Photo courtesy of bassettbabyplanning.com
This time, I knew I couldn’t be half-assed about it. I did not want to go through the same birth experience again.
I chanced upon the perfect book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, and it completely changed my perspective on what the birth experience could be. Instead of a frightening and painful experience that is treated as a medical problem with drugs and interventions, I learned that birth could be a beautiful, life-changing experience.
Gaskin, an experienced midwife, collected the stories of mothers who gave birth at The Farm, a midwives’ collective in Tennessee. Story after story described birth as a beautiful, albeit intense, experience that changed a woman’s perspective on the power of her inner strength. I interpreted it as an initiation into motherhood – the first test to overcome to prove to yourself that you had what it took to endure the many trials of motherhood that lay ahead. Birth could be a calm and strengthening experience, sometimes with a mother actually experiencing ecstasy at the time of birth (let’s be clear, that was not me).
Throughout the book, it was clear that what aided women through the birth experience was other women, experienced with birthing, assisting the mother through the ebbs and flows of the contractions. My initial thought was, “Of course women should help women, how could it be any other way?” However, in our culture, the common practice is to have the husband or partner as the main support person, often with little preparation. And no matter how well meaning and loving a partner is, it is difficult to expect them to be able to help you though this novel and intense experience in the same way as a professional.
How a Doula Provides Birthing Support
Enter the doula. If you decide to give birth at the hospital rather than at home like I did, a doula is indispensable. Like a midwife, a doula is trained and experienced to help women manage the pain of contractions as well as provide support and guidance to the labouring mother. Unlike a midwife, they are not licensed to deliver the baby or provide medical advice.
Studies have shown that continuous support by doulas shortened labouring time in first-time mothers by an average of two hours and reduced the need for cesarean delivery by 50%. It also decreased the need for pain medication and increased the chances of successful breastfeeding.
Although a little pricey, $500-$1000, it is well worth the cost. This fee usually includes two visits prior to birth (to prepare your birth plan) and two postpartum (to give assistance with the new baby). It is recommended that you interview a number of doulas to find one that is a good fit. I knew that when push came to shove, someone who was too nice and friendly could get on my nerves. So I ended up choosing one who was matter-of-fact and brusque – and she worked out perfectly.
Unfortunately, doula care is not covered under OHIP (or by any other provincial health care plan as far as I am aware), however many work on a sliding scale based on socio-economic status. Midwifes are covered by many provinces , however the only downside is that they may not have the time to provide support throughout the labour (they are usually tasked with more than one birth at a time).
Municipalities usually provide free prenatal classes as well, so in areas where doula or midwifery support are unavailable, a partner or other family member can be trained to step in.
Photo courtesy of http://www.barriedoula.com
My Birth Experience
My birth experience ended up being almost exactly how I imagined. The contractions were manageable because the doula was with me every step of the way whispering visualization and relaxation tips in my ear, and finding positions and pressure points to help ease the pain. She also gave my husband advice on how best to support me and to manage his own anxiety and fear.
The only unexpected turn of events that made the birth a bit difficult was that my daughter was posterior (she was facing forward instead of back, making her head circumference too large to easily deliver). The result was over an hour of pushing, with no progress. Doula or not, this was not a pleasant experience. Finally she was turned with the doctor’s help and came out in a single push.
Despite this glitch, my daughter was born alert and serene and we were never separated. I was back to myself two days later, doing chores and walking up and down stairs without issue.
During the labour, I went to a place within me that I did not know existed and tapped into an inner strength that I now know I can return to when and if the need arises.
There is No Right Way to Give Birth
How a woman decides to give birth is a deeply personal decision and like all choices having to do with one’s own body, whatever decision she makes is the right one for her. The reason I wanted to describe my own journey here is for women who simply do not know there is a way to have a natural childbirth that is positive and beautiful (well, not literally beautiful, but you get the gist). I certainly had no idea.
Recently, someone close to me gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. She had planned on a home birth and retained a wonderful midwife. However, on the third day of labour (I can’t even imagine this!), there was little progress and utter exhaustion was setting in. For the first time in her experience, the midwife suggested that perhaps an epidural would be the best course. At least some sleep and rest could be had while the slow progression to 10 centimetres was achieved. This ended up being the right decision and after another whole day of labour, the baby was born and is now thriving.
Without doubt, advances in medicine have made it possible for women who would have otherwise died or suffered immensely to have a positive birth experience. And it has also given the choice to women on how they want to give birth. Many of my friends chose the epidural right away because they didn’t want to deal with the pain (one in particular screamed in horror when we got our belly-buttons pierced back in the day so this was definitely the right decision for her). Some chose a c-section because of their small frames and the size of their babies. All resulted in wonderful and healthy children, and all of these decisions were the right one for that woman.
Click here to read Part I: Learning the Hard Way.
Here’s the link to the doula group I used: Toronto Doula Group