Why I Hired a Doula

When I stared down at my positive pregnancy test on the morning of Tuesday, June 17th, I knew I was in for a world of physical and emotional change over the next nine months, but what I couldn’t predict was the amount of knowledge, perspective and empowerment I would gain through my pregnancy. When I embarked on my pregnancy I knew exactly what I wanted in the end: a healthy baby and mama. How difficult could that be? I was a little naïve, to say the least, to think it was as simple as that.

My due date was February 21. One of the few things my husband Michael and I knew right away was we wanted an unmedicated birth. We also knew we wanted to explore our options for birthing classes. Being the analytical person I am, I dove into reading and research mode to gain as much knowledge of my options leading up to and during birth.

When we asked my OB at my 20 week appointment about how to find a Bradley birthing class we got quite a bit of push-back. She said the Bradley Method was “anti-doctor” and recommended Hypnobirthing as an alternative. She also said that she had personally gone the unmedicated route with her first child and that “it wasn’t for her.” She said she’d seen a lot of mamas attempt unmedicated birth, and she “didn’t want me to suffer if I didn’t have to.” She also said as long as in the end “baby and mom are healthy” she considered it a successful birth. We seemed to be on the same page for the end result so, at the time, that was good enough for me.

After that appointment Michael and I began to discuss how we could feel the most supported in the delivery room and what kind of birth team we wanted. Through talking with friends and family we learned of the idea of hiring a doula. Around the same time one of the clients I was working with gave birth to twin boys. I got to see, first hand, the benefits of a postpartum doula. I was able to talk with her doula, ask questions, and gain a few resources. I thought a postpartum doula sounded amazing, especially for a first-time-mama. As I researched more about postpartum doulas I realized the benefits of having a birth doula as well.

From this woman’s recommendation I looked into the San Francisco Doula Group and found they held a Meet the Doula workshop a couple times a month. We decided to attend in early January. There were about a dozen doulas who put on the workshop and we were able to learn more about the different types of doulas: birth, postpartum, and night doulas. We also had a chance to speak with a few individually.

Michael and I were in agreement about whom we felt inclined to pursue further, but we also had a very tight budget. Because of this, we were concerned that we weren’t going to be able to afford the type of birth we wanted and I felt guilty asking friends and family to donate money at the baby shower in lieu of gifts. We struggled with trying to find a tactful way to raise the necessary funds. Through a suggestion by my sister-in-law we looked into different crowd-funding websites. We interviewed several doulas and by the end of January, we had set up our “doula fund” on youcaring.com (they charge zero fees!), and had hired our wonderful doula, Sarah.

Sarah was absolutely amazing, calming, and patient from the get-go. She understood and fully supported the type of birth we wanted. We talked at length with her during the interview, asked a ton of questions about her experience and her philosophy on medication. She explained to us different scenarios where interventions might be needed, but also assured us that she had faith in my body and that most births end up perfectly fine if left alone.

Her standard package was:

  • Two prenatal visits
  • Her attendance during labor at home
  • Help with transitioning to the hospital
  • Attendance throughout active labor and birth at the hospital
  • Remaining in the birth room until transition to postpartum room
  • One to two postpartum visits

She also offered postpartum doula services at an hourly rate. With her experience and knowledge we devised a birth plan and felt as prepared as we could be. Unfortunately, we never got out second prenatal visit because our little girl, Maddie, decided to start her arrival the day before our scheduled meeting time!

We contacted Sarah the morning of February 9 when I first started having contractions. She and I talked on the phone and we agreed to check-in later in the day. By noon, Michael was the one chatting with her as I could no longer talk on the phone. She arrived by 1:30 p.m. Sarah was energetic and excited, but also calm and centered. She took over timing my contractions and taking my temperature (since we thought my water might’ve broken), and making sure I was drinking enough fluids. She hung out and gave Michael and I the space to be together and for him to support me.

As it came time to make our way to the hospital, she was the clear-headed person to give us the rundown: leave now and risk being turned away or stay at home longer and be more uncomfortable laboring in the car. We opted to head to the hospital. She helped Michael load things into the car and set off in her own car to meet us there.

Through triage she remained a calming force for me and I was able to focus on her voice to help me through my contractions. Michael took care of all the paperwork and Sarah took care of me.

