We chose a doula for two main reasons:
1) Because we are expats, and unfamiliar with the Dutch birth and hospital system, we wanted to have someone who knew us and also knew the procedures here in Holland, who could act as our advocate and intermediary.
2) Because I suppose I am quite modest and I didn’t fancy having my husband see me in labor
if it got bad, and my husband doesn’t like blood or medical things and was upset at the idea of seeing me in pain. I knew that if he was worried and stressed while trying to support me in the delivery room, we would get into a sort of feedback loop of stress, so for both of us it made sense to have a professional to support both of us through the birth process.
Before the birth
Our doula came to visit us 3 times at our house before the due date, to discuss our birth plan, each time getting to know us a little better. At first this seemed like a lot of detail for something which we didn’t have much control over, but I realized that discussing the possibilities with her helped us mentally prepare for the various options, and helped us define what was important (no pain medication, being able to walk around, not too many extra people in the room, a quiet atmosphere) It also meant that during the delivery, no matter where or how it happened, she would be able to advocate for our birth plan- because we would be definitely too distracted to do so. In fact, we were more likely to approach our ideal birth scenario, precisely because we had someone who understood our priorities, and because she was there to ensure that we got the closest possible match.
When my water broke 24 hours before labor started, the midwife practice followed their standard procedure and turned our care over to the hospital. After months of appointments with the midwives, this might have been a stressful situation, because it meant that my labor took place in an unfamiliar hospital with a medical team who I had never met. This is one of the key advantages of having a doula: all the other staff can change, but we still had some continuity and someone who knew us.
In the birth room, Willeke was able to give me wonderful acupressure massages, and because she knew the steps of labor, she was able to anticipate what would come next, and suggest really helpful, comforting things at the right times- when to take a shower, when to dim the lights, when to have a quick drink of water, when I might need a bit of extra energy or could take a break. Because she also knew about hospitals, she knew how to plug and unplug all the beeping equipment, and knew what was necessary- she could ask a lot of smart questions to the nurses. She worked in complete harmony with the hospital staff, and they also were happy that she was there, as it meant they could leave us in peace, but trust her to call them if anything was going wrong. I’m sure that if it were just my husband and I in the room, we wouldn’t have known exactly “where” we were in the process, or if the labor was going correctly. There were a few tough, painful moments that she was able to hold my hands and coach me through, and I think if she hadn’t been there to keep me focused on breathing correctly (at the time I thought of it as “chopping up the contractions into manageable little pieces”), I probably would have gotten scared, and needed pain medication. I definitely attribute giving birth without painkillers to her coaching and guidance during the delivery. She also knew when labor would be getting a bit too much for my husband, and could tell him to leave the room (and she would text message him with updates, and to tell him to come back in when it got better!)
Another advantage of having a doula was that I knew I wanted to get into a mental “zone” for delivery; I wanted to focus on breathing and the baby. She was able to act as my liaison to the outside world- for instance, when the hospital shift changed, she was able to discuss with the midwives and nurses about my current status, express my wishes to them, and confirm bureaucratic things like my birthdate and birth plan papers, so I didn’t have to break my focus on managing the contractions.
Our doula made us feel like we were the most important, and the only, clients in the world. Not only was she wonderful support on the day of Paul’s birth, but she also came the week before to give me a prenatal acupressure foot massage, and had a postnatal visit to discuss tips for recovery and baby care (and admire our newborn son). She also had the presence of mind to take very beautiful pictures while I was in hospital. As an experienced doula, she knew the photogenic moments; something we couldn’t possibly have anticipated.
At the end, it’s not important that the birth goes as planned, because in fact that is almost impossible to control. What’s important is that both partners feel satisfied and happy when they remember the experience. I am convinced that one of the best ways to encourage a successful outcome is to hire a doula.