Doulas: Empowering Women in Labor
My doula contacted me in the Spring of 2006 and asked me to direct a play as part of Louisville's Birth in the Bluegrass—a conference and fundraiser for the Birth Care Network in Louisville, KY. She knew about my theater experience, and thought I might be interested in directing a play whose subject matter was very close to my heart. I jumped at the chance, directing Karen Brody's testimonies play BIRTH. It was a long and beautiful process. The overriding and resonant theme in the play is that women are more satisfied with their birth experiences when they are allowed to make the decisions. It's that simple, really.
This experience pushed me to pursue work as a DONA-Certified doula. I had attended 2 previous births—one as a spectator and one as a doula. I now understand that this is my calling—to assist women in labor so that they may have the kinds of birth experiences they truly desire.
My Childbirth Experiences
My first birth experience was not exactly an empowering one—I was not given the chance to make decisions for myself. When my water broke, I made the mistake of rushing excitedly to the hospital. I was immediately strapped to monitors and abandoned in a hospital bed...With no doula! I believed in my body and that it would just happen and I believed that I could just lie there and the baby would come out—my model for birth was TV programs and the movies where women had babies in bed. For 12 solid hours I literally was only allowed to go to the bathroom and then straight back to the bed. If I begged, I could take a shower, but no bath. It was misery. So, of course, I opted for the drugs. After 12 hours of laboring horizontally, I decided to get an epidural to help with my exhaustion.
Soon after the epidural was administered my blood pressure dipped, and I was forced to lie only on my left side. Well, of course, my labor slowed and the baby barely moved. He needed me to be moving and walking and helping him get into position. He needed some assistance from gravity. The sleepless nightmare culminated with a brief early-morning visit from my OB telling me, "This baby is not coming out." It was surreal: I was getting a c-section. The baby was in no distress, I had no fever, and there were no discernable problems, but 24 hours of me lying in a hospital bed apparently meant that the baby had to come out...Now. My baby was delivered about a half an hour later via cesarean section and he was beautiful, fat and healthy. Healing from the surgery, I struggled for months with postpartum depression and feelings of failure.
A year later, pregnant again and determined not to make the same mistake, I decided to educate myself. I spoke with all the OBs in my practice and they each told me it was "very dangerous" to try to give birth vaginally after a cesarean. To try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), according to them, meant risking uterine rupture. In my research I found that the risk of uterine rupture was less than 1%. In my heart, I knew I could get this baby out without surgery. I just needed support from my care provider and I needed to find a doula in Louisville, soon. I asked around and found a nurse midwife who had no fear of me attempting a VBAC and I hired a Louisville doula who had soldiered through three VBACs herself. I was a part of a team of powerful and fearless women. In the end, I had a most wondrous, powerful, free and natural birth. The safety and security I found with real support made all the difference. It was so right. I know this power lives in all women. It takes faith, trust, and perseverance.
Benefits of Using a Doula
Some of the benefits of using a doula include (from studies on labor support by Kennel, Kennel and Klaus):
- C-Sections reduced by 50%
- Length of Labor reduced by 25%
- Pitocin use reduced by 40%
- Use of narcotics reduced by 30%
- Forceps reduced by 30%
- Epidurals reduced by 60%
Long-term benefits of using a doula:
- Improved breastfeeding outcomes
- Increased time spent with baby
- Decreased postpartum depression
If you would like to meet with me to discuss your birth, and find out if I might be the right birth doula for you, send an e-mail and we can make an appointment. And be sure to interview lots of doulas! Choosing the right doula is important.
"We have a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful. It's that women are strong."
—Laura Stavoe Harm