I’m no goddess worshiper, but sometimes I want to be. I’ll admit it, the new agey stuff intrigues me, as much as I scoff at it. No, I don’t want to dread my hair, or wear hemp pants, or own a cat named after an ancient goddess. But sometimes I do think that herbal supplements, meditation, and positive visualization can act as buttresses for conventional, i.e. Western, medicine. And I do think that the power of relaxation and being easygoing is understated. After all, I practice quite the opposite in my daily life, with its rigid system of lists, an ungodly early waking hour, and, currently, incessant trips to very level-headed, diploma-awarded doctors. (Both my mom’s oncologist and my gynecologist have been nearly social calls in their regularity of late.) So, in my head, doulas, or labor companions, are individuals who tread that fine line between bullshit-mongers and awesome-sauce.
In case you’re wondering, Kalma, Axomamma, and Nike would be the top three names for the patchouli-scented cat that my perpetually-barefoot, new age doppelganger would own. They’re the goddesses of decay, potatoes, and basketball sneakers, respectively. And I still snicker when people chant “om” before yoga classes, so don’t get your hopes — or tapestries — up.
“Doula” is a derivative of a word in Greek that translates into something like “really important female slave.” Though I can’t hire a doula to clean my toilet or lick my boot, I can give one a call when I get knocked up. (If I get knocked up. Aforementioned gynecologist visits potentially indicate a slim-to-none chance of that happening in this lifetime.) These “birthworkers” are brought along for the ride of pregnancy, not as bewildered hostages like many a husband and boyfriend, but as assistants. Coaches, if you will. Additional punching bags, perhaps. The technical definition, according to Klaus, Kennell and Klaus’s cleverly titled tome Mothering the Mother, is “a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during and just after childbirth.”
According to Childbirth.org, a doula does everything from explaining medical procedures, to assisting in the creation of a birth plan. They also offer support and guidance as new parents figure out how to get the baby to breastfeed with minimal discomfort for the mother and maximum consumption of liquid lunch for the infant. It seems like doulas are heavily relied on by women and couples looking to avoid pharmacological pain relief, surgical intervention, or a more “Americanized” version of childbirth. Hey, to each their own. If I discovered that I was pregnant I would demand an epidural before the piss dried on the stick. But that’s just me.
So you want natural childbirth, or maybe you want to shoot your reproductive tract all over the interior of a kiddie pool, or perhaps you’d like to forever taint your house with the memory of passing a several-pound person through a hole in your body smaller than a thimble? Then for you a doula is totally doable. These pregnancy cheerleaders are mainly walking birth dictionaries, providing information, support, and pain relief techniques for the woman about to pass a human being through her cervix. The doula will explain things to the family prior to the water breaking, and, if they’re a postpartum doula, they’ll help out around the house afterward. This is looked at as useful because introducing a brand-spankin’-new baby into the home is kind of like releasing a swarm of angry bees inside of a grade school girls’ locker-room, at least from what I’ve been told.
There are benefits to having a labor companion, and they’re not just ones for the husband or same-sex partner who can’t quite figure out how to make the screaming stop. Doulas have been noted to reduce the length of labor by 25%, reduce the split-me-open-like-a-watermelon cesarean rate by 50%, reduce the use of forceps in deliveries by 40%, and, unlike my high-school’s drug abuse prevention program, reduce the use of Oxycontin by 40%. These are just a few on the list of benefits, which have been studied for years by skeptics and fans alike. One has to think that midwives helped to keep the human species conveyor belt moving right along for years, what’s the harm in bringing old school birthing back? After all, history proves that once you take away the midwives, the maternal mortality ratio goes up.
