When I found out that I was expecting for the first time, I had heard of the doula role and how they help new mothers. Having constant support from the same loving, informed person during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum months seemed really wonderful. I imagined that doulas were making a positive impact all over the world, for women who could afford the luxury.
Now I find myself on the other side of two births 18 months apart, and sometimes I feel like I’ve been through a battle of some sort. I have war wounds. Unnecessary emotional and physical wounds. From the outside, my story seems to be normal and healthy. I had two vaginal births at a birthing center, two healthy babies, a supportive husband and extended family, and a nice long maternity leave from work.
But every woman deserves a doula, because having a baby is not easy for anyone. Because bringing a new human into the world while maintaining your own physical and mental health is crazy hard. Every mother deserves a doula. Here’s why:
We are not meant to mother alone (or even in two)
Taking care of a newborn is more than a full time job. With all due respect to newborns, they love big, but in a most selfish way. They always need someone. Always. They don’t care if you need to eat, or shower, or that you have no clean clothes. They need you anyway.
Having doula support in addition to support from family and friends makes it possible for you to focus on your baby while also remembering to take care of yourself. You also need immediate access to correct information. Your experienced best friend or “The Internet” are not always able to provide this. It takes a village to raise a child is no joke.
A doula doesn’t judge or sway
A doula has a profound understanding of the transformation that you are going through, and will give you support without influencing the way you grow. She (or he) will give you the tools to look deep inside yourself and be the mother that you were meant to be. Family members can do this, too, but a doula is trained to help you follow your instincts without being influenced by a personal history unavoidably charged with emotion.
Once I asked my own mother about her opinion of my son’s crying EVERY SINGLE TIME I put him down.
“Doesn’t this seem a little extreme to you?”
“Well,” she said, “you might want to think about not picking him up every single time he cries.”
See? Even my own mother, who would never say anything to intentionally distress me, made me question my mothering abilities.
Moms are new, too, just like their babies, and they need someone to help them navigate these new waters WITHOUT JUDGEMENT or comments that can incite doubt.
A doula reduces your chances of having a C-section and other interventions
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists just published a committee opinion based on recent studies and advances in research. The document notes the importance of continuous support for the mother, specifically mentioning doulas. Continuous support is associated with shorter labor (so you are therefore less likely to be encouraged to induce), less need for pain medication, and fewer C-sections.
How do doulas do this?
A doula knows about a plethora of comfort measures in birth and has the time and patience to explain them to you.
Music, singing, body wraps, positions, massages, essential oils, just the right words to make you relax and open, lighting, water, removing negative energy (ahem, people) from the room and keeping the positive, and the list goes on.
Comfortable, empowered mothers have better birth outcomes and higher satisfaction. This is one of the few times in life that a simple massage could mean the difference between a baby on your chest and major surgery. I think the massage is not only worth it, but necessary.
Mental health is not a luxury
In order to have mental balance, we need time outside, healthy food, touch, social contact, and physical movement, to name a few things. Sometimes we need medicine. Sometimes we need professional help. We do not question the importance of these things in every day life. Why do we question the need for professional help during the most transformational, delicate time in our lives? We shouldn’t. New mothers are born, and they need support. This should be a thing that we all just know.
When I had my second baby 18 months after my first, I was drowning. I craved clarity of thought but couldn’t see straight due to lack of sleep and no time to myself. I needed to talk about my births with someone who knew about birth, someone who really cared about listening to the details of what had happened to me. In the end I did contact a postpartum doula, and thank goodness I did because that first conversation with her, in the comfort of my own home, with my children at my feet and in my lap, was the first time in months that I felt like anyone understood me.
We all need to feel understood. It is a basic human need.
Doulas can lighten your load in the postpartum months, be a mirror for you so that YOU can keep track of what your emotional and physical needs are, and point you in the right direction if you need more specialized care.
No mother should find herself crying in the bathroom wondering how she is going to face the day because raising kids is so incredibly overwhelming. Yet it happens to all of us. Every woman should be able to bring a baby into the world and enjoy the baby and life in general.
We are raising humans here who will change the world, hopefully for the better. If they are truly a priority, then mothers’ wellbeing should be the FIRST priority.
If you want to learn more about what exactly a doula does, Ricky Lake and Abby Epstein go into detail in their documentary film More Business of Being Born in the section called “Explore your Options: Doulas, Birth Centers and C-sections.”
Did you have a doula during any point in your pregnancy, birth, or months after birth? How was your experience? We would love to hear from you.
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