doula

Pregnant woman sitting in ocean waves

Surfing the Labor Waves

Surfing Lessons For Labor“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”

This quote (attributed most commonly to Jon Kabat-Zinn but occasionally to others as well) has been commonly used to apply to labor. It is a good one, and one that definitely applies.

Last week my husband and I went to California to celebrate our anniversary. We spent a good hour watching the surfers in the wave.

The beach where we were sitting is in an area considered “advanced” and is dangerous for beginning surfers, so the surfers we watched were the more skilled and experienced surfers. As I watched, I noticed several things about their surfing, and this quote above came to mind. Here are seven of the things I observed (and yes, some of these metaphors are a bit mixed, but let’s just roll with it):

1. None of the surfers rode every wave. They didn’t even ride MOST of the waves. Often, they relaxed and let the waves roll on by without trying to take them on. In labor, particularly the first part of labor, much of labor is about letting the waves come and do their thing without inhibiting them or interrupting them. You don’t *have* to be active. You don’t have to get to standing and riding each and every time. You can relax and bob in the water and let the waves roll on by. Not all waves are alike. Some are small swells that crash too close to shore. Some are large, but collapse too early. Some have a perfect shape. The tides move in and out, but the waves are not always changing in a linear way. You can have 5 small ones in a row, followed by a large one, followed by 3 medium ones and then a much larger one. It’s all good, but you will deal with them differently.

2. While they are waiting for the next wave, they don’t usually spend energy swimming. They rest. Those times between contractions when you can rest are invaluable! And when the surfers rest, they rely on their surfboard to carry them. Laboring takes good support, too. Your partner, your doula, your family, or your midwife can all be the support you need. Most surfers don’t ever want to be apart from their board. They tether it to an ankle to keep it close. Keep your labor support close and connected, too.

3. The waves closer to shore feel safer, but the waves out in the deeper water are often easier to ride and give a better, longer ride. Don’t be afraid to “go deep” in your labor. Deeper into relaxation, so deep you pull your focus inward. Deeper into your own power and strength. I’ve seen many women pull power and strength from deep within that they didn’t even know they had.

4. When they did try to catch a wave for a ride, they often didn’t ever get up. Sometimes they spectacularly wiped out, sometimes they just missed it. And they never let it get to them. They let it go, regrouped, and waited for another try. Sometimes in labor you’ll feel like you can’t manage well. Don’t let it get to you. Let it go, regroup, and try another technique.

5. When they did catch a wave and get a good ride, they rode it for as long as they could. When in labor, when you find a good rhythm and a technique that is working for you, ride it out as long as it is working. I sometimes hear women advised to change every 20-30 minutes. I don’t think an arbitrary time limit serves moms well. If you are riding a wave and surfing well, keep it up until you need to change.

6. The rides never last forever. And when it is over, they head back out to start finding a wave all over again. If you find when you’re laboring that the swaying and moaning you’ve been doing are not working as well as they used to, find another wave to ride. It probably won’t be the very next one, though, so keep trying until you catch a good one.

7. Learning to surf can be a long process. Or a short one. It’s OK if you don’t master it early in the process. As a teenager, I tried and tried and tried to learn to surf. I mastered many parts of it. I could swim out past the breakers with my board. I could identify good waves to ride. I could straddle my board and wait, or lay on my board to rest. I could bring my knees up under me and orient myself to the waves. What I never, ever managed to do was hop up and get my feet under me to stand. Oh, I could do it on the shore, I did it probably a million times. But in the water? Wipeout every single time. But I kept trying. I went out two or three dozen times a summer, for hours at a time. I worked with lots of different people trying to learn. (Every single one of my boyfriends thought HE could be the one to inspire me to make a breakthrough!) But I never did master it and surf the way surfers are “supposed to” do it.
Labor WavesInstead I learned to enjoy and appreciate the parts I could do. Some of my best memories from high school are from those days. I loved being able to push through the breakers and feel strong for moving forward despite their power. I loved lying on my board resting and feeling the warm sun on my back. I loved laughing with friends as we all sat straddling our boards resting out past the waves. I really loved it when a seal would come and play in the waves nearby and I could sit on my board and watch. If I’d given up on surfing after my first try, I would have missed out on many of those good times.
And my many wipeouts taught me how to roll in the surf and not get hurt.

