There was one moment during the delivery of my first child that I will never forget – my son’s heart rate dropped and suddenly, three nurses and a doctor rushed into my room. I was scared, my husband and my mom didn’t know what to do and it felt like time froze. Thankfully, I had a doula by my side and she very calmly approached my bed, changed my position, and suddenly the heart monitor returned to its normal rhythm. The madness stopped, the nurses and doctor left the room and it felt like a crisis had been averted. At that moment, I knew the decision to hire her was well worth it. Had she not been there, we could have been swept up in the momentum of the moment, and while there is no way to know what would have happened next, it is likely that I could have experienced any number of the interventions that I so desperately wanted to avoid. My doula’s knowledge and actions at that moment restored a calm that I would not have been able to bring back myself.
A doula is a trained professional with childbirth experience who supports you leading up to, during labor and delivery, and postpartum. She will not replace your doctor or midwife but instead, work with them, and you, to ensure your birth plan and delivery desires are met. She’s going to know what your goals are and speak up for you when you can’t.
I was 32 years old and incredibly nervous during my first pregnancy. I researched a number of doctors (and the hospital’s where my doctor would deliver my child which is almost as important as the doctor herself) before I settled on who I would work with. I had a birth plan and it included avoiding as many delivery interventions as possible. Interventions are any action the doctor takes to change the natural labor process and while they are sometimes necessary, they also sometimes are not. As Black women, we are more likely to encounter an intervention that may not be necessary but could greatly impact our, or our baby’s health. From bed rest, electronic fetal monitoring, and movement restrictions to early induction, ineffective pushing, or unplanned C-Sections, interventions on Black pregnant women can not only create unnecessary physical pain and harm but can make what should be a beautiful, magical and memorable moment quite traumatic.
Black maternal health disparities greatly impact our birthing experiences and as Black expectant mothers, we must educate ourselves so that we can advocate for our babies. Asking questions is your right and getting answers should not be a privilege. In addition to asking – reading and talking to our friends, family, and health care providers during our pregnancy and leading up to our delivery are so important. But we can’t expect to be our best advocates all the time, especially when we are in the throes of labor. A doula can provide knowledge, experience, and peace of mind that few others can.
As I entered my second trimester, I had learned so much and was pretty overwhelmed. I had the support of my mom, but it had been three decades and a lifetime of delivery developments since she was in a maternity wing of a hospital. And like me, my husband had never done this before. I also knew that despite all the research I had put into selecting my doctor, she was part of a larger practice, and depending on when I went into labor, she may or may not be the one who would actually deliver my child.
It was important to me to know who would be by my side. I needed an advocate with labor and delivery experience and knowledge, who would keep my health and the baby’s health a priority while also prioritizing the birth experience I wanted. I knew I needed a doula.
If you’re thinking of having doula support during your pregnancy and delivery, here are a few things to consider before you decide who to hire:
- First, outline your own goals and birth plan. Where do you want to deliver – at home, in a birthing center, or in a hospital setting? Do you want to spend time laboring at home or are you more comfortable being in a hospital with access to pain management and immediate care? Knowing what kind of delivery experience you want will help you find the doula who can best support it.
- Do your research. Most doulas will have a website outlining their philosophy and experience. Check out her Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts and make sure her philosophy compliments yours. If you know you want a Black doula, there are plenty of resources to help you find culturally aligned birthing professionals.
- Ask questions. A lot of them. From her philosophy to her training to her experience, you want to ask it all. Ask her about the settings where she has supported the most births; if there are doctors or hospitals where she’s had particularly positive (or negative) experiences; what her approach to partnership with your doctor will be. And don’t forget to ask about the postpartum support she will provide you.
- Talk to at least three doulas before you make a decision. You may love the first doula you speak to but it is important to get some perspective. Talking to more will either confirm your initial instincts or lead you to an even better option.
- Ask for references. Getting a recommendation from someone is always great but if you can’t and you’re starting your search from scratch, do research through references. Reviews can be helpful too but rounding out the feedback with a real person who has worked with your potential doula will be most helpful.
- Trust your gut. As with any health or mental health provider, personality, energy, and vibe are essential. Request a follow-up zoom, phone call, or coffee after your first meeting if you think she may be a good fit. A second encounter will confirm your feelings or take you in another direction.
Your doula is meant to support you, guide you, advocate for you and educate you. She will be with you during one of the most important and intimate moments in your life. Do your research, follow your instincts and ask anything you want to ask to ensure that she is the one you want to help you have the safe and beautifully memorable birth experience that you deserve.