The first time my wife, Katie said the word "doula", I heard "witchdoctor".
I had heard the term midwife but had actually conflated the idea with a wet nurse in my head and thought the practice had gone out of style around the time of the signing of the Magna Carta. After my wife patiently explained what a doula actually was and the distinction between a midwife and a doula (and to her chagrin, a wet nurse) my next thought was “Great. Like the medical bills aren’t going to be enough. Now we are going to pay someone to hold my hand while I hold your hand.”
Obviously, I kept this thought to myself and tried to approach the situation with an open mind.
As time went on and I learned more and more about the birthing process through our 12-week Bradley Method childbirth class, I began to see that my wife might be on to something. I began to regard Megan, our doula, as part tour guide and part lawyer. Someone to point out things we might have overlooked, as well as translate some of the medical “legaleeze speak” that can be confusing if you haven’t gone through the whole process before.
I work in the hospitality industry, so the best way I can explain how indispensible the work of a doula is, is to equate it to going into a restaurant, walking past the hostess/host, going straight to the kitchen and trying to tell a busy chef what you’d like to eat with out even looking at a menu or talking to a server.
A doula understands what the hospital wants to happen and can explain it to you. More importantly, they understand what you want your birth experience to be like and can help you explain that to the hospital staff who might be used to doing things a certain way. Not only that, but they have all sorts of tips and tricks up their sleeves to help with pain management and help make the birthing process as comfortable as possible.
It began on a Wednesday. My wife's water broke around noon, but she wasn't having any contractions (this is called Premature Rupture of Membranes, or PROM). We called our doula, who told us she's required to tell us to call our heath care provider when the water breaks. We then headed to the hospital, arriving around 4:00pm. We decided to stay at the hospital rather than leave (which would have required us signing a form that said we were leaving against medical advice) because Katie felt safer staying. I remember I snapped at the nurse who made it sound like leaving wasn’t an option for us.
Katie still wasn’t really experiencing much as far as contractions; just something every twenty minutes or so. This meant the clock was ticking as far as how long they would let us stay in the hospital before inducing. This was something we had discussed and really didn’t want to do, since we wanted a natural childbirth.
So we waited.
At Midnight we caved and they administered Cervadil, which we were hoping would induce labor with out involving Piton or an IV. They checked on us throughout the night, ensuring we didn’t really get any sleep. The twelve hour time limit expired, and still, Katie wasn’t really experiencing any regular contractions, just sporadic ones. Finally we agreed to Pitocin. They started it on a level one.
An entire day on Piton, and now I had my Police boot camp final test at 6pm on Thursday. The Pitocin started to get results, so Katie and I walked around the 2nd floor of the hospital while she had contractions. We were talking in between contractions and we agreed (more or less) that I would leave and take my physical exam.
This is something I never would have felt comfortable with if we had not had a doula (also if the testing center hadn’t been the building directly across the street to the hospital). When I left, the Pitocin was at a level 6 and they increased it by 2 every half an hour.
When I got back to the room, Katie had retreated inward and was moaning along with the contractions. Megan was helping her balance on the birthing ball. There was no conversation between contractions. Things stayed like this for quite some time with Katie completely consumed by the labor.
The Pitocin was at 10 at this point. Her back began to hurt more and more (this was because Dorothy was in a Posterior position) and eventually all Megan’s tricks, although helpful, were not enough to keep the pain away. She endured until midnight on Thursday, at which point we conceded and took a pain killer.
Even after all the pain, Katie still didn’t want an epidural.
Finally, after four more hours of painful contractions and no sleep, we conceded and got an epidural in Friday's early morning hours.
Katie was finally not in such intense pain and it was here, for the first time since Thursday evening, that we could have a conversation again.
With the pain gone, they cranked the Pitocin and we finally got a little rest. By about 8 in the morning we were up again and we were told that we had until early afternoon to start pushing or we were going to have to use a vacuum to deliver or a c-section.
Midmorning, Katie started pushing, but it was clear by early afternoon that the baby wasn’t far enough down the birth canal. We conceded once again and allowed the vacuum. Katie pushed in a few different positions, and they pulled with the vacuum. It was at this point we could begin to see the head. Katie put her hand down and felt it at one point and we showed her with a mirror but she found that to be distracting.
The Birth of Dorothy
Finally, Friday at 2:40 pm Dorothy came to the world. We were worried that she would be rushed away from us because there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. The NICU unit was standing by in case any meconium had gotten in her lungs. However, as soon as she was born she began to wiggle and cough and they grabbed her and sucked everything out of her nose and mouth and put her on Katie’s chest.
I cut the cord a couple minutes later, after it had stopped pulsing. We were very relieved.
As you can see from this story, some, if not most, of the things we had hoped for in having a natural childbirth didn’t happen like we had planned.
Sometimes it was because of decisions we made (going to the hospital so early) other times it was things beyond our control (posterior position). But whatever the case Megan, our doula, was there beside us explaining all the options (not just the two or three the doctors wanted us to pick).
I wouldn’t recommend climbing Mount Everest without someone who knows the slopes. I wouldn’t canoe the Amazon without someone who knows the river, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to navigate the pitfalls of labor and delivery without a doula.
Jeremy Schantz lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his wife, daughter, and dog, Rainn. He works in the hospitality industry and is also a musician.