I firmly believe that nearly all labors and births can have those moments of joy. Those happy memories. And there are things to be learned if things don’t go as planned, too. Don’t let complications or changes in the plan take those moments from you. Look for them. Do what you can to make them happen.

Pregnant person with suitcase

Packing for labor

I know there are LOTS of lists out there for what to pack for labor, but I wanted to post my own. If you’re planning a hospital birth or a birth center birth, this list is for you! (One nice thing about home birth is you don’t need to pack…) You won’t need EVERYTHING on this list, but this will give you some good ideas to get you started!

Header saying "Labor Items" with blurred background image of packing a suitcase.
iPhone showing music playing in a hospital bed next to a person having a baby.

Music This can be a whole post of its own – and someday I will write it. Basically, make two playlists or Spotify lists: one for relaxing music and one for energizing music. You don’t need special music, chances are you already have plenty of music you like.


Lip Balm Bring several of these, because those little suckers tend to get lost during labor. Moms in labor tend to get dry lips and hospitals either won’t have anything you can use, or they’ll give you a small tube of Vaseline and charge you $20 for it.


Tennis Balls Or, if you prefer, racquetballs. As a professional, I prefer racquetballs for their ability to be sterilized between clients, but tennis balls work just as well for personal use. These can be used for a rolling massage on the lower back or pressed firmly into mom’s lower back for counter pressure if she is experiencing back labor.


Unscented oil/lotion Laboring women are really extra sensitive to smell, so I recommend unscented. You can always bring a scented *and* an unscented if you want to give the scented a try. Just have mom take a sniff before you slather it everywhere in case it is too much.


Massage Tools I wouldn’t recommend you go out and buy any, but if you have massage tools around the house that you like, go ahead and throw them in your bag. If they are the vibrating kind, make sure you have batteries – and spares – for them.


Warm socks It’s normal for women to feel cold feet in labor. Sometimes it is the figurative kind (I’ve heard lots of moms say “I don’t think I’m ready to be a mom!” in labor.), but here I am talking about the literal cold feet. Warm socks – several pair – are good to have on hand. The kind that have tread on the bottom to make it less slippery are good if you have them. Or bring slippers.


Food Moms are burning LOTS of calories in labor, and if you’re hungry, EAT. Researchers are proving that food and drink in labor are just fine. Here’s a great article on what kinds of foods are good in labor.


Dim light Sometimes it is hard to get nice dim light in a hospital, especially in the bathrooms. If you’d like to labor in the tub and have dim light, bring some battery operated candles or a smallish flashlight.


Birth Ball Many hospitals have these, but it can be nice to have your own for use in early labor at home, or in case the hospital’s ball is not available. Get a standard exercise ball, sized right for you. I recommend it should be the burst resistant kind, and one that can hold 500 pounds of force at minimum. (I *know* you don’t weigh that much. We’re talking about FORCE, not weight!)

Couple carrying pillows into the hospital for their birth.


Pillow You may or may not want to bring your own. Most hospitals have plenty. But if you’re super attached to your pillow (like I am!) you will want it in labor. If you tend to bring it (or wish you could bring it) when you travel, you’ll want to pack yours. But DON’T have it in a white pillow case! It would really be sad to have it get lost in the hospital linens. Anything but white or close to white!


Fan Some moms really like a small battery operated fan.


Cheat Sheets I always tell my classes “Labor is an open book exam!” It’s OK – and GOOD – to look at your reference materials. Bring any books you read, any handouts from a childbirth class, and have mom make a list of things she wants to try. I also really like the iBirth App and the book “Deliver!” for this.


Birth Plan If you created a written document, print out several copies and bring them. Neon paper is good and helps keep it from getting lost in the shuffle. Give to your nurse, post one on the wall, etc.


Flavors for ice If you’re restricted to ice chips, having something to flavor the ice chips and add a little calories can help. This can be juices, electrolyte drinks, etc. Just no caffeine!


Ziplock Bags I use these mostly for creating ice packs (fill with ice, seal, wrap in a towel) or hot packs (Get a towel soaking wet with the hottest water from the tub or shower and seal it up so it doesn’t drip. Wrap in a towel or gown.) Occasionally I’ve used it to seal up something smelly (like a tuna sandwich with pickles one dad brought!) so mom can’t smell it any more. I bring sandwich size and gallon size and I prefer the freezer kind. They’re tougher.


