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Birth Story Special: A Doula's Tale

This week I'm running a Birth Story Special via this blog. So far I hope you've enjoyed the wonderful stories shared: Michelle's tale of her emergency section, my own first birth by reluctant induction, Sarah's freebirth, and yesterday's moving account of a hospital birth in which intervention was not only helpful but necessary to save a life.

There are many thoughts, feelings and questions raised by these stories, which I hope to address in a final post over the weekend. Do feel free to discuss your reactions via the comments at the bottom of each post, or on the facebook page for this blog. I will do my best to consider and address all of the points that you make.

In the meantime I'd like to introduce tonight's story, written by a trainee Doula about her first experience of witnessing birth. One of the big questions about birth in the UK today for me is - how can we maximise our chances of a natural, positive and empowering experience within the current system? There is much research to show that having a Doula present for your labour may be one way of doing so, and in this case, a first time mother had a successful home birth.

Jenn's Story

Doula - The Greek translation is Woman Servant or slave but in modern culture it refers to a
person whom assists the Mother (and family) in preparing for her new baby, supports the Mother physically and emotionally through labour and provides post-natal advice and help. Doulas are (usually) women and are (usually) a Mother or someone with knowledge or experience of natural birth – but most importantly they have an affinity with womankind and a great, deep belief in their ability to birth their babies. Midwives do not deliver babies – Mothers deliver babies. 

I have been on the road to becoming a Doula since the birth of my first child 4 years ago. Her birth was not a happy experience and although I (narrowly) avoided a C-Section I did end up with every other bit of intervention going. I felt that my body (and my soul) had failed. When I became pregnant 7 months later, I was determined that the experience was going to be a positive one – no matter how or where it ended.  It did in fact end amazingly, on my sitting room floor after a 2 hour labour 13 days past my due date… but that’s another story. Since this time I have read, researched, listened to countless birth stories, attended workshops and generally immersed myself in birth with the help and support of wise women from NCT/Midwifery and of course fellow Doulas.

Here is the story of my first experience as a Doula:

Dec 2010: My 21 year old Step Daughter Danielle calls her father and tells him she is pregnant following a whirlwind romance with Toby (now her husband). It was a very funny time – Dani didn’t have the easiest of teenage years and we had both grown distant from her. So this was a very special time.

‘Pre-Baby’: We talked, we planned her wedding and I slowly sowed the seed of what birth could be like if she wanted it to be… I say that, as I believe that as long as you end up with a healthy baby the birth can usually always be a positive experience, if you just take ownership of it from day one. That means being educated, being informed, understanding your birth ‘blueprint’ (ie what your mother, aunt, sisters have fed you about birth, together with how it is shown on Eastenders or Friends…) and letting go of all pre-conceptions and fears and learning how powerful your body truly is.

I guess without realising it I was actually doing what a Doula would do in her ante-natal visits but in a much more slow and subtle way.

Within another few months (and after quite a bit of Ina-May Gaskin) she actually asked me to be her Birth Supporter, her Doula. This was the most amazing thing ever. To have my first experience of birth (outside my own) and for it to be for someone I loved dearly.

So I continued as I had been with feeding her lots of positive links, stories, books and experiences whilst reminding her that first labours could be long and exhausting and she needed to rest and eat and to interject that with some mobility ie light walks, bouncing on ball, relaxing dancing etc etc I gave her tips on using relaxation exercises, visualisations and positions to help the early stages pass by more easily. I also suggested that the three of us (she, hubby and me) attend an antenatal day (run by Conscious Birthing) which I hoped would put us all on the same page and solidify us as a little team. The day was loved by all and had the surprising (and lovely) result of them deciding to aim for a home birth.

So the stage was set and I lent them my “magic” birth pool (it had attended 2 births and hadn’t been filled in time due to some very quick babies!).

One week before due date:

Sun 6pm
: I get call saying Dani had been having mild cramps since 2pm. I recommend paracetamol and an early night – not forgetting a nourishing tea (or in her case some Weetabix or similar!).  I say this may possibly be the start.

