Choice and language in labour – how a doula could help

I went out with some friends last week for dinner and a movie. Over pizza and drinks the conversation turned (as it seems to all too often nowadays #doulalife) to each woman’s birth experiences. Now, I love a birth story, and since training as a doula I feel that I notice more details in them, more common themes...

When I look back on these particular stories afterward, and with 16 children between us, I’m aware that not all the stories were shared, what stays with me is the overriding lack of control that many of the women felt, and the lack of choices they were offered. There was the mother who, because she turned 35 during the end of her pregnancy, became a ‘geriatric’ mother (awful term) and was therefore not ‘allowed’ to birth her baby in the birthing suite. Also, the woman who, having just birthed her 5th baby on Christmas Eve, was left alone covered in her own bodily fluids and soiled bedding for an hour with a soundly sleeping husband. Lastly, the woman who is left feeling she’s ‘missed out’ because, having had a caesarean with her first baby, she was not given the option to try for a VBAC with her second and has therefore never felt a contraction.

All of the women would acknowledge that having a healthy baby is the most important thing, but also feel a bit sad, that things could have been different or better when they look back on their experience. We are brought up in this country to respect medical professionals, and rightly so. They have undergone at least 3 years of training and have often experienced hundreds or thousands of pregnant women and births. We lay people are much less educated and experienced; we may only ever have one or two experiences of childbirth. Very few women nowadays have more than four. So, it’s clear that the mother knows less, but also that for her, this childbirth experience is unique and special and should be treated as such.

I wished that those women had had a doula (me, clearly!) who could have supported them to question the options they were given. I’m not suggesting that a doula could in any way replace the medical professionals, or create extra work for them, but instead complement their care. Someone who rather than saying ‘You have to…’ or ‘You should…’ would say ‘Have you considered…?’ or ‘Have you thought about…?’ And for the woman who was left alone with her newborn, someone to keep her company, to clean her up and make her a cup of tea. Women do not expect to be treated with kid gloves, to be pampered or to not have to work to birth their babies, but as grown women we do hope to be respected, to be acknowledged and to be listened to.

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