I was very lucky to have had a relatively uncomplicated natural birth with my son. I went into it hoping to avoid interventions and pain meds, but to be honest, I didn’t do much to prepare. Mr. Chalk and I took the one-day childbirth crash course at our hospital, but other than that? I basically just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. (Literally – I fell asleep in between each contraction, so spent most of the labor with my eyes closed.)
When I was pregnant this past year with my daughter, I was aiming for another natural birth, but tried to be more proactive about it. I read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth and used the Hypnobabies home study program. I also switched from an OB to a group of midwives.
But despite all of these decisions and preparations, there was one big topic that I was undecided on up until the very end. When you’re talking natural birth, I feel like having one-on-one support is one of the best ways to help make it through. And yet, I was on the fence about hiring a doula, and stayed on that fence for a ridiculously long time.
With my son, labor went quickly – five hours from start to finish. I had no reason to believe that my daughter’s birth wouldn’t be just as short, if not shorter. As one doula I spoke with oh-so-cringe-inducingly phrased it, “The slide has already been greased!” With that in mind, the frugal side of me winced at the idea of paying hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds – doulas in our area do not come cheap) for something that could be over in a matter of just a few hours.
My second hesitation came about due to where we were planning on delivering. Owen was born in a small community hospital, and even though we now lived over an hour away, I had decided I wanted my daughter to be born there as well. When I was in labor the first time, our nurse did not leave my side for those entire five hours, even staying past the end of her shift so that she could stay until the baby was born. The rooms were comfortable, and the hospital had recently been certified as Baby-Friendly. Because I had had such a positive experience the first time, and had felt so supported by our nurse, I just wasn’t sure what another person would be able to provide that I wouldn’t already be getting.
But, at the same time, I had been lucky. I was lucky that I had been assigned a nurse who had the time to spend with me, and who was supportive of natural birth. I know that’s not always necessarily going to be the case. I was also lucky to have had a short labor. Even though I felt like the odds were in my favor for that to happen again, we all know that there are no promises with birth.
Also – and I say the following with apologies to Mr. Chalk – I was worried that if I weren’t assigned a great nurse, I would be relying only on my husband for support. This idea did not make me happy. Don’t get me wrong; he did what he could during labor with my son. He said all the right things, and used all of the techniques that we had learned from our class. I wanted a washcloth on my forehead? He was on it. Reminder of breathing techniques? Mr. Chalk was on the scene. But despite all of his efforts, I needed more. He would say something encouraging to me, and I wouldn’t care at all. Two seconds later, the nurse would say the exact same thing, and it would be exactly what I needed to hear to help me get through the next few minutes.
I asked the midwives what they thought. One of them felt that having a doula was one of the best things a mom could do. Another said she didn’t feel it was necessary, since the midwife on call would be staying there as well and would be able to lend that kind of one-on-one support. I appreciated hearing their viewpoints, but having two totally different answers was not so helpful.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this debate went on for months. Mr. Chalk was supportive of whatever I wanted to do. (So nice! So not helpful!) For a few brief days, I thought I could use the remaining funds in my flex spending account to cover the cost, and had decided to go for it. But that rug was yanked out from us at the last minute, when I found out that it was not an eligible cost. I would meet with one midwife and want to do it. Meet with another one the following week and change my mind again.
In the end, we did not hire a doula. Up until I was in labor, I second-guessed whether this was the right decision. And, again, I was lucky. Things went even more quickly than they had with Owen, and Eloise was born just about three hours after we got to the hospital, and only an hour after things actually started getting intense. My nurse was kind and helpful and psyched that I was going for a natural birth. And the midwife on call did everything that I could have asked for from a doula. She was there wiping my face when I got sick; she held my hand when a contraction stopped me in my tracks in the hallway; she was the one who took my socks off when I was ready to get into the tub.
If I had had a difficult labor the first time, or if I was planning on delivering at a larger hospital with an OB, I may have made a different decision. If we had hired a doula for this birth, I’m also sure that she would have been wonderful and that I would have appreciated all the extra support. But for us, for our budget, and given where we were and who we had attending the birth, we were fine without one. (Also, did I mention that I was lucky?)
If we go for a third baby in a few years, I will most likely have this debate all over again – much to Mr. Chalk’s delight, I’m sure.
Did you hire a doula?