Band for long hair If you have long hair, you may want to put it up to get in the shower, bath, or just because you’re hot and sweaty. Even if you never wear it up, pack something so you have the option. Most women just use a pony tail holder, but you could bring a clip or a shower cap, too.


Hand mirror I can’t emphasize enough that it needs to be an UNBREAKABLE hand mirror! Some women really benefit from seeing the results of their pushing. This is why many hospitals provide mirrors. Unfortunately, some hospitals mount the mirror to the ceiling (so it only helps if mom is on her back) or they have a small mirror on a big pole. An unbreakable hand mirror can be used in ANY position and has a lot more flexibility. They are particularly useful when mom is squatting, kneeling, or standing to push.

Header saying "Toiletries" with blurred background image of packing a suitcase.



Toothbrush/toothpaste
Because that hairy feeling in your mouth is no fun. And because moms want their partner to have fresh breath!

Assorted toiletries packed in a travel bag


Hairbrush Because it can feel nice to brush your hair out and feel good. Some moms use hair brushing as a labor comfort technique, too.


Contact lens supplies & spare glasses While most hospitals won’t make mom remove contacts for birth, even with a cesarean, if they’re bothering her she’ll want to take them out. And backup glasses so she can still see baby clearly at birth if she takes them out.


Deodorant Remember what I said above about moms being extra sensitive to smell in labor? ’nuff said.


Spare clothes for both partners Labor can go long, it’s nice to have something fresh to change into when it has been 24 hours. Plus I’ve seen moms pull their fully clothed partner right into the shower with them, and then you REALLY want something else to wear! Some partners will bring a swimsuit in case mom wants him in the tub or shower with her.

Basically pack everything you would pack for a weekend getaway, for BOTH parents!

Header saying "Don't Forget" with blurred background image of packing a suitcase.

Camera Since I am also a birth photographer, clearly birth photos are something I value and I would hope most parents do, too. Don’t trust them to just your cell phone camera. Have a better camera on hand, along with spare batteries, a spare memory card, and a charger if it uses a special camera battery. Or just hire a birth photographer and leave it in the hands of a pro. (BONUS! When you have a pro, both parents can be in the photos!)

Close up photo of phone charger


Phone charger Or iPad charger, Kindle charger, or charger for whatever electronics you might be bringing to the birth room. You don’t want your phone to die just before you send out the “BABY IS HERE!” text!


A list of the people you want to remember to contact, so that no one gets forgotten. I would hope that families would cut new parents some slack, but I’ve seen a lot of pettiness over who gets called first, who gets a text and not a call, etc. etc.

Partner taking picture of mom and new baby

To tweet, or not to tweet? Social media during labor

Social Media Graphic

Most people would not dream of streaming their birth live on the internet or inviting strangers to be there as a piece of performance art. But just how public and immediate should your birth story be? With social media, it’s easy to have an audience of friends and family waiting for the minute by minute details. If you are thinking about posting your birth on Twitter or Facebook, here are some things to consider:


Who will see it? These days, not everyone you are “friends” with on Facebook is really someone you know. You have even less control over Twitter followers. Do you really want relative strangers knowing that you are away from your home and will be for quite some time? Do you want them knowing the current status of your cervix?


What will others do with the information? You can control what information you put out there. You cannot control what they do with it. I have seen family members show up to the birth – uninvited – after seeing on Facebook that mom was in labor. It got awkward since the parents did not want them there. While you might want to have people thinking of you and sharing your joy in real time, it also means they are waiting for a follow up. Once you put it “out there” that you are in labor, expect a large response of people calling/texting/posting wanting updates. It might make it difficult to focus on your labor.


What will you do with the responses you get back? Similarly, the responses you get may not always be supportive and positive. Some people have nothing better to do than to criticize the choices of those around them. I had one instance where mom was planning a home birth but when complications arose transferred to the hospital. Her husband had posted on Facebook hoping for support from friends and family but instead got responses like “Good! Home delivery is for pizza, not babies.” and “I told you that you’d never be able to do it naturally.” Both comments hurt the parents feeling deeply at a time when they were feeling scared and vulnerable about the change in plans. Might be a good idea to have someone else filter out the unhelpful comments you may receive back and only pass on the helpful stuff.


