If you have spent some time looking into natural childbirth or alternative birthing, this term will sound familiar. In case you haven't, the concept is simple: during labor, the woman is at her most vulnerable state, physically and emotionally. Chazal recognized this years ago, and recorded it in a famous mishna BaMe madlikin, recited on Friday night: for these three the woman perishes in childbirth: for not observing the separation of challah, lighting Shabbos candles and being careful with the laws of Niddah. In the more recent times, in our secular world we see labor as the time when woman is most likely to lose her resolve, submit to her environment, not be able to make rational decisions about her care, and generally feel stuck.
I used to read about how mothers in labor need mothering and cry about it. Having gone through labor three times already, I had a pretty good idea of what it is, but I also knew what was missing: a person with whom you have a connection, someone who will cheer you on, help you express your wishes, will not freak out and will not impose their will on you, but will support you. This is someone who has gone through a childbirth herself, so she knows what those moments when all hope and resolve seep out are like. In short, I was dreaming of having a doula.
I first read about doulas while being pregnant with my second. I actually tried hiring one, but I had a few thing working against me. My husband was in the middle of ob-gyn residency and thought I was off my rocker with my sudden turn towards natural childbirth ( my first was a classical cascade of interventions: broken water, meconium, continuous monitoring, epidural, punctured veins, a "little" episiotomy, topped off epidural which did not let me sit up and nurse). He was vary of this doula proposition and the first doula I interviewed spent the whole time butting head with him instead of talking to me. It also did not help that she was about my age, so she did not feel like the kind of person who would be mothering. The second person I spoke to was my new downstairs neighbor, trained as a doula. The hang-up was that she just newly married and yet childless, and that I went into labor just as they were leaving for Pesach. So I birthed without a doula.
The third time around, I read more and more about doulas. I met people who did home birth, and their experiences sounded so much more in tune with what I wanted: familiar environment, supportive relatives, no pressure. However, I was quite depressed ( this was less than I year after my father passed away from a prolonged illness), and was in no shape to be proactive about getting the kind of care that I wanted. By that point, my husband had more experience with natural childbirth and doctors who did not interfere with mothers. The hospital was also much more in tune with my wishes, so I decided to rely on my improved circumstances and go at it alone, again.
This time around, when I started reading my natural childbirth psyching-up material and came to the passages about douals, I decided to be proactive. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted a doula. I wish some of my close friends could be there; I am sure that I could get just that kind of support from them. However, since this is not happening, I am simply hiring a friend.
Am I expecting that everything will be honky-dory just because now I have a doula? No, but I feel that I am maximizing my chances. I am also making my wishes to be heard. It is a big deal, especially when it goes against your upbringing: you are not really feeling that, you cannot possibly feel that, and you will be fine whichever way things are. Well, I will play a hand in how things turn out.
Stepping back, I need to apply this a bit more to the rest of my life. With kids at home, it is very easy for everyone else's needs to take precedence: first the kids, then my husband when he comes home, then whoever expects their phone calls answered, and then, somewhere at the bottom of the pile, me. I seem to never get to me, or have any energy left. What if I reshuffle things a bit, putting myself first here and there? A very unmotherly concept, I know. I am not so sure how it will work: babysitters? gym membership? quiet time? but I will be thinking about it, because not putting my needs first will just earn me unhappiness and a breakdown.
So I am looking forward to being mothered, both in childbirth and beyond.