We transitioned to the labor and delivery suite and Sarah knew how much I wanted to labor in the tub so she asked if I wanted to do that right away. I confirmed and within minutes she had drawn a bath, scattered the room with lit battery-operated candles, and sprayed lavender throughout the room. It was serene, calm, and as blissful as labor could be.

She had all sorts of phrases she shuffled through to help me through contractions; some of which I have continued to use to help with the occasional pain of breastfeeding. She would say things like:

  • Bring your shoulders down (to get me to release the tension in my shoulders)
  • Push it away or let it go (when a contraction was on the decline)
  • Rest when you can

She was extremely encouraging and was constantly rubbing my back, suggesting different positions when things would stall, and going back to positions that seemed to work.

There were a few key moments where her advice was a huge help. At one point during the night I requested to be checked for dilation and a couple of male residents came in instead of my midwife. Sarah suggested we hold off and request the midwife do the exam because she had more experience and might be a little gentler.

At about 8 a.m. the next morning, after the change of shift, I had been stalled at 8 cm for several hours with a “bulge” blocking progress. I was feeling frustrated and extremely tired. There had been a brief discussion of breaking my water earlier, which hadn’t broken like we previously thought, and we were back to that conversation again. Sarah pointed out the pros and cons and said that she had seen labor go quicker in circumstances like this once it was broken. Considering her advice and my mental state we opted to have the new midwife break my water.

Labor progressed very quickly and I was soon in transition with contractions that were more intense and not letting up. Still feeling extremely fatigued, I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to keep up with labor in that capacity. I was able to articulate this feeling and Sarah, knowing our desire for no interventions or medications, asked if we would like to give labor a timeframe and then discuss an epidural. I didn’t want an epidural, especially after getting all the way to 8 cm, so she suggested Nitrous Oxide. We agreed to that and it did the trick! I was able to hang in there through transition and also get out of the frustrated headspace I was in.

When I first started to feel the need to push Sarah told me to give into that urge, the baby wouldn’t come with the first few pushes. When it came time to push with the midwife, Sarah suggested positions for optimal pushing and what had been working when I was in early labor. I chose to push on my back, only because it was the only position I could actually rest in. She helped hold my legs and guided me to push properly; telling me to push toward my legs not to pull on my legs. She gave me a play-by-play of what was happening.

Once little Maddie arrived I was so distracted by the pain of being stitched up, I wasn’t able to concentrate on getting her to latch. Sarah physically put my breast in my daughter’s mouth and we were able to get her latched right away.

Sarah explained a little about how to get a proper latch and she took pictures of Michael cutting the umbilical cord.

Her last contribution to our birth was taking the placenta. We chose to have her encapsulate it to aid with postpartum healing, both physically and emotionally.

At our first postpartum visit, Sarah delivered the encapsulated placenta and we discussed my feelings about my birth experience. She watched me breastfeed and commented on how relaxed I was and how I seemed a natural at motherhood. We discussed establishing a routine as a family and she left with a final hug.

Having a doula present before, during, and after birth made the experience absolutely empowering and amazing. I was able to get out of my head and really be in my body. It was comforting knowing I didn’t have to retrieve all of the knowledge I had soaked up because there was someone in the room who knew everything I did, and then some. Having my only job be to listen to my body made it that much easier.

Yes, it was expensive, I’m not going to lie. Between donations given in place of or in addition to baby shower gifts, as well as a generous private donation, we raised enough money to cover Sarah’s fee.

It was such a moving experience and I believe wholeheartedly that anyone who wants a doula should have one and that money should not deter them from pursuing the birth they want.

There are many doulas that provide sliding scale or low cost/no cost services. Some are even willing to barter. I encourage anyone to research and find these doulas.

Sarah was absolutely amazing and worth every penny!

Guest Mama Sara hails from the San Francisco Bay Area where she’s enjoying all the snuggles while on maternity leave after her baby girl was born in February.

2 Responses to Why I Hired a Doula

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’ve hired a doula to assist me in my upcoming unmedicated VBAC and I’m so excited for it! Stories like yours give me even more hope for the outcome I want

  2. Hiring a Doula was a great choice for me too, she was there with me every step of the way and really helped me feel more comfortable when I really wasn’t! Really the part that helped me the most was the sessions we had before I went in to labor though.

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