I urge you to think carefully about what you put out there on the internet. Sometimes staying off the radar until the big “It’s a GIRL!” or “He’s HERE!” announcement might be the wisest thing to do.

The Birth Plan of ACTION!!

You can find boatloads of information out there on birth plans. But most of them miss what I consider to be the most important part: Putting The Plan Into ACTION!

I consider there to be 4 steps in writing a birth plan:

  1. Researching your options
  2. Deciding what is important to you and what you want
  3. Writing the document
  4. Carrying out the plan

We will briefly go over the first three before discussing that fourth, often forgotten step.

STEP 1: Researching your options

There are the major choices like

  • Where to birth (home, birth center, hospital, WHICH birth center or hospital)
  • Who to hire as your care provider (Midwife, Family Physician, Obstetrician)
  • Hiring a doula
  • Whether to use pain medications or not

and more minor decisions like

  • Which music to listen to during labor
  • What to wear in labor
  • To tweet or not to tweet

Consider all your options and figure out the pros and cons of each.

STEP 2: Deciding what is important to you and what you want

Once all the facts are in, spend some time deciding what is most important to you and what you want. For some, birthing with a midwife might be more important than whether or not they hire a doula. For someone else, the doula might be more important than the place of birth. There is no one RIGHT answer to all of these options, only the right answer for YOU.

If there is something you do not have a strong opinion about, it does not need to be in your birth plan. Save the most important topics for your plan.

STEP 3: Writing the document

Does the thought of doing this make you cringe? That’s OK! You can totally skip this step if you want to! While having a written birth plan can be an excellent communication tool for the nursing staff, the document is not what birth planning is all about. Everyone has different planning styles. Some people like to just think about what they need to do that day when they shower in the morning. Some like to make a list on the back of an envelope (that’s me!) and some like to have color coded calendars. All are perfectly valid ways of planning.

If you want to just think about and discuss what you want, that’s plenty. And you can skip to step 4!

If you’re interested in a formal written birth plan, keep reading!

Some tips for a written birth plan:

  • Make it yours! Don’t do a checkoff plan from the internet. You are not ordering off a menu, and you want the written plan to accurately represent the time and consideration you’ve put into it.
  • Keep it to one page maximum! Bullet points are nice. This is where prioritizing is very important!
  • Keep it positive in your wording. Your aim is to enlist the staff’s help in achieving your goal, not to put off the staff with “NO this, NO that!” I like to suggest wording like “I plan to birth unmedicated and you can help me by encouraging me to stay active and suggesting techniques you think may help.” or “Since I am planning a HypnoBirth, I would appreciate it if you would chart “Patient declined” instead of asking me about my pain levels during labor.”
  • Address any non-birth related issues that you think might be helpful. I have had clients use the written birth plan to remind the nursing staff about Latex or iodine allergies, request a special diet, and inform the nurse how to best communicate with a client who was deaf and needed to lip read in order to understand the nurse.

Step 4: Carrying out the plan

THIS is where most birth plans fall apart, in my experience. Just like browsing Pinterest for 600 hours won’t get you the wedding of your dreams, writing the document without doing anything to make it happen won’t increase your chance of getting the birth that you want.

Some important things you can do to carry out your plan:

Laboring mom’s best friend providing great active support.
  • Choose a birth place that does births similar to what you want on a regular basis. I have had many friends and neighbors choose to go to the hospital close by, just because it is close. They plan for and want a natural birth, but they have chosen to birth in a place with very high induction, epidural and cesarean rates. And (not surprisingly) they have a very high chance of being induced, getting an epidural, or having a cesarean.
  • Choose a care provider who practices in the way that you hope to birth. A perfect example of this is episiotomy rates. I have yet to meet a pregnant woman who wants an episiotomy, so they often discuss it with their doctor or midwife. Invariably, they get the response “I only do them when necessary” so they feel good about that – but they don’t realize that everyone’s idea of “necessary” is very, very different. I’ve known providers who do 1-2 a year, and I once heard a doctor say that his idea of necessary was “every first time mom needs one, and every mom who had one before needs another one.” Dig deeper. Ask how often they do one, ask if they think you will need one, ask how they can help you not need one. But look closely at the care providers you are considering, and don’t be afraid to change in order to get care that is compatible with your values!
  • Take a GOOD childbirth class, actually go, and PRACTICE what you learn! I’ve had moms tell me they only went to 2 of the 5 classes, never practiced a thing, and then be disappointed that hypnosis “didn’t work” at all. Practice will help you to master the techniques before you need them.
  • Build a birth support team that will build you up and help you reach your goal. Choose carefully who will attend your birth. I hope you’ll choose to hire a professional doula (maybe even me? :)) and bring others who are supportive of your goal. If your mother thinks the natural birth you’ve planned is a stupid idea, you probably don’t want her fretting in the corner about how hard it is to watch you in pain (been there, seen that!). If your sister thinks epidurals are an anti-woman plot by the paternalistic misogynistic health care system, and you plan to use an epidural, maybe she should wait out in the waiting room. (Also been there, seen that!) You deserve to be surrounded by supportive, helpful people, not Debbie Downers!

