulas can help you avoid unnecessary interventions and they can help you get off to a better start with your baby and increase your chances of having a successful breastfeeding relationship.
A doula is present during the entire labor and her knowledge and experience can help the mother find confidence and security throughout her birthing experience. When a woman feels safe, confident and secure, oxytocin (“the love hormone”) flows freely and facilitates the progression of her labor. Feeling safe reduces the presence of adrenaline, the hormone responsible for fight or flight syndrome, which can slow or stall a labor. When a woman is supported by a doula, she feels that she has better control of her birthing experience, can make decisions with confidence, and is free to trust what her body is telling her.
Birth is an event that is not forgotten. The experience stays with us throughout our lives. In birth, as in life, there are no guarantees, but having a doula present at your birth can help get one step closer to realizing the birth that you hope for.