You’re a few months along in your pregnancy and beginning to think about your birth plans. Will you be giving birth in a hospital or are you considering a home birth? What about an epidural? How will your husband handle seeing you in pain? Will your mother be overbearing and demand to be in the delivery room?
All of these questions swim through your head at full speed. They become overwhelming. You’re not sure what to do. Finally, you decide you might want a doula.
Throughout history, friends, relatives, and other women have been helping new mothers during the birth process, providing comfort and support. As modern medicine, particularly obstetrics, has advanced over the past few decades, the use of these support systems, which include doulas and midwives, has declined.
However, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, pregnant women today are once again seeking out these services, which offer not only help and support but often reduce the need for medical intervention, such as cesareans and inductions, which have been on an unsettling rise.
“In the olden days, people lived with moms and aunts and sisters as part of the community,” said Elizabeth Bowes, an independent doula who owns Bowes Birth Services, LLC, in Norfolk. “Society has changed, and women don’t have those sources immediately available to them anymore.”
While some think that doulas act as midwives or stand in for other medical personnel, doulas do not perform any medical tasks at all. They focus on the family’s needs and concerns, make the transition period easier, and help explain the meaning of medical procedures.
“I will meet with the couple to find out what their goals are for their birth and what type of support they’re looking for,” said Elizabeth, who specializes in the Bradley Method of natural childbirth. “I would encourage hiring additional labor support and teaching coping skills for labor that applies to any birth, no matter what type of birth you’re planning.”
Doulas are certified through in-depth courses and hands-on training, though programs vary among organizations. They are trained to provide an objective and unbiased viewpoint on any situation, which can make the parents-to-be feel more at ease. Many doulas are also certified in teaching childbirth or other related classes.
Sometimes friends and family are too emotionally invested in anticipation of the new baby, so they may try to steer the new parents in a different direction than their original wishes. This is especially true when it comes to epidurals as it can be hard to see loved ones in pain during labor. This is where the doula can step in.
“Doulas are there to be a nonjudgmental support person throughout pregnancy, labor, birth, and the post-partum period,” said Kathleen Rucka, who co-owns Hampton Roads Doulas, LLC, with Lacey Bauer.
Many families here in Tidewater are turning to doulas for help during their pregnancies. Sometimes parents-to-be just need a little extra support or a professional opinion that can reinforce their wishes. Pregnancy can be a scary time for both partners, and doulas can help ease the stress and make this special occasion memorable.
A HELPING HAND
Soon-to-be parents Alicia and Marc Kraus of Virginia Beach were just approaching the second trimester of Alicia’s pregnancy when they decided to hire a doula. They had friends in other states that were doulas, so they knew that having one would be a big help during an intense time. After some research, they decided to hire Lacey Bauer and Kathleen Rucka of Hampton Roads Doulas. Having two doulas gave the Krauses 24/7 access to their doulas, both of whom understood the couple’s situation and personal wishes.
Alicia and Marc wrote up a birth plan with their doulas, which included who would be in the room during delivery, what kinds of pain management Alicia preferred, and the medical preferences the couple had. Alicia knew that her work as program director with Simon Family Jewish Community Center would be hectic over the summer, so having the doulas’ help and a birth plan set up eased a lot of the stress that Alicia was trying to avoid.
“They helped us write our aspirational birth plan, none of which actually panned out as we planned it,” said Marc. “But they were really supportive of what we wanted.”
For one thing, Alicia originally didn’t want to have an epidural. But after some testing, doctors discovered that complications could arise if she were given other forms of anesthesia. Then came the due date, and Baby was nowhere to be seen. Nearly a week and a half later, doctors decided to induce Alicia. After hours of intense labor and pushing, Alicia agreed to have a C-section, another drift from the original birth plan. Kathleen was there to help with the entire process.
“Kathleen arrived around 3:30 in the afternoon,” said Alicia, “I started pushing around 1 a.m., and [the baby] was born via C-section at 6:55 a.m.”
While doulas are well versed in medical knowledge, they do not provide medical assistance. Instead, they can offer in-depth explanations about what doctors say and help answer questions about medical processes. They can describe possible scenarios and ways of coping with anything that might happen throughout pregnancy. The doula can explain what symptoms may be normal at a certain point during pregnancy or labor, but would refer the mother to a medical professional if she feels uneasy about any of the mother’s symptoms.
Lacey says her clients appreciate a calm and reaffirming voice in the room. “We absolutely care about our clients,” she said, “but we’re able to step back and give them the support they need…to keep them focused on what their goals are.”
“I’d been totally frantic all night,” said Marc. “When we finally got to our room, Kathleen was already there and she was totally calm and relaxed. She even made my bed for me! I truly don’t think I could have gone through that night without her.”
When Elizabeth and Corby Arnett, who live on Fort Eustis, were expecting their first child, a family member strongly suggested that a doula might be helpful. Elizabeth, who is a teacher at Forrest Elementary, hoped to keep her birth process as natural as possible.
Corby was right on board with hiring Kathleen and Lacey during the second trimester, since they relocated to the area with the Army and have no family here. “When she’s in pain, I don’t know what to do,” he said.
Lacey and Kathleen also strongly encourage involvement of partners throughout pregnancy and birth, as well as transitioning back into a home routine. They explained that many times, partners may not know how they can help ease pain or bring comfort to their pregnant wives.
Fathers often tend to be more stoic and keep their emotions inside because they may feel it is expected of them, according to Lacey. The doula’s job is to get the partners involved and relaxed enough to talk about their experience throughout this process as well. It brings the family closer together.
“She was able to tell [Corby] where to put pressure on my back to alleviate some of that pain,” Elizabeth explained. “And he was morally helping me out and just being there mentally.”
The doulas came to their house to teach private birthing classes, taught them about breastfeeding, and later assisted with placenta encapsulation. As they got further along in their pregnancy, Elizabeth and Corby made the decision to continue working with Kathleen and Lacey after the birth of their daughter. Post-partum services are one of the most underutilized services and yet play such an important role in helping the family transition home with the new baby, according to Kathleen and Lacey.
Elizabeth was so happy to have the doulas’ help for simple tasks like just taking a shower after the baby came. She said, “Looking back on it now, I’m so thankful that we had that. I was able to take a break!”
“Whether you’re bringing home your first baby or your fifth baby, there’s still a transition that needs to happen,” said Kathleen. “It’s very different for everyone.”
It is important to choose the right doula for your family in order to make the birth experience as relaxed as possible. You won’t want your doula in the delivery room with you if there is tension or a clash of personalities. When looking for a doula, Elizabeth Bowes suggests finding out how long the doula has been doing her work and how many births she has assisted. Note what certifications she has and if she is warm and welcoming with you and your partner from the start.
Elizabeth also says being educated about what to expect is most important for new parents as they prepare for their baby’s birth. “The education that you get can help you cope leading up to [the birth] and [it] gives you more options.”
Also, understanding the role of the doula throughout birth and the post-partum transition is just as essential when considering doula services. According to a recent blog post on HR Doulas’ website, some questions to ask potential doulas during the hiring process are:
• When do they go on call?
• What systems do they have in place in the event that they can’t attend your birth?
• Are they supportive of all birth choices?
• How will they work with your care team?
Having a doula can make your birth experience a joyous time. While complications can happen during any pregnancy, having a professional familiar with the situation who can walk you through the processes can be so comforting.
“We’re not there to prevent the bad things from happening,” said Lacey. “We’re there to be their calm in the storm.”
For more information on hiring or becoming a doula, visit:
Stephanie Allen is the publisher’s assistant for Tidewater Family and Tidewater Women. She’s also a proud Navy wife.