So you’ve gone through all four steps, and your Birth Day is finally here! Will it all go exactly as planned? Not too likely. Keep in mind that life rarely goes exactly as planned, and birth is no different. If things do happen and you have to adapt your plan, that’s OK. It does not mean you need to give up EVERY aspect of your plan, it just means you have to improvise a little. Writing a birth plan is not writing a script, but rather a process to help you get the birth you wanted. Staying in the game as an active decision maker is an important part of having a birth experience you can remember as a good experience, and that is possible in just about any type of birth experience.

If you want to learn more about birth planning, and get my downloadable birth planning templates, you can sign up for my Birth Connected Childbirth classes, with online learning and personal support, or just sign up for the Birth Planning module.

Letter for labor partners, with partner providing hip pressure in background

Open letter to family supporting laboring moms

This letter was one I wrote to my brother-in-law when my sister was expecting her first baby over a decade ago. I recently found it saved on my computer and thought it would make an excellent blog post. It has tips that would help just about any friend or family member supporting a laboring mom as well. I’m posting it below without any editing.

Dear Jared-

I know you’re not the one birthing, but I feel pretty strongly that childbirth classes are for the dads as much as – if not more than – for the mom. After all, when she goes into labor, who is she going to turn to first? YOU. And so it is important for YOU to learn how to cope with labor as well. She will not likely be thinking rationally and logically in labor, so you will be the one to think of what to try next and how to help.

So I thought I’d write up my very own “Top Ten Ways to help a Laboring Woman” just for you.

Dad smiling while supporting mom
Not my brother in law, but this dad was an amazing birth partner!

10. Bring with you everything you’d pack for a quick overnight stay – toothbrush & paste, deodorant, change of clothes. Labor can be long, and laboring women are highly sensitive to smell. Plus, sometimes moms will pull a dad into the shower with them, or the mom’s water will break and they’ll be in the way, or something like that. It’s nice to have a change of clothes.

9. Keep an eye out to help her stay modest. Sometimes the nurses & doctors are not the greatest at making sure moms are covered up again after exams, etc. Or they leave the door open and the curtain pushed aside. Knowing her, she’ll appreciate it if you help with those things.

8. Try to stay calm. She’ll pick up on your tone, and she doesn’t need added stress from you. If you’re feeling anxious, talk to a nurse, the doctor, or even call me, anytime.

7. She’s queen of the room. If she wants the lights off – they are off. If she wants the TV off, it’s off. If she wants it on, SHE picks the channel. Even if it is Super Bowl Sunday, and she wants to watch Trading Spaces or something else.

6. Don’t rush her. Ignore the clock. Don’t complain about how long it is taking, how tired you are, or make predictions about when baby will come. Don’t go to the hospital too soon – it won’t make baby come faster. The time to go to the hospital is when she feels there isn’t time for a shower on the way.

5. Pay attention to the MOM, not the monitor! Too many dads make the bonehead mistake of saying “Honey, you’re having a contraction now!” when mom is struggling to cope. Or “This one doesn’t look like much on the monitor, why are you moaning for such a little one?” Or my favorite – one I’ve heard several dads say “Wow! This one’s off the charts! Does it hurt really bad?”

4. Take care of yourself – bring foods you can eat quickly and that won’t leave much smell behind. Scarf a granola bar while she’s in the bathroom, etc. Time bathroom trips so she’s not alone during a contraction.

