I had a doula for the birth of my daughter. That was back in the dark ages of the 90s, when it was harder to find people on the internet. I wanted a doula because my husband gets nauseous at the sight of blood - I knew he would be of no use to me. I didn't want my mother there, because, well - I've written about my mother before. I wanted to have someone supportive and knowledgeable and calm by my side, and I figured I'd have to hire someone. But it was hard to find a recommendation - there were some lists at the hospital and a national organization that gave our names in the area. Finally I decided to use the woman that also taught a pre-natal class at the hospital - I figured that at least she had some relationship with the staff.
She was fine. I think she knew what she was doing and her class was informative. I didn't feel an instant connection with her, but I respected her level of experience and she seemed like a caring person. After we hired her, she asked if she could bring a doula trainee with her to my birth. The trainees had to attend a certain number of births as part of their program, and she said it would be to my benefit to have an extra person helping me. I figured it would be to my benefit to have an extra person helping her, so that she could concentrate on me, so I said sure.
It was the best decision I could possibly have made. The apprentice was exactly what I would have wanted in a doula if I could have figured out exactly what all the options were. She was calm, she knew when to distract me from a mild contraction, she knew when to do accupressure massage for a stronger one. She would tell me stories about being a new mother (she had two young children) while we were in the early phase, and then later she would rub my feet while the nurses watched my contractions on the monitor and made a big fuss over how intense they were. Honestly, all I could feel was the best foot rub I had ever had.
I had a long early labor - almost 24 hours at home (easy, very mild contractions - not even as bad as a period) and then about 12 hours at the hospital. The doulas were there for maybe ten hours. I think the first part of the day was fairly easy, some contractions and a lot of walking around the courtyards. I have low blood pressure normally, and lying down for a long time tends to make it even lower so we tried to keep moving. Plus, walking is supposed to help move labor along, and I was obviously on the long, slow plan. After a while the nurses had me stay on the L&D floor because I was so dilated. I remember suddenly feeling like I had to lie down, and the apprentice doula put me on my side and began doing counter-pressure massage on my lower back.
Just as I was thinking, hmmm, this labor thing isn't so bad, the other doula came back with a nurse and said she thought I was ready. The nurse checked, and suddenly there were people flying in and carts being pushed around and they were telling me that the doctor wasn't there yet and I needed to wait. I was fully dilated. The apprentice doula kept rubbing my back and then she whispered that I had gone through "transtition" - the worst part of labor - in 8 minutes, and that if I wanted to push I shouldn't worry about the doctor. She told me that my nurse had been a midwife for 20 years in Australia, and that she was perfectly capable of delivering a baby.
I remember thinking that I was glad for the nurse-midwife, but that I really wasn't worried about waiting for the doctor anyway. I mean, L&D nurses knew what to do, right? I was in this perfect zone from the counter-pressure massage, and I was going to just stay there. Suddenly the nurses were yelling for a resident. I just decided to go with the pushing feeling, and the apprentice was guiding me into a better position and then my doctor showed up and before she could get her gloves on my daughter was born. We have photos of Dr. D waving at the camera with her hands all bloody.
Afterwards, things were so easy. We just got wheeled to our room (now that hospital has labor-delivery-postpartum rooms, but at the time there were separate areas for the before and after). I had never gotten to a point where I desperately needed an epidural. I had felt like I was in charge of my own experience. I could tell that everything was fine. I was so glad that I had the chance to feel what childbirth was like without being in terrifying pain. And I don't know if any of that would have happened without the apprentice doula.
So, that's my experience with "natural" (substitute your own phrase here) childbirth. I would sum it up by saying it's really not bad if you have the right kind of labor - and don't rely on your husband to get you through it, of course.
Afterwards I found out that long slow labors almost always slow down with an epidural, and then need pitocin to pick back up again. Labors that are naturally long and slow suffer the most complications from pitocin, with decreased fetal heartrate, retained placenta and maternal hemorrhage topping the list. Um, yikes!
Some people have drastic, incredibly painful labors and can't imagine going through the whole thing without an epidural. My most "all-natural" friend went into the hospital swearing she would never stoop to anesthesia, and was screaming for medication after a few hours. She had a hard fast labor and it was just too much for her. So, I get it. And if I have a different kind of labor this time I am totally open to needing the drugs. After all, it was less than a month ago that I was willing to kiss the nurse who put morphine into my IV.
Anyway, I figured it would be easier to find a doula today. Anybody who wants to be found has a good internet footprint, and it only makes sense that doulas would make sure they can be googled. So, I typed the name of the apprentice doula into the search bar and - voila! She's a midwife now, but she will work as a hospital doula in high-risk cases. I have high hopes for another great experience with her, and if I have the same kind of labor I'll be glad to go through a little pain to avoid more serious complications. (If I have the hard, fast, incredibly painful kind of labor, I'll be glad that I'm in a hospital with an anesthesiologist right there.)
And, in case you were wondering, I don't think I'll be going in for an emergency low-fluid C-section any time soon. Since I've been on bedrest my AFI has gone up to 14. I saw my OB this morning and she said that as long as I keep resting and glugging liquids she doesn't think I have any more risk than anybody else of an early birth. So, yay! I am allowed to do a little bit of light activity, but other than that I have to stay horizontal as much as possible. As long as it's working, I won't complain too much!