Do Doulas Need Doulas?
Written By Thea Mistry - Doula, Yoga instructor, Mama.
I get asked pretty regularly if I’m going to have a doula supporting me through the birth of my second child. Do doulas need doulas? Of course!
Giving birth isn’t something I can think my way through. The hormones making my labour happen originate from the primal, intuitive part of my brain. As midwife Ina May Gaskin advises, I’ve got to let my monkey do it. As I move into active labour, I’ll naturally enter a more inwardly-focused, meditative state, commonly referred to as “labour-land”. This will help me find and maintain a rhythm of coping with the contractions, while getting me out of the way and letting my body work as it’s designed to. Distractions that engage my thinking brain can slow or stall the process and make it harder for me to stay on top of the growing intensity. So I'll need someone in the room who knows about birth and can reassure me about what’s normal, encourage me when I doubt my capacity, remember the tools and position changes that can help me cope while moving things along, hold out a drink for me, remind me to pee; who can do the thinking for me so I just be present. Also, I remember from my son’s birth how helpful it was to have an extra set of hands - how I needed to be holding on to my husband while someone else was rubbing my lower back. They worked as a team, intuitively following my lead, calmly holding the space and believing in me. That support enabled me to trust the process, which seemed to unfold smoothly as a result. I know that in labour I can’t be both the traveller and the guide.
I became a doula after becoming a mother. My experience of giving birth fundamentally shifted who I was - it made me stronger, more tuned into my instincts, more comfortable in my own skin. In those first moments of bonding with my son, I was high from the challenge I had overcome. My legs were shaking and I needed stitches but I felt unstoppable. As I got to know my little man, I trusted the intuition that emerged and believed that I knew what was best for my baby (even though at that point I had zero experience with babies.) I’ll always be deeply grateful that we got off to such a good start. As the months passed, I found myself still amazed by the process of growing and bearing a life into the world. I wanted to be around birth. I wanted to help more women begin their relationships with their babies feeling empowered and connected.
Facing this birth as a doula, I am equipped with more knowledge, but I worry it might inhibit my ability to surrender to the process. Will I overanalyze what’s happening and slow it down? Have I internalized fears from bearing witness to births that were more complicated? At the moment it’s making me hyper-self-aware of possible signs that labour could be around the corner, and I’m obsessing a bit about when things are going to get started. My son surprised us three weeks “early”, so this is my first experience of being aware that it could happen any day. I’m finding it hard to take my own advice about enjoying this last chapter of pregnancy and trusting that babies come when they’re ready. I’m ready!
So what have I done this time around to get ready? I’ve shifted from doula-brain to mama-brain by reading birth stories. In my first pregnancy, I found it really helpful to read normalizing, empowering birth stories. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth opened my mind to the wide range of possibilities for how labour might progress and how different women coped. The unifying theme was that they all did it and shared that victorious, miraculous moment of meeting their babies. This was confidence building, and gradually my dread evolved into curiosity about what my birth would be like and faith that I could do it too. I’d since lent that book to my sister-in-law, but found a copy of Spiritual Midwifery on the bookshelf at my midwives’ office, and discovered a new (old) crop of birth stories (with amusing 1970’s lingo.) The strategies that have stuck with me are to stay as loose and relaxed as possible, especially in my lower body, refrain from complaining, regard my contractions with curiosity, breathe expansively, and that the same loving feelings that got this baby in are going to get this baby out. The mamas of these stories reminded me of the potential in birth for moments of joy, humour, intimacy and transcendent growth. I felt my excitement reignite that I get to experience that sacred rite of passage again and share it with my partner - and how amazing it is to bare a new life into the world.
At this moment, the sun is shining and I can feel little feet pressing against me from the inside. I resolve to keep breathing and arriving in the present moment, to fill my days with lovely things and cherish the simplicity of just being with my son, and to trust this baby. Take the time you need to grow and when you’re ready, I can’t wait to meet you.
If you have any questions about doula support, feel free to email me. Thea@torontoyogamamas.com.