Sun 10pm: Still crampy.. (via Phone Call)

Mon, 1:16am: Regular Cramps (text message) – advise she try sleeping by lying over back of sofa and take a bath if that doesn’t work.  I warn her this is most likely the start, but could still be a week or so before baby comes!

Mon, 3:28am: Cramps stopping her sleeping still so she takes a bath (Text)

Mon, 6.09am: Didn’t sleep well, taking more paracetamol. (Text/Call).  I offer to come in a few hours – she agrees.

Mon, 10am: I get to Dani’s house. Contractions are uncomfortable but relatively short and pretty irregular. I distract her with chatting, make sure she eats and drinks little and often and encourage her to try and sleep which she does a little.

Mon, 2pm: Contractions pretty much off the boil now (though she has now had a show) and she is a little more rested so I suggest a short 10min stroll to see if that helps things get going without tiring her out – concerned that she hasn’t slept much and hope the walk will either pick up contractions or that the fresh air will help her sleep when she returns.

Mon, 6pm: Toby has been home from work for a while. Contractions every 15 mins or so but still on and off and not lasting long.  We discuss what to do and agree that I will go home. Dani is in good spirits and feels it will be a long time before things pick up.   I get in the car and call my husband.  I don’t think I should go but having talked it through with him decided that maybe it is for the best as I will rest better.

Mon, 7pm: I get home, put the kids to bed and eat. Glad I was home to do that but still think I should have stayed.

Mon, 10pm: Toby calls to ask about the Tens machine… Ok so I am really thinking I shouldn’t have left!  Dani is apparently in the bath and coping fine but things are picking up. I get ready for bed expecting a 3am call!

Mon, 10:30pm:  I am called! My head had literally just touched the pillow. Had hardly slept the night before and had driven 60 miles already that day.

Midnight: I reach the house. Dani is still in the bath, contractions lasting a minute every three minutes and had been that way since about 8/9pm…. I rub her back during the contraction which she appreciates. In-between contractions she leans forward and tries to doze. She is very tired. We agree that Toby should fill the pool in preparation. She breathes through the contractions and on harder ones groans – I give simple words of encouragement and occasionally remind her of visualisations to help her stay relaxed.

Tue,12:30am: She is starting to move around a lot more during contractions and doesn’t seem to be able to get comfortable, I am also aware of the fact that in her current position she cannot rest easily. I suggest we move downstairs where there is more space to lean, rest, stand or move around. Also to be ready for the pool.

Dani rests on the sofa between contractions and stands when they come on.  I often support her in a slight squat or she leans on the side of the pool. After a time her waters go followed by some regular blood drops.

Tue,1am:  I call the midwife just to let them know she is in labour and what is happening. Dani doesn’t want them to come yet and they are happy that she is most likely entering established labour (around 3cm) which had been my assumption too.

Tue,1:20am:  She vomits.  A lot.  After another 10 mins or so of contractions she says she feels like she is having to stop her self pushing. She goes to the toilet and lets out an almighty groan – small alarm bells go off in my head.. “was that more water or the baby?”  I ask in a slightly startled way… She thinks it's more show and water. I say it may be feeling weird as the head will be right on the cervix now the waters have gone. We hobble downstairs. She stands in the pool (which is about shin deep) and keeps touching her bum with every contraction… I am now getting a tad confused.   Knowledge tells me one thing… her body tells me another.  Although influenced by knowledge I override the feeling and go with her body and I call the Midwife and ask for them to come… Midwife is still thinking she is probably about 4cm… I am starting to wonder otherwise…. Still standing in the pool she says she feels she is going to pass her bowel or intestines or something (a good sign the baby is nearly there) but every time I look I can’t see anything… Her husband is with her and I walk out a few times to make sure the Midwife can find us…. She arrives within 15 mins or so.  She asks me to carry in another bottle of Gas and Air… I comment that she is handling it very well as she is… We get to the door and she is standing in the pool with her husband behind her with his hands outstretched ready to catch… head born about 4mins after (with the Midwife in prime position now) and body along 2 mins after that.
Oh my. None of us, especially Dani, expected that. The contractions never built up and never went over 1 minute long.

