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DOULAS AREN'T JUST FOR DUCHESSES: Why you should have a doula for your first birth, just like Meghan

Siobhan Ridley

Doulas have been around since time memorial. They provide the ancient art of emotional, nurturing female support during the most vulnerable moments of a woman's life - the day she gives birth. The doula community doesn't shout about what we do. We work with families in strictest confidence, holding their secrets, the details of their journey and their personal stories, under lock and key in our mental filing cabinets. Behind the scenes we work tirelessly in whatever ways we can to change birth culture, to support vulnerable women, to spread good quality information, to counter the dearth of click bait rubbish and to spread as much emotional and practical care as possible. We're so busy doing all those things, that sometimes our voice is lost in the swamped advertising world where pregnant women and parents are cash cows to an ever growing industry of 'must have things'.

And this is why, when high profile women such as Meghan Markle reportedly choose to have a doula in her birth squad, we get very excited. We also get very excited because we know that she is going to have SO much love during her pregnancy and birth and that is what doulas want for ALL women.

Why should you have a doula for your first birth?

A doula will guide you through all the information

From the minute you see that positive line on the pee stick, your head can start swirling with pregnancy, birth and parenting stuff. It can be overwhelming can't it? The internet is full of articles, must have lists, forums, social media and opinions. Friends and family (invited and uninvited) share personal stories, advice and opinions. There's so much to wade through and it's almost impossible to work out what is good quality information, what will help and what will hinder.
This is where a doula exercises her super powers: she knows where to find the best quality, un-biased information. She has her finger on the pulse and can access the most up to date research so you can make informed choices about your pregnancy and birth. She has a tried and tested network of local services and pregnancy and birth professionals to whom she can refer you. If she doesn't know the answer to one of your questions, she knows where to go to find out. Her breadth of knowledge and experience is vast because she is continually updating and augmenting her professional training. With expert finesse she weaves together the newest scientific studies with ancient wisdom.

With a doula by your side, you don't need to waste hours trawling the internet, wrangle with confusion or feel overwhelmed.

A doula is your confidant on speed dial

Listening and truly hearing, with compassion, understanding and without judgement, is a skill a doula possesses. She does not default to 'fix' things, but instead will guide you through finding your own way so that you are always in control. Pregnancy, birth and impending parenthood can cause all kinds of complex emotions to surface and a doula will provide you with a safe space to work through your deepest fears and anxieties and your greatest hopes and wishes.

A doula supports you and your partner

In Meghan's case, her birth partner is also her husband and her baby's father. This is not always the case of course as your birth partner can be anyone you choose. Your doula will support you both and the unique relationship that you have, respecting your partner's role and significance to you. Often, the partner is also a parent, in which case a doula will also be deeply mindful of the experience of pregnancy and birth that the partner wishes to have.

Birth is a rollercoaster of a journey for the partner for whom it can be nerve wracking, confusing and exhausting. Their emotional state, their concerns and their hopes are also valuable. If they feel strong, supported and emotionally nourished then they are better birth partners. Doula support for partners is particularly poignant if curve balls throw the birthing journey onto a different track. I have found that couples are often surprised by the value that the birth partner received from having a doula present and how this enhanced the whole experience for the new family as a harmonious unit.

A doula is a member of your birth squad that YOU chose

I cannot speculate as to how much control Meghan has over who is in her birth squad, but most of us don't get to choose everyone in our medical team. The process of hiring a doula involves meeting and interviewing several candidates and then choosing one with whom you have 'chemistry'.

As your relationship grows with your doula during your pregnancy, your bond strengthens. Your connection becomes unlike any other. You trust her implicitly. She knows things about you, your relationships and your emotional state that few others do. She knows what you need when you are most vulnerable, whether that's a hug, soothing words, encouragement or a silly joke. Your trust in yourself grows as does your confidence and when you're in labour and see her face you feel bolstered, safe and strong. Whilst the rest of your medical care team may be excellent and/or familiar to you, their roles are very different from that of a doula who's primary concern is your emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Research shows that having a doula makes a difference

Having a doula does not guarantee any kind of outcome when it comes to birth. However, there is a growing body of evidence (Cochrane Review) to prove that the presence of a doula can have many benefits to the birthing process (shorter labour, less intervention, healthier babies, lower PND rates etc). This is not because she waves some sort of magic wand but because of all the points that I've raised above. Imagine having all of that wise, compassionate, agenda-free, non-judgemental, care, love and support.
How would that make you feel? safe? Secure? Held? Able to release fear and tension? Full of knowledge and instinct? Able to trust in your mind, body and the process?
How you 'FEEL' effects how you birth because your emotional state and your chemical state are intrinsically connected. And your cocktail of chemical hormones directly control your body's ability to birth.

It's not rocket science. It's basic biology.

Doulas are for everyone

“Yeah yeah, but I'm not a Duchess, how can I possibly afford a doula”, I hear you say. Well, here's the great news. The price of a birth doula can vary from a few hundred pounds to a couple of grand. Many doulas offer payment plans and skills swaps and some have personal schemes in place where they will be occasionally be able to support a client for free. Furthermore, around the country there are many initiatives set up to provide doula support to the most vulnerable women. Please do not write-off getting the support you would like before asking around your local doulas to see how they may be able to accommodate your situation.

So why should you have a doula for your first birth?

I guess the real question is, why wouldn't you?

“A woman, as long as she lives, will remember how she was made to feel at her birth”.

-Anna Verwaal

Thinking about hiring a Doula and want to know more?

I highly recommend this excellent little book, Why Doulas Matter by Maddie MacMahon (affiliate link).
Check out www.doula.org.uk and www.norfolkdoulas.co.uk to find your local Doulas.

To read about my doula services and how I can support you pop over to BIRTH DOULA, PREGNANCY DOULA.

Side Note: I have used the female pronoun for doulas, but there are a couple of male doulas in the UK.