I had never heard the word doula before last year. And even once I had, I still didn’t fully understand what it meant. Last May I took a weekend course on becoming a Labour Support Provider. By enrolling in this course, I found out that a doula and a Labour Support Provider is one in the same. As a Registered Massage Therapist, annual continuing education is required in order for me to keep my license. I’m not going to lie; usually the courses that are available are far from exciting. Sometimes I’m paying hundreds of dollars on a course to learn stretching techniques….super fun right? But last year, this doula course was an option. I was excited as I have this fascination with pregnancy and labour. I love watching documentaries about birth and I honestly read more blogs about pre and post pregnancy as opposed to food. My friend and I are constantly talking about family life at work and both find that what a woman’s body can do is utterly fascinating.
Going into this course, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that we would be practicing hands on techniques and watching graphic videos of birth (which intimidated me). There were only two students in the course that had not yet experienced birth themselves, and I was one of them. I will admit that I often felt disconnected from the learning experience. I am the type that can thrive in situations in which I can relate to and labour was something I had no relation to whatsoever. I didn’t even know the story on how I was brought into the world until I asked my mom the weekend of this course. Until this weekend, I honestly knew very little about what a labouring woman goes through. The knowledge that I did gain by enrolling was all so valuable and eye opening. I used to be just like every other woman, terrified at the thought of psychically having a baby. I used to joke (but not really) that I would tell the delivering Doctor that I could feel the cord wrapped around my baby’s neck and so I would need to have a C-section. I honestly wanted the easy way out, without knowing any facts. And I believe that there is a large amount of women out there who are also unaware of most of what happens during labour. There are options, we have rights, and we have access to valuable services that can help us execute our birth plans, including a doula.
So by now I know what you are thinking. Well what the %$#& is a doula though, really? A doula is someone who can provide four different essential services to a labouring woman (and her partner).
Emotional Support: This goes for both the labouring woman and her companion. Labour Support Providers are there to encourage, reassure, and offer a reliable physical presence in the delivery room.
Informational Support: Doulas have knowledge and training in the stages of labour that a woman battles through. This allows doulas to provide the clients with adequate coaching advice throughout the transitioning phases.
Physical Support: Labour Support Providers are there throughout your labour to offer massage therapy techniques, hydrotherapy treatments, compression, aromatherapy, breathing techniques, and anything else that may contribute to the mother’s comfort.
Advocacy: Doulas have your personal birth plan in their best interest. They offer great interpretation skills of your wishes to the hospital staff. What doulas are not for is to make your decisions for you-they simply relay messages of choices that you have made. A woman’s birth plan, wants, and needs are different for every family and Labour Support Providers are to respect that.
Many people confuse a doula with a midwife however the two are very different in the roles they provide. A midwife is a trained medical professional just as an obstetrician is. They are certified specialists who work in clinics, practices, hospitals, or for themselves. Midwives can be chosen instead of an obstetrician for both prenatal care and to deliver your baby. A doula is a certified person of interest that is there to coach you through the birth process, providing all the services I listed above. Midwives and doulas are most commonly chosen by families who wish to have an all-natural delivery without any interventions (if possible). And personally, after chatting with several women who have given birth (both with and without a doula), and personally have gone through assisting a birth as a Labor Support Provider-I’m so having one for myself when that time comes.
My Easter long weekend started off with a bang as one of my best friend’s went into labour and we had previous arrangements for me to assist her birth. I had teased you all on Instagram and posted that I was about to do something crazy that I had never done before. Something that fell deep into the realm of organic nature. I was excited, nervous, curious, and honoured all at the same time.
