A Picture Speaks 1,000 Words – Why My Husband and I Decided to Use a Doula

19 March 2010 at 7:30 am 5 comments

While sitting here thinking about what to write on the topic of doulas, many things entered my mind.  I could have cited studies that have shown doulas reducing cesarean rates by 50%, shortening labor by 25%, lessening epidural requests by 60%, reducing the use of forceps and pitocin by 40%, or lowering requests for analgesia by 30%, but instead I decided to write a personal testimony of why my husband and I chose to have a doula present at the birth of our two sons.

It wasn’t because I didn’t trust that my husband would be an excellent coach; my husband and I had both taken 12 weeks of natural childbirth classes, and I knew he was up for the task. It wasn’t because I was worried I would have unnecessary interventions; we were birthing at a free standing birth center run by experienced midwives who shared our philosophy of birth; and it wasn’t because I doubted my own capabilities…in the end, we chose to have a doula at both births, because we felt it would enhance our experience.

When I was 30 weeks pregnant with my first child, a friend forwarded me an online ad run by a DONA trained doula. The doula had just completed her training and was looking for some births in order to gain certification. At this stage in our young married life, cost was a concern for us, especially since our insurance wouldn’t cover the fee of the free standing birth center we had chosen. We were paying for the birth out of pocket, and there wasn’t much money left over to hire a doula. It was because of this that we had decided not to use a doula. We had agreed that we would just rely on each other and the midwives at the birthing center for support. But when this ad came my way, I responded.

Stephanie, the doula, called me back right away. I learned during our phone conversation that she had never attended a birth before (besides the birth of her own two sons). While admittedly that made me a bit nervous, and I had convinced myself that I didn’t want to be a “guinea pig,” by the end of our conversation I thought it would be rude not to at least meet with her.

We met at the birthing center and she arrived dressed professionally and with a clipboard in hand. She rigorously jotted down everything I said. She impressed me. We must have spoken for an hour, and by the end of our conversation, she was able to reiterate everything I had said to her. She was enthusiastic. I thanked her for meeting me and told her I would be getting back to her with an answer. It didn’t take long for me to decide. On the car ride home from our meeting, I knew I wanted her to be a member of our birth team.

When I returned home, I told my husband how much I “clicked” with Stephanie. He had his reservations, especially when I told him “Oh, by the way, did I mention our birth will be the first one she has ever attended?” He said that ultimately it was my decision, but he worried that a doula might usurp his role as coach. Did we really want a stranger present at one of the most intimate moments of our lives? I told him that I liked her, and that I didn’t want to call her and tell her “no.”

My first labor was intense. It began with my water breaking 9 days past my estimated due date. I called Stephanie to alert her once my water had broken, and to let her know that we would likely be having a baby that evening. The contractions began within a few hours of my water breaking, and with the help of my husband I was able to stay at home and rest in between them. After 8 hours, they grew in intensity to the point where I was unable to walk or talk through them. My husband called Stephanie and told her we were headed to the birth center. Stephanie met us there. Her presence was comforting to me. It would be another 8 hours at the birth center before our baby arrived. The midwives came in and out to check our baby’s heart rate, but for the most part, they let us labor alone with our doula.

I experienced severe back labor during my first labor, and I was grateful with every contraction to have Stephanie applying counter-pressure to my front while my husband applied counter-pressure to my back simultaneously. This went on for hours. It took enormous strength on their part, but they never let me down. When I hit transition and the contractions were coming back to back, Stephanie brought me a cold washcloth for my forehead and made sure I stayed hydrated by holding a straw up to my mouth so I could sip water. There wasn’t a direction I could look where I wasn’t supported.

When I read Stephanie’s account of the birth, she said that during the pushing phase, she had a moment where she felt like she was at a loss for how to help me. She spontaneously picked up my camera and began taking pictures. If she had asked me during our initial meeting if I would like pictures taken at the birth, I probably would’ve said “no way” since I couldn’t imagine myself being a fan of having photographs of myself 9 months pregnant, sweaty, and exhausted. Stephanie was able to capture photos of my husband lovingly supporting me through my labor, and that priceless moment in which we met our firstborn son for the very first time. He was placed on my knee and he looked up at me. It is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life…his sweet face, his strong neck, his beaming eyes…but I never would have seen my husband’s smile or the expression of total awe and love on my own face, had it not been for Stephanie’s photos. If my house was burning down and I only had time to grab one keepsake, it would be the album of pictures Stephanie captured of those most memorable moments of my life.

When my husband and I learned we were expecting again only 9 months later, we chose the same birth team. Our second birth was faster, only 3 hours from the first contraction to the birth, and Stephanie made it just in the nick of time. I think my baby was waiting for her to arrive. He was born in the water, in the same room as his older brother, with the same team welcoming him into the world.

I am a certified childbirth educator, and I am also now the Doula Coordinator for a local hospital where I have the honor and privilege of leading a group of amazing women who provide their services free of charge to laboring women, some of whom would not be able to afford a doula otherwise. I tell my doulas that they have the unique opportunity of sharing in an event where they will be remembered fondly forever. I have also had the privilege of assisting at births as a doula myself. Remembering my own births, and thinking of Stephanie, I always make a point of picking up my camera, searching for that precious moment carved in time, where a mother meets her baby for the very first time.

So what are your thoughts? Did you have a doula at your birth? Did you find her presence helpful?

~Rebecca Urban is the mother of two boys born naturally with the assistance of a loving husband-coach, excellent midwives, and an extraordinary doula. She is a certified childbirth educator teaching The Bradley® Method of Natural Childbirth, and the Doula Coordinator at Heywood Hospital in Gardner, MA.


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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. stephanie  |  20 March 2010 at 7:40 am

    In response, you and your family will always hold a most special place in my heart because you allowed me to experience my first birth with you! Your confidence and strength epitomizes what a birth can truly be…precious and empowering…the reason i became a doula!
    Sending BIG hugs your way!

  • 2. Lynn B  |  20 March 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Wow, that IS a great picture Rebecca! I totally agree. My doula from my last 2 births is also a photographer and the awesome pictures she took are beyond precious to me. Some I don’t share with anyone else 🙂 But to have that visual record is a real gift, so helpful in remembering and processing. Great post. We love our doulas!!

  • 3. Autumn Vergo, NHCM, CPM  |  21 March 2010 at 8:49 am

    Nice post, Rebecca! I’m glad you touched on the concern that a lot of fathers have, that a doula will replace them. When I was attending births as a doula, almost every father mentioned this concern before the birth! Afterward, they all said they were glad the doula (myself or one of my partners) was present. I think this illustrates the professionalism and sensitivity of trained doulas; their education and experience distinguishes them from a friend, sister, or other lay-person as a labor companion. Doulas occupy a unique (and important) role in the birth “team,” even, as you pointed out, in a setting staffed by midwives!

  • 4. Pam G.  |  22 March 2010 at 8:25 am

    Great post Rebecca. Thank you for sharing. As a new doula, I appreciate meeting clients like you who are not afraid of working with a newly trained doula. The pictures are so beautiful and capture such a special memory.

  • 5. Nichole Davis  |  22 March 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Great story. I think a lot of women feel the same way that you did about weather or not to have a doula present at your birth. I know that Andy and I talked about it too, and I felt the same way. Ultimately in the end we chose not too, but looking back in retrospect I think it would have been nice to have someone else there to capture those moments like she did. And allowing her to be present at your birth having it be her first time is a great way to show too your willingness to help others learn and get to understand what is so great about natural childbirth 🙂


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