Woman to Woman

Experienced mother and Doula Lindsey Bliss encourages you to choose a support team to help you through your pregnancy, labour and birth, and the first weeks with your baby

Is childbirth a group sport? There are many expectant parents who may wonder why they would need or even want a support team. Don’t you just go to the hospital and pop out a baby? How hard could it be? 

I wish it were this easy. Honestly, with my first baby, I was in complete and total denial that the act of giving birth would be that big a deal. Haven’t we been giving birth since the beginning of time? The thing is, I was wrong. Very, very, very, very wrong.

Giving birth for the first time shook me to the core. It blasted me open both literally and figuratively. It was the biggest deal I was ever put up against. The experience showed me that having a support team during your childbearing journey is of utmost importance. Here’s why it truly takes a village.

A 2012 Cochrane Review found that continuous support during pregnancy and childbirth results in better outcomes. (The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is the leading resource for systematic reviews in health care.)

Although you don’t need to do this alone if you don’t want to, I’m not suggesting that you should invite a large group of people onto your support team – unless that’s what makes you feel more supported. Here are a few people who may be essential to creating your birth team: your partner (if applicable), a family member, a best friend, your care provider and perhaps a birth Doula.

Your support team should help you before, during and after the birth of your baby or babies. You should all meet a few times prenatally to discuss your birthing preferences. It helps to have everyone on the same page. Your support team will remain by your side during the labouring process, whether it’s two hours or three days long. They’ve got you.

Once your wee one comes Earth-side, it’s a good idea to call on this support team during those first postpartum weeks. Don’t hesitate to tell your village if you need support. It’s one thing I wish I had done sooner in my own childbearing journey.

I get asked this question frequently when I tell people what my job title is. Often people confuse Doulas with midwives. Doulas don’t catch babies or offer medical advice. We are strictly concerned with the waist up. Nowadays, though, I get asked this question less because so many celebrities are utilising the services of a Doula. To answer the question above, I usually respond with: “I’m a childbirth coach.” This sums it up so almost anyone can understand it. Obviously, I know that what we offer is much, much more than just a labour coach, but it’s my short answer for people who probably don’t want to hear me ramble on about the amazing role I have during childbirth.

The word Doula comes from the ancient Greek, meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional (regardless of gender) who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the person giving birth before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Your ideal support person (maybe it’s a partner or a birth Doula) will hold space for you. What does it mean to hold space for another person? It means to walk alongside someone and give unwavering, non-judgmental support. Your space holders shouldn’t be trying to fix you or make suggestions for you based on themselves or their egos. They should allow you to step into your own power if you so choose. Your support people create a safe space for you to process lots of really big and intense emotions while still being held. They can help you organise what may feel like chaos during your birth.

Some people think a Doula is only for the New-Agey types and not for modern-day folk. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Doulas are for everyone. (Disclaimer: I do own Birkenstocks and crystals.) Studies have shown that when Doulas attend birth, labours are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily.

I attend births in the hospital and in people’s homes. My goal is for a pregnant person and their partner to have an informed birth. Knowledge is power. I have no other agenda. No Doula should judge you or make you feel bad for the choices you make during your birth. We are there to be your advocate.

Another misconception is that Doulas are only for people who want an unmedicated vaginal birth. I work with clients who plan on having an epidural but would like some tips for managing labour at home before heading to the hospital. I have also assisted clients through Caesarean births. If you are hoping for an unmedicated birth, a Doula will increase your chances of having one, but your Doula will be there for you no matter what birthing plan you choose. Every birth is different, and having a knowledgeable advocate throughout the process is a huge asset.

A birthing partner may worry that a Doula will take over. This should never be the case. We are often the Doula for partners as well, making sure they are fed, caffeinated and rested so they can be the best possible birth partner for the labouring person. We can also take some pressure off the partner as the primary birth partner and help normalise the process, which can reduce anxiety.

I describe a Doula as a family member without the family drama and judgement. We help produce from the sidelines. I recall one birth where my clients laboured as a team and wanted me to hang out in another room. Occasionally, they would call out that they needed water or wanted me to time the contractions. They told me I was helpful in normalising the process and that it allowed them to labour intimately without fear and anxiety.

Considering hiring a birth Doula? Great! Now how do you actually go about choosing someone to support you on the most intimate, vulnerable and life-changing journey of your entire life? It’s no small task. I’m hoping that I can make this somewhat nerve-wracking matchmaking easier for you (and perhaps your partner). At this point, you have reached out to a few potential Doulas and set up your free consultations.

  1. Does the Doula make you feel at ease when discussing your upcoming birth? Your Doula should normalise the birthing process and help you remain calm and focused on birthing your baby. Certain energies/ personalities do not mesh well, while others click right away.
  2. Ask your potential Doula: “Why did you choose to become a birth Doula?” It’s a wonderful icebreaker and may help you understand their personality and approach to childbirth. My passion for this work always seems to bubble over when people ask me this question.
  3. Know what you are looking for in a birth Doula. What type of requirements do you feel are important to support you best through your birth? Some clients want experience in body work, aromatherapy or yoga. Some clients are looking for Doulas who are mothers or who specialise in twin pregnancies and/or vaginal births after a Caesarean.
  4. Know your budget. Many of these fees are based on experience level and additional training. Every pregnant woman deserves affordable labour support. Many Doulas offer payment plans and sliding-scale fees. I love the ancient art of bartering. I recently attended a birth in exchange for mixed martial arts classes for my kids. Score!
  5. Trust your gut. Finding the right Doula is about personality as much as it is about training and common understanding. Does your potential Doula give you excited butterflies? If so, that’s the one.

Extracted from the Doula’s Guide to Empowering Your Birth by Lindsey Bliss (£14.99, Harvard Common Press)