Just as I go postal on people who rigidly argue that vaccinating their kids is dangerous without exception, and that tinctures can cure petrussis (“whooping cough”), being too stubborn about Western medicine can be just as close-minded and potentially detrimental. Again, this is simply my point of view, based off of my semi-comparative, non-scientific study over the course of several years where drinking, overeating dairy products, and reckless sex never helped my anxiety. These days yoga and meditation keeps me from curling up into a ball and writhing on the floor to Joy Division’s Substance…most of the time. Uniting doulas along with traditional labor assistance enjoyed by mothers in developing countries can’t be a wholly bad thing.
Typically doula services run about $500, though some can cost upwards of $1K. Hospital doulas and free/low-cost doulas are available for the practical pregnant person. In the case of hospital doulas, the mother wouldn’t know them prior to getting contractions, which, to me, would make labor kind of like an awkward one-night stand. Only backwards? Free doulas are still in training, which would not appeal to me, mainly ’cause I’d imagine delivering a baby is a pretty intense situation to learn-by-doing.
Are you the kind of person who thinks that a rice sock is an adequate pain-relieving measure for childbirth? Do you think that sounds crazy-bananas, but are a devoted believer in the healing power of breath? Do you like babies? Do you like babies with the placenta still attached? Then becoming a doula might be a viable career path for you. You can enroll in a workshop and get certified through one of the three internationally-recognized doula-making organizations: DONA, CAPPA, and ALACE. Network with other doulas in or near your community, offer to help them around their office (or house) in exchange for information and guidance. Mentoring is always useful, but when it comes to the viscera-covered nitty-gritty of birthing — especially if you’ve never been inside of a delivery room other than your arrival on this planet — the more hand-holding the better.
There are several reasons why I would make a better, oh, I don’t know, professional wrestler, snake charmer, conservative Republican lobbyist, anything than I would make a doula. One of these is the schedule. You’re on call, a la ER, 24/7 until that baby arrives, is home, is nursing, is pooping in its diapers, and the parents are slightly less than shell-shocked. It’s your anniversary and your honey has taken you to Blue Ribbon Sushi to celebrate your months of contraceptive-aided-sexual bliss and love, but your mother-to-be sprung a leak and appears to be in labor two weeks early? See ya sushi, too bad, boo, you’re off to the hospital, Ms. Doula. (Or off to the house, if your client is delivering at home.) As I’ve mentioned, I’m slightly-to-completely obsessive compulsive, prone to scheduling, list-making, and adding and subtracting from my spiral-bound day planner more intensely and often than Jim Zorn does to the Redskins’ playbook. Living on the edge of my seat, awaiting a phone call which would summon me to work, would be more stressful than actually being pregnant.
Moreover, truth be told, I’m vagina squeamish when it comes to the non-recreational aspects of the thing. I nearly gag every time a gynecologist inserts a speculum in my bits, and if I was forced to see the utilitarian functions of female genitalia up-close and personal, well, I’d be the one needing medical attention. I’m also not one who is, as they put it “comfortable with touch,” especially not with strangers. A non-touchy people pleaser in a room with a gaping, bloody hole, belonging to a screaming woman…it sounds like a PSA for birth control, or a scene in a film by Takashe Miike.
Take note that this is written by someone who is seriously ignorant, on top of being selfish. I’m a sexually overt twenty-something who is more in tune with the Lakers’ shot clock than her biological one. I’ve never had a kid and, like I said, it’s doubtful I will. As with the new age mumbo-jumbo that makes me chuckle and then think, I do believe that childbirth is a miracle, though it also kind of seems like a nightmare. But most new mothers, just like the Nag Champa burning granola munchers I pretend to roll my eyes at, seem to have a content glow and all-encompassing smile, the likes of which this cynic’s cheeks have never seen.
Drop me a line. Angry letters from doulas and mothers welcome. AinsleyDrew at gmail dot com.
Thanks to everyone who donates.
Hire me to birth some words.
American Pregnancy Association’s answers to why you may want a doula.
So you think you can doula? Here’s a checklist, just to make sure.
Birth Roots, which looks like you should get a bowl of Kashi with every click, is actually a really informative site about returning to the “roots of chilbirth.”