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It’s 2015, so by now I think most people know what a doula is and what they do.
I don’t think there’s a right way to pick a doula. Every mom, every family, is going to look for something different…need something different. Which is why it’s so great that there’s so many options out there in the doula world.
When I first moved here in 2013, researching birth options (providers, locations, and doulas) was at the top of my priority list. Actually, my first Saturday in town I attended a birth expo to rub shoulders with the birthy crowd. Then I continued doing a lot of research on my own time over the following months.
I didn’t have a list of things I was looking for, but once I stumbled over my doula’s webpage via Google, I knew I had found the right person – even before talking with her.
Two days after I found out I was pregnant, I spent nearly an hour with her on the phone while walking laps around the mall. That conversation confirmed that she was the right choice – not just for me, but for my entire family.
I would like to share a few of the things that I was looking for in a VBAC doula, not because I think that they are the things YOU should look for, but perhaps just to get the wheels of your mind turning.
1. Personal VBAC experience.
I wanted my doula to be a VBAC mom herself. I knew I would need a lot of emotional support, not only to heal from the emotions of my primary cesarean but also to deal with the fears of planning for a VBAC. I felt that there was no better way to receive that than to hire someone who has done that herself. Someone who understood the heartbreak of a cesarean birth. Someone who had gone on to successfully VBAC. Someone who would just “get it.”
It just so happened that my doula had not only experienced cesarean and VBAC birth, but also had gone through infant death, a stillbirth, a miscarriage, and a repeat cesarean after VBAC. I knew that there was probably not an emotion I could feel that this woman hadn’t already felt along her mothering journey.
2. Age and experience
I never asked my doula how many births she had attended. What mattered to me was that she was an older woman rather than a peer.
A lot of doulas that I met when I lived in Kentucky had a doula story that went something like this: “I had a traumatic first birth, great natural second birth. Now I’m a doula.”
Many of them were my age, with young children at home. And yet they seemed to walk around with an air of knowing it all, simply because they had gone on to have a natural birth. I don’t doubt there sincerity nor their abilities, but that wasn’t what I wanted.
I wanted someone who knew motherhood inside and out – not just birth, but all the ways that it can wreck you, turn you inside out, and put you back together a new and more beautiful person. I wanted a veteran.
The first time I sat across from Mary (early on in my first trimester), she asked me about Ezra. And I just spilled it all out. His story, the difficulties – not just his birth story but all of the issues that we have had since then. And she just nodded along and then shared with me about her grown children – one in particular who had presented some similar challenges. She encouraged me and told me I was an amazing mother.
She lifted me up, not just in regard to Little Brother’s birth, but in my abilities to mother in general. This was exactly what I needed.
3. A motherly personality
This goes hand-in-hand with age, really, but is slightly different. I didn’t hire a doula for Ezra’s birth, but my mom was there. And while I felt a professional doula would be better for Little Brother’s birth due to extra training and objectivity, I wanted someone who could mother me (and my anxious husband) during labor and delivery.
I felt that if I had a doula who was around my age, I would feel more intimated – like it was more of a competition. I wanted someone far enough removed from their births that they could impart wisdom as a mom from the previous generation, rather than a peer.
4. Strong faith
When I conceived of Little Brother, my faith was in a very broken place. Little Brother’s pregnancy and birth were very spiritual experiences for me on so many levels. It was because of them that I feel I was able to hold onto faith on days when I literally questioned even the very existence of God – on days that I wanted to walk away. (A whole post on this to come…)
Knowing that she had a strong Christian faith – in spite of some of the tragedies she had been through as a mother – was comforting. I knew that she would encourage me not only believe in myself and be empowered in MY abilities to birth, but also to balance that with remembering that my strength comes from God and that I needed to depend on Him.
Mary’s faith was very evident, even on her website – yet another indication that she was the right choice for me.
5. Similar values
It didn’t matter so much to me my doula’s rates and birth counts. What mattered to me is that she would value the same things I would value.
During our first phone conversation, she recommended the chiropractor I was already seeing. She mentioned Spinning Babies, a website I had already spent a lot of time on. She just seemed to be tracking with me – with my goals, and plans – the things I needed to be doing and the things I was already doing. We were walking in sync from day one.
Mary’s support was invaluable to me. As we discussed the birth plan, my specific plans were for a low-intervention birth. But what my doula heard was that, more than a low-intervention birth, what I wanted was a healing experience: an experience where I felt more in control, where things happened slowly and more peacefully, and where I was given time and space to make decisions (whatever they might be).
She helped me write a gentler birth plan that said just that. (You can view the first page here!)
She continually reminded me (especially in the final weeks when we had to make decisions about things like cervical checks, interventions, and induction) about those goals.
On top of offering a ton of physical support during labor, I felt her support of my overall goals throughout the entire process.
My doula also accompanied me to the OR in the stead of my husband (more on that tomorrow) and captured photo and video of Little Brother’s first few moments for me.
Because of her, we were able to accomplish my goals of having a healing, empowering experience, in spite of a non-VBAC outcome.