Motherhood - why i am hiring a birth doula
It’s been three years I gave birth to my first baby, and although the moment my daughter Rory was born is the most overwhelmingly wonderful moment of my life, the moments leading up to it were some of the hardest. I had a really long labour, and eventually an assisted delivery…in summary it was everything I hadn’t wanted - medicalised, hospitalised and all very sterile. At times the room was flooded with people, and at others I was left completely alone. Throughout all of it, I felt like I had no control over anything that happened. It took me a few weeks to recover mentally from the experience, several years to recover physically and I struggled with flash backs, nightmares and a lot of anxiety in the months the birth. You can read my full birth story here. Needless to say, as soon as I got pregnant for the second time this summer, my thoughts turned to birth and how I could make more informed choices and ultimately have a more positive experience for my next birth. I want to do things differently, to feel safer and calmer and more in control, to prepare better, and to trust my body while simultaneously understanding that there are things I can do to set myself up for the experience. Rest more, eat better, sleep more, not work so much…
I have decided to opt for a home birth this time around, because it’s the best chance I think I have of creating a calm, safe environment to support me during labour and delivery. Perhaps we will have the fire on, the diffuser going, hot tea on tap and anything else that keeps the oxytocin flowing. A home birth wasn’t something I felt confidant to do last time, partly due to us living in a small upstairs flat, and partly due to it being my first birth. This time, however, I feel 100% confidant in my choice to birth at home, especially since we have recently moved from our London flat and into a house. I don’t feel quite so concerned about disturbing the neighbours, we have more space, and as I’ve experienced birth before I feel like it’s something I would far prefer to be at home and in my own surroundings for. Obviously, I know that no matter how much I prepare this time, we still may need a hospital transfer if something unexpected happens, but I’m focusing on labouring as long as I can at home even if the actual birth doesn’t happen here.
I had thought about hiring a doula when I was pregnant with Rory, but honestly I just didn’t think I needed one and I didn’t want to have the additional expense. It’s a big regret of mine, because there’s no doubt it would have increased my enjoyment of the experience had I had some extra support to hand, and perhaps even reduced the amount of medical interventions I had. Of course, you can’t know what your birth is going to be like ahead of time, so it’s hard to plan for it, but in hindsight I was a little naive and un-informed about my choices and completely unprepared for my daughter’s birth. So this time around, I’m having a do over.
So, what is a birth doula?
A doula is a non-medical, but trained professional, who assists women and their families during late pregnancy and childbirth. They are there to provide physical and emotional support, with the aim of helping you to have a safe, memorable and empowering birth experience. They may have additional training and knowledge in areas such as hypno-birthing, pregnancy yoga, breastfeeding, herbalism, aromatherapy and so on that can be of additional benefit to you during pregnancy, labour and delivery. They provide a continuity of care throughout the process, which you may not receive from a midwife depending on where you live, how long your labour is and so on.
Why am I hiring a birth doula?
Firstly, as a support for me. After my first experience of birth, a long labour with assistance from many different midwives, doctors and medical students, continuity of care is really important to me as I approach my second birth. I want someone with me the whole time who knows me, knows my background and can support me during my pregnancy and for the entire of my labour and delivery. I also really want a calm presence that can help me focus on my breathing, who knows what to do and say at each stage of labour to keep me going and who knows the local hospital and midwives. There is no continuity of maternity care in North Hertfordshire, and as it’s a second pregnancy and low risk I don’t need to see the midwife at the GP surgery more than a few times. I’m looking forward to having a doula that we have both built a connection with during my pregnancy to be there to assist us at the birth.
Secondly, as a support to my partner. Being a birth partner is a lot of pressure, especially when you don’t know anything about birth. I needed a lot from my partner during the birth of our daughter, and even though I was the one having to do all the physical work, he was there with me doing a lot of waiting and a lot of worrying. It was exhausting for him too, and I think he felt a little helpless in the hospital environment - as did I. This time around, having another member of our team is as much for him as it is for me, to keep us working together as a team and to let him have a break while meaning I’m not left alone.
Thirdly, as a another pair of hands for our daughter. As I’m planning for a home birth, hopefully delivery will happen while Rory sleeps upstairs. But, in case that isn’t what happens, having someone else to take Rory to the bathroom, make her food, take her to childcare or a friend’s house and so on will mean that both her and I can be looked after at all times. It takes the pressure off us, and means I don’t have to worry about being left alone if I don’t want to be, or anything else unexpected happening that Gav and I can’t manage between us because we will have someone else to help us.
But isn’t a midwife enough?