Dad holding mom in a dangling squat during labor3. Follow her lead. If she’s laughing and cracking jokes herself – it is OK for you to do it, too. If she’s quiet and serious, you should be too.

2. Stay positive. Tell her she is doing well, even if you’re not so sure. Help her stay focused on the fact there is a baby coming. As unbelievable as it sounds, many women forget the whole point. Reminding her that soon she’ll be holding Vale, soon she can count fingers & toes, etc. can be very helpful.

1. Stay close to her. Be within arms reach as much as possible. This is especially important if she chooses to have an epidural. Many women feel abandoned after the epidural, as everyone tends to back off once she isn’t as needy. Affection & love go a long way to making a woman feel supported in labor, and that’s something only YOU can provide. The nurses, doctor, even a doula cannot do that for a laboring mom.

I hope this is helpful. I mean it when I say you can call me any time. I’ve included in this package a book that I think you should read. It is one specifically meant for birth partners. If you don’t crack any of the other books, read that one!

Call or e-mail me with any questions.

Andrea

Don’t plan your wedding!!!

Don't Plan BirthI’ve really gotten tired of it. Pregnant women who are planning for a specific kind of birth are told things like:

“You know what is so cute? You – when you’re pregnant and think you actually control how things go in the delivery room.” -ScaryMommy

“I encourage my clients to create “birth preferences” rather than a “birth plan.” In this case, semantics are important. By writing your preferences instead of a plan, you maintain the understanding that circumstances beyond your control may change and you’ll need to adapt your preferences accordingly.” -Fit Pregnancy

“Since you can’t plan how your labor and birth will unfold, I prefer to talk about your birth wishes or birth preferences than your birth plan.” -Motherscircle.net

“If my births and every single birth story I’ve ever heard is any indication, birth follows anything but a plan.” AnHonestMom.wordpress.com

“The word “plan” in reference to normal, unmedicated birth is pretty silly, actually.” – Facebook post

Why is it that when it comes to birth, women are shamed and told they should not expect to have any control? Birth is life. Life is unpredictable, in any given day you may have “circumstances beyond your control may change and you’ll need to adapt” – but no one says that we should not take time to plan out our day to make things run smoothly and we don’t miss anything we need to do! When I am teaching about birth plans in my classes, I ask for a show of hands who in the class had some plan for their day when they woke up this morning. Nearly everyone raises their hand. I ask how many had their day go exactly as planned – and most (if not all) of the hands go down. And yet somehow, in pretty much every class, someone talks about how the plan helped them adapt and/or prioritize when things went wrong.

Think about another significant event in the growth of a family: A Wedding.

Would it ever be OK to tell a prospective bride something like:

“The word ‘plan’ in reference to a wedding is pretty silly actually. After all, things go wrong at weddings all the time!”

“If my wedding horror story, or the ones I’ve read online are any indication, weddings follow anything but a plan!”

“Since you can’t control the weather or the behavior of your guests, I think it’s better to think of it as ‘wedding wishes’ or ‘wedding preferences’ rather than a plan for your wedding.”

“As a wedding planner, I encourage brides to create ‘wedding preferences’ rather than a ‘wedding plan.’ In this case, semantics are important. By writing your preferences instead of a plan, you maintain the understanding that circumstances beyond your control may change how your wedding day will go and you’ll need to adapt your preferences accordingly”

“You know what is so cute? You – when you’re engaged and think you actually control how things go on your wedding day.”

PinterestWeddingI sincerely doubt anyone would dare tell a bride any of that. And yet, things go wrong at weddings all the time!

Instead brides are advised things like this:

Unexpected Wedding Disasters and How to Handle Them

Wedding Planner Disaster Stories – and How to Avoid Them

Top Wedding Disasters and How to Plan for Them

Not a single story I read on weddings mentioned avoiding planning as a way to make the day run smoothly. Huh.

They all mentioned planning well, carefully evaluating the people who you hire, having backup plans, and thoroughly evaluating your options.

Sounds like a Birth Plan of Action to me….

Go ahead and plan for your birth. Yes, PLAN. Not “Wishes” or “Preferences” but actually plan for and put your plan into action. No, it’s not a script or a guarantee, but it does significantly increase the chances of having the birth you want.