My Personal Doula Experience:
It was 1:12pm on Wednesday, April 1st and my friend had texted me saying she thought that maybe her water broke. She wasn’t entirely sure since it was just a weak trickle. She thought perhaps it was even just the mucous plug (there was also a mucus discharge happening as well). All these bodily fluids can be quite unpronounced apparently. I honestly did not think much of it as I knew that it could still be quite a while before any excitement came about. At 4:32 pm, she informed me that her contractions had started and she would keep me posted on their progress. By 5:12pm, they were on their way to the hospital as her contractions were consistent and persistent! I had luckily finished work early and my night was free to fulfill my doula duties, worry-free. I grabbed my already packed doula bag full of therapeutic goodies and off I went. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. First of all, I was being trusted to comfort my best friend (whom I call my sister since we grew up as neighbours and lifelong friends) throughout labour and do everything in my power to assist her in her hopes of achieving an all-natural birth. The pressure was on my friends but I was super excited and I knew that I was in store for a life changing experience.
Once I got to the hospital, we were immediately brought to her private delivery room. My friend was managing her pain well but I gave her a few helpful breathing tips that she would find helpful throughout the entire labouring process. At this point she was 4cm dilated and the charge nurse went over pain management options in case they may be needed at some point down the road. A habitual speech that I could tell was routine and in the best interest of the mother to be aware of the options, should they be needed. Granted that the nurse was aware of the mother’s hopes to have her baby as naturally as possible, she confirmed my initial suggestion on taking it to the shower. I could tell that mom was hesitant as she was uncomfortable and unsure of what she needed to help ease her pain, but she shuffled up and headed towards the shower where there was a birthing stool for her to comfortably sit.
At this point, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible beauty of a pregnant woman. The figure and fullness of a lady carrying another life is unexplainable. Its living art and science all in one. We have things so backwards today. What mainstream society defines as beauty is a shame and so far from our natural beings. We are lost and I’m forever thankful that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Pounds of makeup, cosmetic surgeries, expensive brand name outfits and accessories, and unrealistic body shapes are all what is considered beauty today. It is what is desired and being envied all across the world. As I admired my gorgeous, labouring friend, I could not help but appreciate what real beauty is. What it always was and what I personally think-always will be.
So my gorgeous mother-to-be eased her way comfortably onto the birthing stool with her hips to either side to encourage that open invitation to baby. We removed the shower head from the holder and found the perfect water temperature to comfort my friend as she made her way through one contraction at a time. She felt the warm and consistent flow of the water most helpful when it was gently guided back and forth across her lower abdomen where the contractions were taking place. Her husband was on the shower head duty as I stood behind her keeping her warm, comfortable, and controlled. She adored that shower. She stated that it was amazing and she was never getting out. We were in there for at least a couple of hours, up keeping the same rhythmic routine. I knew that every labouring woman fell into a pattern and hers was the constant motion of the water across her belly, the reliable sound of me guiding her on her breathing through every single contraction, and the action of me running my fingers lightly through her hair as she breathed through the pain. Between contractions we made sure she was fully relaxed, letting go of the tension that built up. I used lavender essential oil and massaged her scalp, face and jaw, and her neck and shoulders. We gave her water between every second or third contraction and of course, the nurses came regularly to check the baby with the handheld Doppler. I knew we had fabricated a system in which mom could pass some time as comfortable as possible. However, of course, the labouring process eventually progresses….
After getting up for a bathroom break, momma wanted to be checked for curiosity’s sake. She felt as if the pain was shifting and she was starting to feel extremely exhausted. With a quick check, we found out she was about 6 centimetres dilated. My friend looked disappointed when she heard this news and said she just wishes she was ready. I told her that her progress was incredible (because it really was) and that she was well on her way. The charge nurse had asked her how she managing with the pain and inquiring if she had wanted anything for pain. The lady in distress replied with “well, it really sucks but I’m managing and I can do it.” I was so inspired by her empowering determination. Although our winning pattern of rhythmic efforts was interrupted, we made our way back to shower as per my friend’s wishes. This next shower session was much shorter than the first, but it was a struggle. My main focus was to get her breathing and focused with each contraction. We gave her words of encouragement and did our best to keep her going as things moved along.
