For some women having a doula present at the delivery of their baby is a crucial part of their birthing experience and something they couldn’t possibly be without. For others, they might be left wondering ‘how is a doula different to a midwife?‘, and it may not something they have ever really considered.
After facing challenges in her first three births, Lynsey, who now runs her own doula business Mothing Matters, knew it was time to tap into the doula support network – so much so that she ended up becoming one herself!.
Each birth of my four babies has been different but I had always planned to give birth at home for all the children.
As a first-time mum I planned a home birth. A medical birth was something I really wanted to avoid. After recovering from previous surgeries and being poked and prodded around I really wanted to avoid the surgical route or any kind of medication. I wanted a home birth because I wanted to stay away from hospital. I felt fearful of that environment and fear is the thing that makes labour difficult. I needed to feel safe and home was a safe space for me.
However, when the time came, I ended up transferring during labour to hospital for slow progress. I thought I was near the end but I wasn’t at all; in fact, it took so long my midwife had to go off shift! My labour had to be augmented, I was given pethidine and an epidural but despite all that I was able to have a normal vaginal birth.
My second birth was at home. It was simple, straight forward and speedy. I gave birth on the living room floor after about six hours and only used a little bit of gas and air right at the end. What was really special was having my actual midwife with me, which is quite rare.
It was really special for me and I have a strong connection with her, even more now because of my work. I knew after my first birth that if things don’t go to plan you just transfer to hospital and I had so much confidence, because even in less than ideal conditions I had been able to give birth naturally.
It was my time to do it my way. But then when it came to my third birth, everything changed again – and it proved to be a turning point for me in more ways than one.
Having delivered in my previous pregnancies at 41 weeks, it surprised me when in my third pregnancy I got to 41 weeks and nothing happened. I began to feel mounting pressure to be booked into the hospital for an induction, because protocol is that you offer an induction in time deliver your baby at 42 weeks.
I was adamant I didn’t want to be induced. I knew that I tend to be a bit later anyway, I was savvy, I had worked as a breastfeeding support worker, I’m articulate and the sort of woman who will stand up for myself.
So when faced with having an induction when I knew I was fine and that things would happen naturally, I declined the induction and went in for monitoring. But as 42 weeks came and went, I would have doctors come round and tell me my baby was at risk if I didn’t give birth today, and that risk was death.
It’s a very difficult thing to be told that your baby could die and you’re risking their life. You’re being made to feel you’re putting your birth experience over the health of your baby which is a tricky navigation. It isn’t a simple choice between having a home birth and a live baby – that isn’t the decision you’re making. I was heavily pregnant, I was hormonal, my nerves gave out and I accepted the induction.
I knew that once labour started I would be fine and I would give birth normally and that’s exactly what happened – I had my third baby and I just came home straight afterwards. But although that birth was straightforward and in hospital, I felt really sad about that compared to my first one which had been nothing like what I had hoped for. I was disappointed because I knew in my heart that everything would have been fine, with or without the induction.
I wasn’t really, truly supported in my wishes, and I felt I was pressurised into doing something I wasn’t comfortable with. I thought if I had a doula, things might have been different. I might have had that space and support to really reflect on what I wanted to do without looking at my husband wavering and worrying.
So after a year, I decided to train as a doula myself.
I joined Doula UK and went on the three-day course, worked through the reading list, learnt what to do if a problem arises in birth and prepared myself to be that practical and emotional support for pregnant women in a non medical way.
Then I got pregnant again – and I had this wonderful network of doulas I knew and had a wonderful rapport with. Although I was confident I was going to have a home birth and would be fine, I wanted that emotional support in case I went overdue and was pressured into an induction.
I approached a doula that I knew and asked her to come and support me and she said she would love to. This time, I actually only went two days overdue, which took me by surprise entirely. Whilst I was in labour and I called my doula and said come sooner rather than later as she lives an hour away and I was well underway at that point.
I was coping so well I was able to chat in-between contractions; when she walked in I was already in the pool. She crept in quietly not wanting to disturb the birth and I just knelt up and went, ‘Oh hi! So I think I’m in transition but I don’t really know because it doesn’t feel like I’ve worked very hard to get to this point!’
I didn’t want my midwife to arrive too soon as I like my privacy. My husband was umming and ahhing about ringing her and kept saying, ‘you’re really nearly there now’.
Eventually he said, ‘so do you want me to ring her now?’ and I shot him a glance that said, ‘you’re not meant to ask that, you’re meant to wait for me to say!’
I told him no and then as soon as I got another contraction I thought, ‘okay yes, actually that does feel like the baby is on its way!’. By the time he was on the phone to the midwife I was starting to push and I knew there was no way the midwife would get here on time – I was more worried about him missing the birth by being on the phone!
If it had been my first baby I would have been a bit worried but having my doula there, even though I knew she wasn’t medical and wouldn’t have been able to do anything if I had needed medical assistance, her presence made me feel safe. I knew she would indicate in some way if she thought things weren’t right which gave me the confidence to trust in what I was feeling.
You can never be supported too much, and I think all women that want a doula should have one. I’ve never had any feedback of a woman that’s regretted having a doula and I think the way that midwives are expected to work in the NHS system now has eroded a lot of the emotional support that traditionally a midwife would be offering. I think one of the reasons doulas have become more popular is because women are becoming more educated about the need for this emotional support.
The research shows that having a familiar caregiver whilst you’re giving birth reduces your risks of complications and makes your birth a simpler and better experience. That’s to do with that feeling of being safe and a doula bridges that gap, so even if the midwife is unfamiliar, the woman feels like she has that familiar support still around her.