Lately I have been really questioning my role as a doula, why I chose this career, and what support looks like in my work. I don’t mean questioning in a negative way, but rather in a positive way that challenges me and aides me in moving forward. I read this blog on a regular basis and the midwife, Barbara, who writes it has been asking these same questions and more specifically around supporting someone at a planned cesarean birth. She had a guest poster this week that summed everything up that I had been thinking and running over in my mind surrounding my own work as a doula and how I view my role in cesarean births specifically.
I decided to become a doula because I had a powerful and transformative birth experience of my own in 2004. I realized that birth could be something more than I had seen in pop culture depictions of a screaming mother and bright hospital lights shining on her while she pushed out a baby. The vast majority of the women in my life had c-sections and did not breastfeed. I wanted something more than that. I stumbled, quite accidentally, onto the book “Spiritual Midwifery,” and had found exactly what my instincts were telling me birth could be! I was thrilled. I was elated. I was pretty damn determined to have the spiritually transformative and beautiful natural birth Ina May Gaskin was describing. The most amazing part of it all is that, in the end, I did. I knew then that birth work was my calling and it was only a matter of time before I gave into that calling.
With my second baby there was no question it would be a birth with a midwife. I wanted a home birth, but it wasn’t financially possible at the time. The hospital it would be. I knew that my body worked and that I could have a great birth once again. I also knew that the hospital is the kind of place that interventions are likely to happen, even with a “proven pelvis,” and hiring a doula was a wise choice. I was blessed to have an amazing doula at the birth of my daughter. There is a moment from that night that I will always remember, my midwife saying “now this is what it is to be supported by women.” Amy, who is a fantastic CNM at University Hospital, nailed it. Having her at my feet, my doula at my side, and the female L&D nurse also at my feet, physically and emotionally supporting me through a moment when I wasn’t sure I could do it any longer. That is support. Crouching down at the feet of a laboring woman in a tiny bathroom and gently encouraging her. That is when I was absolutely sure that is the kind of support I needed to be providing.
Having two natural births with midwives was my experience. That is not the experience that every woman desires to have and it is not my place as a doula to judge her choices. I have asked myself again and again, “can I support a woman electing to have a cesarean?” Again and again my answer has been “yes.” Support looks different in every birth. Women choosing to have a cesarean have so much to gain from the support of a doula! A doula can help a mother to better process and connect to her birth (Yes, it is a birth. Not just a surgery!). A doula can help a mother to breastfeed her new baby as quickly as possible, which is oftentimes difficult to do while in recovery. Research shows over and over that having a doula can also add to the positive feelings a mother feels about her birth, regardless of interventions or c-section.
Support during birth is simply standing by a mother and reminding her how strong she is, how perfect the baby she grew inside of her is, and helping her to make the choices that SHE desires.