I hear this a lot when doulas are discussed among friends, or in online discussions about birth options. It seems to stem from this perception that doulas operate as some sort of “third wheel” at the birth, or that they are there because the partner is not “good enough” or “up to the task”, and a general lack of understanding of what a doula actually does.
Many couples don’t often consider that it is rarely “just them” at the birth. Any number of midwives, student midwives, doctors, anaesthesiologists, nurses, random hospital staff, whom they’ve never met before, could be joining them on their journey.
We often don’t consider the above professionals as invasive to the experience because their role is deemed necessary, as well as professional as they operate in a clinical role. Yet doulas are also professionals. They don’t give medical support, rather they give emotional, moral, and practical support to both mothers and fathers throughout the pregnancy, birth, and post natal period.
When a couple hires a doula, they are hiring their own personal, professional, support system which will compliment the care they receive from medical professionals. It’s very different from having a close friend or family member there, which could potentially complicate the emotional dynamic in the room, despite the fact that in previous generations, a female family member or neighbour would have very likely been present during a birth. With a doula, couples have all the advantages of a friend or family member being there for them, without any emotional complications. They also have the advantage of a doula’s knowledge and experience of birth which allows them to be comfortable in the birth space and able to give 100% of themselves in the situation without being phased by it.
The doula won’t be offended when you tell her to stop rubbing your back that way, or to give you some space to be alone for awhile. You can ask her to do things without worrying, because, well, that’s what she’s there for! You will have gotten to know her before the birth so when things start to happen she’ll have a good idea of what you’re going to want and need. You won’t need to worry about her, you can just focus on yourselves and know that she’s there for you.
Every couple is different, every birth is different, but I truly believe every couple can benefit from the support from the right doula.
Even if you are confident that you and your partner will make the perfect team, a doula’s quiet presence can reinforce this even more. As a doula there is nothing I love more than to see a couple working together beautifully, yet birth can be a long process and mothers often appreciate an extra hand to hold, or someone to pour water on their back while they hold on to their partner, or just knowing that their partner is being looked after so they can disappear inside themselves and get on with labouring.
At a home birth, a doula is often a very practical second pair of hands that can allow a father to concentrate fully on emotionally or physically supporting the mother while the doula fills glasses of water, wipes sweat, sets up the birth pool, fetches towels, makes tea for the midwives etc.
In a hospital setting a doula’s presence supports the mother’s oxytocin flow, adding to the supportive dynamic that will see her through being in an unfamiliar environment. She helps the mother feel safe and relaxed, despite the shift changes or anything else that may be happening around her. She can also be a reassuring presence for the father as he supports the mother.
Birth is an incredibly special and intimate time for a couple, yet the reality is, unless they are planning an unassisted free birth, couples cannot ever really say that “it was just us” at the birth. The addition of another professional in the room of their choosing, providing them with continual support throughout the process will only enhance that special moment, and as the Cochrane review suggests, her overall presence may make that final moment come a bit quicker and easier.