Today, I arranged for us to have a doula for the birth of our baby. We were very fortunate to be able to get the same doula who helped us out when Sly was born.
For anyone who's unsure whether a doula really makes much difference in labor, I have to tell you that it really does! As I'll tell anyone who lets me blab on about it, having a doula last time was one of the best decisions I ever made!
A birth doula is specially trained to support a woman in labor. In many cases, she has had children herself, and so knows just what you're going through. She provides some much-needed emotional (and physical) support, suggests different laboring positions, provides a reassuring presence, and helps to ensure that the doctors or midwives continue to stick with the "birth plan". Stastics show that having a doula shortens the length of labor (who wouldn't want that?!), and decreases the likelihood of c-sections and other interventions.
Once I had decided that I wanted a natural birth with Sly, I knew I needed a doula. I think such a huge part of being mentally able to go through a natural birth is about having the focus and willpower to work through the pain. Neither Tom nor I had any clue what that would entail, so I wanted someone there who could help coach me through it! It seems especially helpful to have some extra help and knowledge in the room during a natural birth, but I'm sure a doula would be a benefit no matter what kind of birth a woman was planning (or not planning!).
We did have a midwife for Sly's birth (and will be doing the same for this next birth), but I had come to realize that they are there primarily in a healthcare role. Unless you are having a home birth - where I assume there are different expectations for the midwife - her main role is just to make sure you and the baby are healthy and safe. While I was laboring with Sly, the midwife would come in to check on things from time to time, but until it was time to push, she didn't stay in the room continuously. I wanted someone who would be with me constantly, supporting me - and that's what a doula is for.
Our doula was awesome. She stayed up with us all night (and would have stayed much longer, if the labor had kept going). She suggested various positions I could try to help me be more comfortable, and joined Tom in supporting my weight when necessary. Once I finally realized that sitting on the birth ball was the only position my body wanted to be in (for hours and hours), she sat right behind me the whole time, rubbing my lower back. She helped me to stay calm and keep breathing well during each contraction. When it began to feel as though my pelvis were ripping in two, she offered to gently squeeze the bones together during each contraction (this probably didn't really accomplish anything, but it felt a little better when she did it). She understood just how huge this experience was for us, and participated in all the emotions proper to each turn of event. Tom loved having her there too, because, he said, it "took some of the pressure off him." When he needed to go get a cup of coffee or use the bathroom, he didn't have to feel like he was abandoning me in the room. Rather than "taking over" what should have been Tom's role, she helped him to know what he could do at any given moment to best assist me. And then after Sly was born, she took lots of pictures (which we got copies of later), and wrote up a very sweet birth story for him.
She really helped make the experience a positive one, and I just hope the second birth goes as well!