Venn diagram of the three kinds of birth doulas

There’s more than 1 kind of birth doula?

Venn diagram of the three kinds of birth doulasIt’s been at least a decade since I first heard of the concept of birth doulas with different ways of looking at the job, and it has been an interesting concept to consider as I’ve come to know other doulas and mentor new doulas just starting it. I feel it can be a useful concept for parents considering which doula can best help them meet their goals as well.

At some point in the first 2-3 years of being a birth doula, I took a little quiz that categorized doulas into three types:

Birth focused – These doulas were focused on helping moms have the kind of birth that they felt was the best. They are the ones who are advocating for all low risk women to birth at home, for midwifery to be the standard of care unless higher level care is needed, and who have in mind an ideal birth they’d like to help their clients achieve. They tend to be huge fans of birth plans and often align themselves with specific methods of childbirth. Some doulas who have this philosophy will work only with out of hospital birth, and many go on to become home birth midwives.

Baby focused – These are the doulas who view everything about birth through the lens of the impact on the baby. They tend to be attracted to the work of APPPAH, to encourage mothers to talk to their babies and to be huge proponents of skin to skin bonding and breastfeeding. Many doulas who philosophically fall in this area tend to be very much against circumcision, routine newborn procedures, and formula. They can be passionate and valuable advocates and supporters of moms who have similar philosophies.

Woman focused – These are doulas who are most concerned with mothers feeling supported in their decisions and having the power and right to make decisions for themselves. They have an easier time supporting moms who make decisions that they may not have made for themselves. They tend to work in homes, hospitals and birth centers somewhat equally, and can support women planning everything from a planned cesarean birth to an induction with epidural to a home waterbirth or lotus birth.

Now these three types of philosophies are not at all mutually exclusive, nor are they unchanging and constant. As doulas learn, grow, and see more births, their thinking often changes. I would say that when I started out, I was definitely more birth focused, but over time I have become more woman focused, though I still do have quite a bit of overlap between the two with some baby focus thrown in there for balance. I feel pretty passionately that there is not any ONE way of giving birth that is “correct” for everyone, and I firmly believe parents have the right – and should be trusted – to choose what is best for their family.

Want to take the quiz for yourself? You can find it here: What Kind of Advocate Are You?

I don’t think that any one focus of a doula is necessarily any better than any other, but I do think it is important for parents to consider if the doula they are interviewing has a focus that is a good match for them. Most doulas will (like me) have quite a bit of overlap, but often there is one area that is more passionate for them, and it sure comes out when doulas talk about what drives their work and motivates them to do this job. You’ll hear it in their tone of voice, in the fire in their eyes, and in the power of their words.

One thing to watch out for is the doula that ProDoula founder Randy Patterson calls the “Birth Avenger” style of doula work. I’ve seen many times that new doulas come to this job because they had a horrible birth experience and they want to “save others from what happened to them” – this can create a really difficult situation when the doula has not processed and resolved her difficult birth experience. I’ve heard from a doula that she had to leave in the middle of a client’s birth because “she was going down the same road I did and I could not stick around for the train wreck” that she believed was coming. It was her last birth as a doula, she dropped all her remaining clients and left the field. I’m sure the client felt abandoned at a vulnerable time as well.

I’ve counseled doulas who were retraumatized by attending births at the hospital where they delivered – even if all went well.

Let me be clear here: Having experienced birth trauma does not mean a woman can never be a doula. It does mean she should do whatever it takes to process and heal from her birth trauma before attending other women’s birth. It may mean she sets boundaries such as not working with a specific place of birth or provider, too.

Being aware of what drives a doula philosophically is an important thing when practicing as a doula or when choosing which doula to hire. Not all doulas are alike, and find a good match in style, philosophy and personality is crucial for a good working relationship with your doula.

Wednesday Wrap Up August 13

WednesdayWrapUpNNo one, NO ONE, has the right to decide for a woman if her birth was traumatic or not. My Traumatic Birth, According to Me

One of the frustrations about living in Utah. People are so afraid of seeing women’s bodies they do things like call the police over a breastfeeding booth at the Farmer’s Market.
Thankfully the chief of police is well versed in Utah’s laws and handled it well.

And to get my blood pressure down again, I could use of these apps to learn relaxation and meditation in pregnancy.