The discomfort naturally moved down to her hips. My friend started to lose control of her breathing as she was taken over by pain. Her breathing pattern started to become moans and cries. The grip bars in front of her did no justice, our hands didn’t suffice and she had definitely reached another level of discomfort. I knew our system was broken. Time to move on. Her poor eyes were filled with desperation and uneasiness as I tried to look back at her with a reassuring and empowering gaze as opposed to raw pity. Pity is not what a labouring mother needs; they need to be uplifted, motivated, and supported. They need to know and believe that they can do it. As this transition phase settled in, so did powerful encouragement from the nurses, her husband, and I.
I’m not going to lie, I felt so irritated listening to myself. I felt like if I were my friend, I would be so annoyed at everyone’s positivity that I would tell them all to shut the &*#@ up. But I wasn’t the one in labour, and I could tell that she needed it… (Well she didn’t tell us to shut the &*#@ up so I guess that’s a good sign).
At this point we had migrated to the bed where she was getting checked once again. It was around 1am now and the nurse revealed that she was 8 centimetres dilated! Her hips were still causing her a lot of grief so we had her straddle the hospital bed with her arms resting on the raised mattress. During each contraction I provided counter pressure across her hips as I also still audibly coached her with a breathing pattern. Although these contractions were clearly more intense and uncomfortable she still did great at relaxing between each contraction which is crucial. Another pattern was found but it was short lived. About 40 minutes later, she felt like she needed to push. The magic words! Before allowing her to do so, the nurse had to check her one last time to make sure she was fully dilated. And fully dilated she was! The look of relief on my friend’s face was priceless. It was go time.
The charge nurse explained to my friend how to now work with her contractions as opposed to working through them. She tried to explain where to focus the pushing efforts and gave her a guideline as to when to push and how frequently. The mother-to-be had her game face on. She mastered her first push and right away the staff knew that this baby would be here in no time. The room suddenly became chaotic. A phone call was made, the baby’s warming centre rolled in, and staff came out of nowhere. As my friend’s husband counted through her pushes, I helped keep her leg back towards her and played the role of an excited cheerleader. Within a few pushes, we could already see his heading crowning, but with each breath of air she took, he slipped back in. At one point there was mention of a possible episiotomy, which my friend refused. I think that fuelled her fire because determination took over. I could see everything-I had a VIP front view seat. As she kept bearing down, the delivery doctor ushered me to take a look. I could see his light brown hair. The doctor asked my friend if she wanted to reach down and touch his head and she said no (she was on a pushing mission), but she did ask her husband and I if we could really see his head. When we said yes, the fuelled fire inside her reacted like we had poured gas in it. The next push guided her baby’s whole head out and immediately his perfect little body followed. It all happened so fast and right before my eyes. Benjamin Vincent Ramalheiro was born on his due date, Thursday, April 2nd 2015 at 2:02am.
This part is truly indescribable. You have so much curiosity going into this as to how you will react at this exact moment. Will you be repulsed? Feel uneasy? Feel like you witnessed something straight from a sci-fi movie? Of course, I also wondered if I would react as if I had just witnessed life. Beauty. Magic even. I honestly can’t pick a word I would use to describe this exact moment. It was empowering to witness another woman bring life into the world. It was breathtaking watching every single moment leading to this point and it was thrilling welcoming this baby here. He was perfect. As they gently laid him on top of mom’s belly to quickly wipe him down my eyes swelled up. I backed my way up slowly into the corner where I removed myself from the situation where I could then take it all in. My lips quivered and tears streamed down my face as the new parents admired their son for the first time. You know that moment where a bride walks down the aisle and everyone (ok mainly females) look to see the groom who is bursting with glowing love, happiness, and admiration? Well, a mother gets that same look in her eyes when she meets her baby for the first time. That’s a look nobody can forget witnessing. I wasn’t a doula just for a client I barely know-this was one of my best friend’s, a strong amazing woman who I think of as a sister. I was proud of her beyond belief and I was honoured to have been a part of this surreal experience. There are many moments in there that are already a distant blur, but there are many moments in there that I will never forget.
Does anyone else have any interesting doula experiences they would like to share? Like I said, I LOVE hearing birth stories! Giving birth is such an empowering moment no matter how it happens, and that should be rejoiced!