Choosing a doula was the first thing I did, as we prepared to move from the UK to the US at 8 months pregnant. A deliberate choice in my quest for the perfect birth story. What happened is, in hindsight, predictable – an imperfect birth story where the protagonist gets what she needed but not necessarily what she wanted.
But let’s be clear. Before pregnancy I didn’t know what a doula was. So what is a Doula? A doula is a non-medical support in childbirth to help guide you through the process, helping you make sense of all the options you have while preparing for labor and reminding you of those options during the event itself.
And if I’d read that prior to pregnancy, I still wouldn’t have thought that I needed someone to help me effectively figure out a birth plan and cheer me on. I never understood why people wrote birth plans. From all the stories I heard, birth was unpredictable. I’d seen friends disappear down a rabbit hole of expectation. Only later on to mourn a birth plan that didn’t materialize – almost forgetting that they’d just given birth to a perfect, healthy baby.
Then a friend of mine, who was not particularly crunchy, told me about her amazing birth experience, full of gratitude to her doula for helping her give birth with hypnobirthing and no pain relief drugs. My competitive, Type A personality kicked into gear. I wanted that. And so down the rabbit hole I went.
I read up and found evidence shows that doulas can reduce unnecessary medical interventions in birth. Which was just what I wanted. When we told our UK Doctor we were moving to the US, he said “Oh you’ll end up with a c-section, birth is over medicalized in the US.” And he was right, 1 in 3 women in the US end up with a c-section which is more than double the amount recommended by the World Health Organization. While my husband (and most likely our landlady at the time) was not keen on me giving birth on the floor at home, finding the right doula to help us navigate the bewildering list of options in the US healthcare system seemed essential.
We started our search at Doulas of Greater Kansas City a non-profit directory of doulas. I sent emails to profiles I thought looked experienced and we followed up with a Skype chat while we were still in the UK. We settled on Lauren Letterman from Welcome Baby KC. There’s some great advice about how to find a doula, but the main criteria for us was do they sound like they know what they’re doing, do I like them and do they have a sense of humor. The last point being the most critical for us, this is someone who is going to see you lose control of all your bodily functions, you need someone who is going to make you smile despite it all!
The first thing Lauren did was help us with our birth preferences – yes that’s right, preferences not a plan, as Lauren told us, we can’t plan what happens with labor, only indicate what we’d prefer to happen. She also supported us with hypnobabies training. Hypnobabies uses meditation and visualization to calm the mind and body to ease labor. Highly recommend it!
So what we “prefered” going in was a non-medicated vaginal birth. What happened was waters breaking, and no active labor for 18 hours.Which meant Pitocin, and IV drip of antibiotics to bring on labor and prevent infection.
But what did go to according to plan was the support from Lauren, and a deep sense of calm amidst our birth team. Lauren had me breathing, and my husband administering back rubs to try to stimulate labor. She even had us explore ways to encourage our baby to move his head from the transverse position. In the end however, our stubborn little kid, a portent of what was to come later perhaps, preferred to stay right where he was. The doctor was called and c-section discussed. I cried. 33 hours in, so close and our birth preferences slipping away. Up until then I’d managed with no pain relief just the power of hypnobirthing meditations. An epidural was administered. I was given one more chance to do it naturally, and then at 38 hours our son was born by c-section.
The hospital said I might want to seek therapy for my lost birth plan (seriously, only in America!) but don’t let my tears fool you. I was OK. I may have hired a doula with the dubious intention of competing with another mom on the idea of a perfect birth but our doula prepared us in ways I didn’t expect. Lauren was our birth support, our friend, but also our teacher in life’s most important lesson of letting go. As a borderline control freak, I’ve lost count of how many times, life has showed me that I can’t control what happens in life, only how I chose to respond to it. But here was another one. If we’re lucky enough to conceive again, we’d hire a doula again in a heartbeat.