Preserving the Intimacy of Birth~One Doula's View
(This article came across my desk. It was written a few years ago by a HypnoBirthing Doula, who has become a Licensed Midwife. I think it gives a wonderful overview of what a doula's role can be in a woman's birth experience.)
Birth is the most quintessentially feminine an experience that has ever been. The power of the body meets the power of the mind in a spectacular explosion of the perfection of nature. These are the moments when a woman is only who she is. There is no pretending and there is no running. There is only being. The person that most women choose to share this experience with is her husband or partner. Although he cannot fully feel the internal workings of the harmony of his partner's body, a birthing father moves through his own kind of awakening and rebirth. Woman becomes mother and man becomes father and for just a moment the realization is made that this child is a product of their work together.
As a Labor Companion, or Doula, I have often been privy to this renaissance moment. It has caused me to silently cry for the beauty of it all and to look away to preserve the peace of this sacred time between a mother and father who have just come to be so. As witnesses to such a special occasion, we as Doulas must realize that a birth experience is the complete and total property of the birthing parents. Whether or not we agree with where or with whom our clients are birthing is not an issue. Our job, much like parents ourselves, is to educate, guide,and support the laboring family.
My only birth experiences were bearing my own children. The births I attend are someone else's experience that I am invited to assist in. In the initial interview with a prospective couple, it should be explained first and foremost that as a Doula, we should not be holding the mother's hand or stroking her hair. A Doula is not the person she wants to stare at for hours. Her husband should be that person, and if he chooses not to involve himself in the birth he will do his partner and his child a grave disservice, not to mention his own personal regret for having missed such an incredible opportunity.
It is widely understood that the word "Doula" is a Greek word for "slave." Personally, I reject the notion that a Doula is the slave of the laboring mother. Doulas are not held in bondage and forced to experience the beauty of birth. We choose this work because we are called to it. We simply cannot imagine ever not being a part of birth. Doulas, in my opinion, should act as trained background. Drinks magically appear between every uterine surge. The vomit basin makes it to mom just in time. Cool washcloths are in ample supply and always fresh and nobody has to ask. If she's uncomfortable, position changes are offered and facilitated. When interventions are suggested, the birthing parents can make an informed decision because they have a Doula on their side. My point is that while we, as Labor Companions, are handling the details of a positive birthing experience, a partner can simply be a partner.
Our society took Dads from the waiting room where they had no part of the birth and put them in the labor room with the entire weight of the birth experience on their shoulders. A Doula can remove that weight and simply allow a husband to experience the beauty and intimacy of his birth into fatherhood.
It is amazing to me how much information a laboring father can absorb. This year, I have taken to instructing dads during the birth on how to support his wife, rather than doing it myself. It's so easy to say "rub her right here" and to step away into the shadows to preserve the birth of the family. I can keep the cool washcloths in his hands so that Dad is the person placing them on his wife's forehead. When her husband saves the day by helping mom get into a squatting position after I've whispered in his ear that she might be more comfortable that way, my satisfaction is their gentle embrace. If you watch closely during labor and birth, you will see mother and father, husband and wife, man and woman, fall in love in a way entirely new to them. In this intensely emotional time, a woman sees her partner exhibit a kind of quiet tenderness that she has in all likelihood never before seen. In that same instant, she shows her partner a graceful strength and steely courage that he never knew she possessed.
When we step over the line and assume the role of the birth partner, that moment is missed. It is not merely the moment when a slippery baby emerges from his mother, but it lasts throughout the birthing process. I remember these moments vividly from my most recent birth, which was our third child but our first birth with a Doula. My husband lay next to me in bed for hours, rocking on his hands and knees with me during the surges and collapsing with me in between. My Doula was there but I never saw her. I always had a fresh drink and my back was always rubbed and my needs were met, but I never had the overwhelming presence of anyone but my husband and I am forever thankful for the preservation of our intimate moments.
In conclusion, I feel that as Doulas our jobs are not merely to assist the birthing mother. We must protect the sanctity and intimacy of the experience of the birthing family, while not taking on the event as our own. The new parents should come away from their experience with a sense of confidence and empowerment that they worked perfectly together to bring a peaceful baby into the world. They should never be left feeling that they couldn't have done it without their Doula. We all know they could have, and we're ever so lucky to be allowed to participate. We simply provide the direction and quiet support to breathe courage into the labor room.
By Heather Hilton
HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator & Birth Doula since 2001
Student Midwife (now a Licensed Homebirth Midwife)
Austin, Texas USA
Thanks for letting me share this, Heather!