Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Doula Experience: Love It or Leave It?

What exactly is a doula? I heard that question several times when I announced we were going to use one for Addison's birth. Since doulas are not as prevalent here in OK as in other parts of the country, most people I talked to were not familiar with the term. (One of my friends sheepishly admitted later that she thought a doula was some new, hip baby toy). A doula, in short, is a labor coach. They are there to provide encouragement and support for the weeks leading up to the pregnancy and the birth itself. They can also be an intermediary between you and your doctor should he recommend something you don't want but are too frazzled to fight against. They usually specialize in one or two extra things as well, such as massage, placenta encapsulation, or even belly casting.

Because I am a procrastinator by nature, I waited until a couple of months before the birth to start looking for a doula. I found my options limited, but diligently looked over each doula's page anyway, weighed their pros and cons, and contacted one to interview.

I should have seen it coming. When we first sat down to ask the doula questions, I knew she wasn't a good fit. I knew I wanted someone extremely calm in the delivery room with me - a quiet, strong presence. She was too talkative and loud, very nervous, and not at all experienced. However, I am not good at saying no, so when it came time to tell her "We'll be in touch," knowing we wouldn't be, I instead found myself saying, "Where do I sign our contract?" as Erik looked at me in horror.

Over the next several weeks, I tried to look at the bright side. Her inexperience would hopefully mean that she was a little more eager and devoted to me and to getting things right, as she needed my delivery for her certification. I chalked our first meeting up to nerves, and tried not to dwell on it. She did contact me several times via text to check on me, which I appreciated. I was the ideal preggo, never calling to bother her or ask her questions. I did not speak with her again until the night I was ready to deliver.

When I called her a little after midnight to tell her my water had broken and we were headed to the hospital, she was somewhat surprised, I think, as we had planned to labor at home for awhile. She took it all in stride, however, and agreed to meet us at the hospital as soon as she could. The first hour or so was fine as she walked with me through the halls, encouraged me to listen to my music, and rubbed my back for a few minutes. When she fell asleep on the couch as Erik was helping me through a contraction though, I started to see the writing on the wall.

The initial reason I chose her for an interview out of everyone else was that her doula profile said she did lots of different massage techniques to ease the "discomfort" of delivery. Once the pain really kicked in, however, she became invisible, not getting off of the couch except to take a smoke break. No encouragement, no massages, nothing. My nurse and Erik were the ones championing me through it all, telling me I could do it. I did not hear a word from her through the 4 hours of really hard, pitocin-driven labor.

After the birth, we talked a little bit when I was coherent enough to realize she was STILL in the room. (We're talking HOURS)!! She told me that at one point, she had looked at Erik and said, "She's done," meaning I was about to cave and ask for the epidural. Can you imagine if I had heard that while I was laboring?! Knowing that the person you hired to coach you through your birthing experience not only didn't help you in that moment, but didn't even believe in you? That's disheartening to say the least.

Personally, I would not call a doula again were I going to have another baby, although I know that good ones are out there. All I can say is that IF you are thinking of hiring a doula, don't do what I did. Don't try to help someone who needs their certification if you don't think they're a good fit. Don't hire someone because they're a friend of a friend. And DON'T hire someone because you feel bad saying no. I think my experience could have been much more amazing had I gone with my gut and done just that. It wasn't all bad though. Somewhere between the moment our doula fell asleep and the moment I held Addison in my arms for the first time, I found my inner strength, and it turns out I didn't need a virtual stranger to help me do it.

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