A new Pinterest board you might want to check out “What Childbirth Educators Want You to Know About Birth”

I’ve already shared a bunch of funny pregnancy announcement videos, but I found a new one that is a fun one:

Wednesday Wrap Up July 30

WednesdayWrapUpNFor two out of my three pregnancies, I chose not to find out if my baby was a boy or a girl. I *loved* the anticipation of not knowing and the moment of surprise at the birth. (For the third, I let my husband get his way and find out. Naturally, he refused to believe it was another girl until she was born, despite making the guy go back and look again FIVE TIMES….) If you’re not sure you want to know, here are 8 reasons to not find out.

Fifteen things no one tells you about motherhood while you’re pregnant. There are a lot of lists like this out there, and I find that most of them are things people DO tell pregnant moms, but they are interesting anyway. I love the last one here.

Loved this explanation of how dads can bond with their baby.

5 Things NOT to say to a woman with postpartum depression – and what to say instead. There needs to be more articles like this. I have heard every single one of these said to or about moms struggling with depression.

Since I also do professional birth photography, I loved this short video on capturing this one of life’s poignant moments, from New Zealand birth photographer Keri-Anne Dilworth

Birth – First Light Birth Photography – Auckland, New Zealand from Keri-Anne Dilworth on Vimeo.

Wednesday Wrap Up July 9

WednesdayWrapUpKNice rundown of what you need to know about Breastfeeding and the Workplace.

I wish these stories did not need to be told. But they do. Sadly, some people cannot accept that birth trauma happens at all, and of those who acknowledge it, many feel it is a mother-only thing. But Birth Trauma is Not Just for Mothers, as this father’s story shows.

A follow up to a post from last weeks story about a mom who had a positive breastfeeding experience in Starbucks. When the story went viral, it was not exactly what the mom had anticipated. Here are her thoughts on The Disturbing Trend I Noticed When My Breastfeeding Story Went Viral.

If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re not having enough fun. The Onion takes on home birth.

A look at how fear plays a role in the low numbers of VBAC births. Do Malpractice Threats – Real or Imagined – Lead to More C-Sections?

It *is* important to get the terms right! Notes on postpartum mood disorders

An illustrated example of why it isn’t so simple as “just cover up” when nursing in public.

Today’s video is a small teaser snippet from an upcoming movie called Trial of Labor – all about VBAC. In this clip, you’ll learn more about the obstacles moms face when planning a VBAC.

Wednesday Wrap Up 7/2

WednesdayWrapUpJIt’s not often talked about, but there are times when epidural anesthesia does not work. Here are 5 Things to Do When the Epidural Fails

An unusual birth story told with a sense of humor!

And another funny – big brother holding the new baby for the first time.

And to further make you laugh, a completely sarcastic set of instructions: How to Breastfeed Appropriately

A nice collection of videos on using the rebozo in labor.

Loved seeing a positive story about breastfeeding in public!

Great information on breastfeeding and medications, from the Centers for Disease Control.

Today’s video is Jimmy Kimmel going to a childbirth class with Jessica Alba. It’s overdramatized and overdone, but I can truthfully say I have had people like Jimmy in my classes. Many of the comments he made are comments I’ve had in class.

Wednesday Wrap Up June 25

WednesdayWrapUpFThis post marks a year and a half I’ve been doing the Wednesday Wrap Up!

An interesting potential clue about what starts labor. I’ll be interested to see if this pans out and how it might increase our understanding of how labor begins.

A nice collection of links on being active in labor.

I liked this list of how to prepare for labor. Particularly #10. There’s no one way to birth, and moms get to figure out what works for them.

Want to know if your pediatrician is really breastfeeding friendly? These are great questions to ask – and the answers you want to look for.

An interesting debate going on about Natural Birth. This first link:

The Cult of Natural Childbirth Has Gone Too Far is what set it off. I think many people missed the point of the article, which is more about class distinctions and the idealization of something not available to many women.

This response, Natural Childbirth is Not a Cult, missed that point but does make some good points as well.

Today’s video is from Laura Paulescu of Crowned Photography in Seattle (formerly Denver). It shows a mom alternating movement and rest through her labor.

The birth of Naomi Yonina | Crowned Birth Photography from crownedbirthphotography on Vimeo.