So, I want to stress that midwives do an amazing job and I can’t praise their hard work, love and dedication enough. Every single one that looked after me while I was in labour with my daughter could not have been kinder, more reassuring or encouraging. The thing is, that the NHS is stretched beyond belief and the midwives are overworked. The primary concern of everyone at the hospital is for the safety of you and your baby, not necessarily on your mental wellbeing throughout the process. They aren’t there to be your advocate, to help you make informed choices, and to support you to have the experience you ultimately would like to have. They are there to do their job, they are often very busy, have a lot of paperwork to do and work extremely long shifts for not a lot of pay. They are total heroes, for sure!
Depending on where you live in the UK, you may or may not have a continuity of care through your pregnancy and birth. I didn’t when I lived in London and had my first birth, and this time I won’t either. I had a wonderful midwife (I think about her often and how amazing she was) during my pregnancy with Rory, but as that midwife didn’t attend hospital births she wasn’t there for me while I was in labour. Because my labour was so long, I went through several midwives as they changed shift every eight hours. They were all very dedicated, generous and kind, but it was difficult for me to build up a bond and trust with each of them only to have them leave me again and hand over to someone new.
Also, if you’re opting for a home birth, you won’t have a midwife with you for the duration of labour like you might do at the hospital. The midwife will show up once things have really got going, with an additional one to follow as it gets close to the delivery. So if you need some additional support during your labour, a doula is a great option.
How to choose which doula is right for you:
My doula bestie recommends meeting with at least three face to face. It’s all about connection, and since you’ll be inviting this person into such an intimate experience, it goes without saying that it needs to be someone you trust and feel comfortable with. Go with your gut, and choose who feels like the best fit for you. I chose mine based on who I felt I would trust the most to support me during my labour and delivery, especially since I am quite a strong willed and opinionated person it was important to me to have someone who I could hand the reins over to a little. It’s not something I find easy to do! All the doulas I met with were lovely, I think it’s the nature of the job that they’re all kind and caring and thoughtful. The doula I chose was actually the first one I met with, and she does something called ‘shared care’ as her standard practice. This means she works alongside another doula, and they support each other and me throughout the whole process. They attend my antenatal sessions together, we have a Whatsapp group where I can ask them questions any time, and ultimately they will tag team my labour and delivery if they need to, perhaps even both attending at the same time for some or all of it. I didn’t choose my doula based on that, but it just so happened that for me they were the ones I connected with the most, and I liked the fact that one of them lives in the same town. Initially I wasn’t sure if shared care was something I wanted, but now I’ve hired them I am so thrilled with the idea of having two extra people to be part of this experience with us.
How to find a doula:
Doula UK is a comprehensive directory of all registered doulas in the UK, both mentored and fully qualified. Just pop in your postcode and it will bring up a list of all the doulas in your area, their profiles and contact details. Send some messages to the ones you feel most drawn to, and they’ll get back to you ASAP.
I am so happy that I made the decision to hire a doula this time around, I feel calmer already about the birth just knowing I am building a team of people who can give me and my family the support we need. It goes without saying that it’s a huge privilege to be able to afford to make this decision, many people don’t have that option and it’s a shame it’s not a service that’s available to everyone. Since we don’t have family nearby, nor anyone else that would be a suitable second birth partner for me that doesn’t already have a heap of family and work commitments, hiring a doula is a great option for us. It means I have a guaranteed support system, an extra pair of hands who knows about birth, knows the local hospital and all the midwives and has far more experience of labour and delivery than I do. It means a lot to me this time, especially since I have more specific concerns and worries than I did before my first birth. I’m anticipating similar things going wrong, feeling my fears about having a long labour, needing an induction, medical interventions and a delivery in an operating theatre. It’s great to have someone who really understands that, and can help me work through some of those fears and prepare for a calmer, more empowered labour and delivery.
I will definitely share my experience of having a doula at my next birth with you, and in the meantime I have some more posts planned about how I am preparing for a home birth, and some things I am making and purchasing to get us ready for having a newborn around again. I’ve been doing a lot of research about cloth nappies, reuse-able wipes and homemade remedies for nappy rash etc which I’d love to share with you too. Do let me know in the comments if there’s anything specific you’d like to know!
*I took these photos of my bestie and her newborn, my guideson, back in May 2018 just before I moved house. I feel so emotional looking at them, I’m pretty sure we both cried while I was shooting these! So much has changed since then, and I’m so grateful for these photos to remember that time. The power of photography just always gets me, how one image can take you back to a moment in the past and all the feelings come flooding back.