Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

Think Fast — Doula Questions


Hey, y’all.  I know Friday afternoon is the worst possible time to post and hope for responses, but well, yeah.

From time to time, someone will comment on one of my birth-freak-out posts that I should really consider hiring a doula this time.  And we are.  But, point of order, we had a doula last time.  She doesn’t make it into the blog record in any significant way because frankly, she was a profoundly neutral aspect of that story.  She did meet us at the hospital.  She did sit with me so Sugar could get something to eat.  She did stop talking after I told her to, during that same period (the peaceful time, when the epidural was working and I was recovering from that too-exciting cab ride, listening to the Bean’s heart on the monitor).  She did repeat in a calm tone the (stupid) things Dr. Russian was yelling at me to do, which meant at least Dr. Russian wasn’t yelling them right then.  She did hold my leg while they stitched me up, so that Sugar could go be with the Bean.  She did give me some incredibly confusing breastfeeding instructions.

That’s about it.  She did not, for instance, provide meaningful emotional support to me or Sugar.  She did not help us stand up for ourselves in the onslaught of Dr. Russian’s abuse.  She did not visit postpartum or anything like that.  (She did not come to our apartment during the early part of labor, either, but that is because it turned out that I didn’t want to call her.  Slightly late revelation, there.)

In fairness, she was very inexperienced and working for peanuts, thanks to what I still believe is a beautiful NYC program with a goal of providing full-spectrum doulas (that means abortion doulas, too) to women who can’t afford the regular kind.  The program assigned us two doulas, and well, the one we liked better was the one who was unavailable that night.  Because we were the beneficiaries of a charity program and because I didn’t see the trainwreck that was my obstetric “care” team coming, I was content enough in our early meetings that both of them seemed nice enough and seemed to understand the “higher risk of c-section: don’t freak me out” and “epidural: yes” parts of our talk.

This time around, however, I want to feel like we are going in there with a dedicated team.  Protected, that’s how I want to feel.  I keep envisioning myself surrounded by warriors, or maybe the Old Testament kind of angels, the ones with the swords.  I suppose I can’t have fourteen of them, but that’s the image.

So.  This time I want to do better, but I’m at a bit of a loss.  There’s the woman upstairs, who seems nice and has a fair bit of experience.  (10-20 births, according to the NYC Doula Coop page.)  I’ve mentioned it to her but not talked in much detail.  There’s asking the local listserv and so on.  There’s also a college friend of mine, who just got certified but has lots of non-birth experience advocating in a hospital setting — and who also reads this blog, at least sometimes, so I’m not going into a full character description here.  Suffice it to say that there are reasons I would look past my initial “no inexperienced doulas” requirement in her case.

Is a friend a good idea because she shares many of my values?  Or a bad idea because I will fear really letting my hair down, as it were?  (My experience of labor last time is that I would have let my pubic hair down in front of the Queen, for all I cared about social niceties in that setting.)

My point, and I do have one, is to ask if any of you have thoughts about what to talk about when I have an informal meeting with this friend on Sunday.  She knows the story, so that should save some melting down on my part.  I plan to tell her that it’s the “fierce” part of the bio she wrote herself that I find most compelling, that I want a powerful advocate, someone who I can be sure won’t let abuse go by, even if that means telling Sugar and me to stick up for ourselves rather than decking the abusive party.  (Which would be my first choice.)

So.  Thoughts?

P.S. I made an appointment with a therapist who takes my insurance, has worked with birth-trauma patients, and is certified in EMDR.  Gold star for me!  I didn’t even cry on the phone this time.

9 thoughts on “Think Fast — Doula Questions

  1. Longtime reader, first time commenter. I felt compelled to comment last time on your birth trauma post but I always read mobile and forget to go back and comment. I had a very, very similar experience and struggled with the same fears before giving birth to my 2nd 2 months ago. What I found to be the most helpful was to be EXTREMELY clear with my doula, therapist, midwife and husband. I was scared. I thought that I was not going to make it. When the doctor literally held me down I had an anxiety attack. What I need is someone who will make sure that I am not touched in that way by anyone. What I need is very clear direction of what is going on with my health so that I don’t panic like last time. During one of my last therapy appointments before birth, my therapist wrote out a list for my doula. Jennifer is afraid of her oldest daughter seeing her in pain. Jennifer does not want to be brushed aside by the doctor. It sounds very basic but making all of these needs absolutely and extremely clear helped everyone on my team to know what I needed. Not only should you share what you have above with anyone who might be on your team, you should make sure that both you and Sugar feel that the doula will be able to advocate for you, because often my husband had to work with my doula to make clear what I needed and we were both extremely comfortable with her understanding my needs. PS- my 2nd birth was SO MUCH BETTER than I hoped. It was totally worth it to advocate for myself on the front end. I am hoping you have the same experience and that you build a team that 100% supports your needs!

