I am very excited to have my wonderful and very smart cousin, Anna Kemp, guest posting today. My birth experience was relatively uncomplicated one, but there are several things that I wish I could have done differently and that I wanted done differently. There is so much going on in the delivery room that it is hard to think straight, and your spouse probably can't think straight either. You are about to become a mother, he is about to become a father, you are in pain, you are excited, you are overwhelmed.

I wish I had a doula to be the "manager" of my birth experience, and after reading this post by Anna- I think you'll want one, too!

Who is on Your Birth Team?
“I don’t want anyone else in the labor room with me, except for my partner. I’m more of a private person and this is an intimate experience. Besides, we’ll have the medical staff to take care of us.”

“I don’t want to feel like I’m not part of the birth process, so I want to be the only one to support her.”

“I won’t need “extra” support or help from another advocate because I’m sure the medical care providers do this all of the time.”

“I would like to have professional labor support and education, but we can’t afford it.” 

Sound familiar?

It does to me. As a childbirth educator and birth doula, I hear these statements frequently. Before I was pregnant with my first baby, I actually used a few of these lines. Like many women, when I was expecting for the first time, I had never heard of the word “doula” or even considered that labor support would become such a crucial part of my births and eventually, my life’s work.
In many other cultures, and in early American times, a female circle of friends would likely have attended some portion of one another’s labor, birth or early postpartum period - providing support, meals, help and a sense of community to the expectant mothers in our lives.

Now, I think we can all agree on some serious advantages to not giving birth in early American times. However, there are some things lost by cutting female support out of the birth equation. For instance, the need for empathy and confidence in the birth process, or the constant reassurance and physical support from someone who’s been there, done that, a lot.

Enter, the doula. A birth doula provides professional labor support - whose only responsibility is continuous support for a laboring woman and her partner. The holistic support covers physical and emotional needs, meaning her training will ease the discomfort of your back labor and tense shoulders, while calmly reassuring you that the frequency and intensity of your individual birth is not only normal, but actually a good thing. And chances are, you’ll believe her. We don’t always think of birth as ordinary. For many of us, we will only attend our own births during our lifetimes or maybe one or two others. For a doula, birth is part of her life. It’s what she does, sees and experiences monthly and sometimes weekly. As customary as birth remains to her, she passes on that sense of “normalcy” and comfort to the people she supports. 

The following are some common questions I get asked about birth doulas and their role during labor, birth and the early days of motherhood:

What does a doula do?
A doula is a member of your birth team who supports you continuously throughout pregnancy, labor and birth. That support includes physical care, such as providing comfort measures during all phases of labor or assisted birthing positions. It can also mean emotional support - giving moms needed encouragement and reassurance. Sometimes her partner worries about her. A doula has seen this many times and knows how to normalize this process for new parents.

What does a doula not do?
Deliver babies, provide medical care to a mother and her baby, make decisions for her, take the place of her partner, speak for her or judge her.

Won’t my nurse do that for me?
A nurse’s first priority is the health and safety of you and your baby. Crucial to all births, nurses deserve more recognition than often given. The fact of the matter is that many nurses would like to do all of the things that doulas do, but mostly, may not have the bandwidth or specialized training. Nurses often have more than one patient at a time and have many responsibilities beyond your physical comfort and emotional needs.
They are in and out, and only a constant presence when it’s time for the baby to come out.
You know who isn’t in and out? Your doula. Unless you want her to be, of course.

And you know what is really awesome? 

{Studies show that by including someone like a doula at your birth, you maintain a lower risk of medical interventions, such as inductions, C-sections, pain medications and forceps deliveries – which all add individual and sometimes long-term risks.}

If I have a doula does that mean I can’t get pain medication?
Doulas aren’t just for women choosing unmedicated births. During your prenatal visit to your home, your doula will educate you on the known benefits, risks and alternatives to pain medications. If medication is part of your birth preferences, she’ll support you down that path. Doulas stand as your advocate and help you achieve the birth that you desire.

What about my partner? Will a doula take their place?
These days, there is a lot of pressure on partners during a birth. The expectation is that they will know when to leave for the place of birth, get the home ready while she’s laboring, pack the bags, load the car, remember to walk the dog, manage her comfort while this is going on, help her know which comfort measure to try next, rub her shoulders, remember to pull out the lavender oil she said she wanted, love her, advocate for her wishes to care providers, know what’s normal because they took a class, remember to nourish her, stay up with her at all hours, and generally be everything to her all while having not eaten, slept or even used the bathroom, because she doesn't want to be left alone. Then when the baby comes, they need to remember that she wants the baby skin-to-skin within minutes, ensure the care provider will not clamp the cord right away, take the perfect first photo of the baby being placed on her chest - and don’t forget to get the baby book out for the foot prints! Not to mention, remember what their preferences were when it comes to the newborn procedures at the hospital.

Seem like a lot? It is. A doula takes a lot of that off of the partner’s shoulders so that they can be part of this all-consuming, life-changing, inspiring experience. A doula opens the door a partner’s inclusion in this experience with their new family. She says, “I’ve got this. You eat something.” Or “I’ve got this, just focus on mom and your new baby.”

The long and short of it is, there are many advantages to having a doula present at your birth. But, I think Dr. John Kennell, a pediatrician who studied the effects of labor support on women, said it best when he wrote: “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”

To find a listing of doulas near you, visit dona.org, or doulamatch.net.

About the Author:

Anna Kemp is a birth doula and childbirth educator serving the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding the tri-state area. She believes that birth is a profound life experience that affects the way we parent our children and the way we feel about ourselves. A Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and a certified birth doula through DONA International, her day-to-day job as a wife to a wonderfully supportive husband, mother of two amazing kids and committed friend keeps life interesting. Prior to becoming a birth doula, Anna used her bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications to support Fortune 500 company’s advertising and branding campaigns for eight years at renowned agencies in Louisville and Baltimore. She’s a current events and pop culture junky, habitual home-improver, and not-so-good tennis player. She is convinced there is no better job than to empower women to welcome their babies into the world on their terms and their time. Visit shenandoahbirths.com to learn more or get in touch.

Me & Anna at a Family Reunion (circa 2005)

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