Post Birth: I took some pics (with the flash off), helped fetch and carry for the Midwife and began to slowly tidy up. The second Midwife appeared and the placenta was delivered physiologically. Baby was a little cold and a little slow to suck… so Mum and Baby wrapped up warm and got into bed. Toby crashed in a chair and I laid on the bed awake and encouraged her to sleep.

It was nearly dawn by this time and I had now missed my 2nd nights sleep but adrenalin kept me going (just!). I made cups of tea and toast and stayed for the morning as he was still not breastfeeding and Dani was getting a little anxious.

I left to go home at about 4pm later that day leaving both Dani and Toby happy and settled, expressing colostrum for the baby and confident that he would feed soon. I suggested it may be in the middle of the night so to try and sleep for a few hours.

Post Natal:
This is where the lines of Doula and Grandma become slightly blurry. I was awoken at midnight that night by a very distressed new Mummy who wanted her baby to eat and couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t. The story of what followed would take another few pages but in summary it included me driving back up the next day, supporting and encouraging her, driving with her to the hospital in the next town (due to slight concerns over babies blood sugar levels), a 24 hour stay in said hospital (and another missed nights sleep) and an almost constant dialogue either encouraging, explaining, calming or making her smile…. Those post pregnancy hormones take you on the roller coaster of your life – mix in an (unnecessary as it turned out) stay in hospital and a baby who was only just starting to Breastfeed and you have one stressed lady…

We all survived the hospital (though I quietly found it very upsetting) and then followed another week of Midwife appointments, expressing, cranial osteopath and finally a tongue tie snip and now I have one very happy Step-Daughter and one very happy Grandson (usually drunk on Mummies milk).

So did a Doula make any difference?
Dani has told me since that she couldn’t have done it without me, (which is quite flattering I may add!)… on asking her to explain she said that she would have had the baby in the midwife unit (which is obviously personal choice and not a bad thing) and missed out on the intimacy and comfort of her own home, bath and bed. She said that it was my confidence and education on birth that helped her cope so well during her labour, that from start to finish she knew what to expect so well that she didn’t really have a conscious awareness of what was happening, that it just progressed and she moved with it completely confidently.  When I asked how I helped during the actual labour she said what she remembered being most helpful was me physically supporting her during contractions and making her get out of the bath when it was obvious she wasn’t settled there.  What touched me the most is when I asked her if at any time she had felt fear or worry or anxiety and she said no, none at all. To top it off Dani said that if I hadn’t had been there with her during the time in hospital and on the end of the phone she would have had a melt down and the baby would be bottle fed… this I hate to think as true but statistics show this is what happens A LOT.

What I know is that Dani birthed her own baby and between them they learnt how to breastfeed. Toby supported her everyway he could and I was there, for both of them to encourage, support, give advice and keep them smiling. I was honoured to attend the birth and will never forget it. Although a Doula doesn’t usually spend quite so much time face to face post-natal (although this is all negotiable) the essence of what I was doing was 100% Doula. I didn’t take over, make decisions or pass judgement.  I simply gave facts, options and said I would support whatever she decided.

Surprisingly, with the kind of labour she had, I think I made the most difference before the birth and after... as opposed to during (although I hope I made things easier for her).  It was the birth education that I was able to pass on that gave her the knowledge and confidence to handle the labour so well and it was, I guess the same thing but for Breastfeeding that kept her going afterwards.

If you would like to contact me to talk about anything written here, to discuss birth education or what a Doula could do for you then please don’t hesitate in emailing me

I am happy to discuss attending births (in the South Somerset area) in whichever capacity is appropriate. Many Doulas support women in their communities for years without undertaking formal training (though I plan to do so myself in Spring 2012).

Further information on Doula’s can be found at
 .  Most experienced Doula’s charge between £400 and £500 (someone training may charge from FREE - £200) for their services (to cover expenses, potential loss of income or childcare costs and continued training/workshops) the cost does range depending on how experienced they are and other factors. If you think you cannot afford a Doula then do speak to them first – most charge on a case-by-case basis and there is also a hardship fund available through Doula UK.

The last thing to add is if you do decide to hire a Doula do try and meet two or three (this will be a free informal chat) before making a decision so you find the person most on your wavelength!


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