  2. I had a pretty shitty doula experience (midwives turned doulas when birth went medical). For me, if I needed a doula again (which I won’t), my most important criteria would be “someone I really like,” which would probably also mean someone reassuring, but firm and no-nonsense. Personally, I would also want someone who had previous experience working with (very) high risk women. I felt like my doulas were pretty freaked out by my situation, and not used to dealing with women who had early preemies, which, in turn, made them suck for my purposes. I can see some advantage to the doula being someone you like, but aren’t already friends with. Giving birth is such an intense experience, and I know that I hated some of the people involved in my birth just because I displaced all of my intense feelings on them-not because they necessarily did anything wrong. I would want to be as crazy as I need to be and feel whatever I wanted to feel about my doula, without feeling like I was ruining a friendship. Hopefully you conversation with friend will help you both decide if it would work.

  3. I am so glad you have made an appointment with someone. That is really brave.

    I have no experience with doulas, but my instinct would be to shy away from a friend. I would be worried that if anything went wrong with the birth experience it could strain the friendship. I like the previous commenter’s idea of trying to find someone who has experience with high risk pregnancies, or bad birth experiences. I wish I knew how to find that sort of person!

  4. I had a not-great experience with my doula the first time around. She was okay during the birth, but incredibly unhelpful afterwards when we were struggling with breastfeeding (scornful of the fact that we gave our kid formula, despite the fact that he was Not Eating At All from nursing. Sorry, we’re not going to starve the kid just to prove a point… ).
    Anyway, this time around we decided to interview several folks and have found one who we think is a good fit. It seems like it’s pretty common for doulas to offer these free initial meetings so you can figure out if they’re a good match, so it might be worth meeting with several of them to see who you like. There’s lots of generic lists of questions to ask potential doulas that are available online. But it seems like the most important question might be explaining what happened with the evil Dr Russian and ask how she would handle it if she were your doula in that situation. It sounds like you’re already pretty clear on what you’re looking for, and it’s totally appropriate to ask if they’re going to be able to provide it.
    I agree with reasons mentioned above that it wouldn’t work well for me to have a friend as a doula (even if she was a fabulous doula).

  5. I have no useful advice, but just wanted to say hooray for you for making the therapist appointment and for being so proactive in your doula seeking. I hope you find someone who is dragon-fierce and all heart at the same time.

  6. YES to the gold star. Well done.

    Just kind of stream-of-conscious-ing here, but I’ll give it a go. I think you should ask your friend for recommendations. It sounds like she knows both you and your birth experience so would be better equipped than someone on a listserv. If you do go the listserv route, I’d suggest interviewing people with a bunch of possible scenarios (maybe that your friend could provide based on her experience?) to see not just how you like them but how they would respond. Sort of like how one would interview a babysitter or nanny.

    The reason I don’t suggest your friend or neighbor is because I think you want to have the option of distancing yourself from this individual post-birth. As you note, during the throes of labor it’s all a blur but I for one worry about morning after syndrome. Would you be able to look each other in the eyes again after experiencing/witnessing that level of intimacy?

    You might also ask your friend to suggest some resources for advocacy and fierceness or pay her for her time to do some role playing with you and Sugar in advance. Obviously any regret you (collectively) are harboring over lack of assertiveness last time will help you overcome hesitation this time (not, I hasten to add, that you’ll need it–clearly everything is going to go beautifully this time around!) but having actually said the words aloud prior to the Moment of Truth could go a long way in helping you summon them on the spot if needed.

    Good luck in any case. I don’t think I commented about your birth story but I appreciate your posting it and admire you for powering through, not just when it happened but also in recreating the information for those of us reading along at home. I have no doubt you’re better equipped to handle whatever this birth throws at you because of what you’ve been through. And also the therapist. Good job, you.

  7. First, kudos for assembling your angels!

    As for the doula choice, I wouldn’t necessarily vote against the friend/neighbor. It depends on the kind of relationship you have and, as others said above, if you’re concerned that it may be damaged by the birth experience. Keep in mind that the only birth I’ve ever attended was my own though, so clearly I’m not an expert. In general, finding someone who has experience with previous traumatic births, and standing up against the doctors if necessary, sounds like a good plan – but I guess for me it’d still have to be someone I feel comfortable with. Good luck!

  8. Late to the game but wanted to say GO YOU for making that therapy appointment and also YES to a friend/doula. Friends of ours just had one do their (hospital, vaginal, drug-free) birth a month ago and all worked out great. Also, I skimmed, but seems like lots of great advice above. xo

  9. Late, too, but I say no to the neighbor just because of later proximity, and potentially yes to the friend. Our doula was a friend (really the girlfriend of a friend, but we’d hung out at friendly gatherings and generally been chatty) and she was amazing. I think mostly because her energy was so deeply grounded, which isn’t usually how I think of people. It helped, though, that I was already comfortable with her, because I remember sitting through the hours and hours of boring nothingness and worrying that I was inconveniencing her (even though we were paying a ton for her to be there). If it had been a stranger I would have felt even worse. She was the first person after us (and the nurses) to hold Edie, and we have some amazing pictures of the real joy on her face as they met. I also felt like she could see me as more than a woman in labor/pregnant/whatever since she knew me as a real person, and that helped a lot, too. In the end, I didn’t need her to advocate much–mostly just to be there and to help parse some of what was going on in a calm tone of voice and with some experienced opinions. I think that someone who is really able to do those things for you can be invaluable and I have no idea who we’ll use next time, now that she’s moved away.

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