A few weeks ago, a local Nashville Doula (named Merrill Durham) came into our class to explain what she does for her profession and why. A doula is a woman who helps pregnant women throughout the magical journey of pregnancy. Doulas provide both essential moral and necessary physical support to expecting mothers and guide them through the grueling nine-month process of being with child. The word doula actually comes from the Greek meaning “a woman who serves.” Doulas understand birth as an irreplaceable experience that women will remember for the entirety of their lives. Doulas offer a close companionship and comfort to pregnant women and help lead them through their processes with reassurance and encouragement.
Merrill Durham was first introduced to natural birth only a short 4 years ago in 2010. Immediately after experiencing her first home birth, she began to understand how natural, normal, and pure birth is and should be. She began to attend multiple in home natural births over the next few years. She studied up and read every book and watched every movie on natural births and doulas and fell in love with the profession. It was clear in class as she was presenting how passionate she is about her work and about in home births. Merrill, herself, then became pregnant in the year of 2013 with her own child and her passion for natural births continued to grow. She birthed her daughter in her own home and experiencing the birth first hand only made her realize how special and natural birth really is. Merrill Durham was in labor for four days. While this seems crazy (opposed to a hospital birth in which labor typically is much shorter), Merrill loved the experience and it brought it her closer to her daughter in a unique way.
Studies have shown that there is an increasing amount of benefits to having a doula available at births and throughout pregnancy. When doulas attend a birth, there tends to be 25 percent shorter labors, a 50 perfect reduction in Caesarean births, a 40 percent reduction in pitocin use, 30 percent fewer requests by women for pain relief, and 60 percent fewer epidural requests by women. A lot of women also choose to do home births instead of hospital births because there are multiple benefits. While hospital births are now most popular and well known (due to their convenience), home births historically have been very normal. A lot of women choose to have a natural in home birth because they are in the comfort of their own home and are mentally much more open to giving birth. Also, it is more beneficial for the child because the mother is in a much more relaxed environment. Furthermore, the absence of medication is better for the mother as well as the children in the long run—and doulas often encourage a completely natural birth with no pain medication.
For some reason, there are various myths about pregnancy that have been spread over the years that scare expecting mothers. While pregnancy should be thought of as a wonderful, happy, and joyous experience—it is stereotypically categorized as extremely painful, tiring, and altogether terrifying. This is where doulas come in. Most doulas grow to be very close to their pregnant patients because they spend a lot of intimate time and help the expecting mothers get rid of all of their pregnancy fears. A lot of women think that pregnancy will ruin their body and stretch out their vaginas, which is very untrue. Women also think that pregnancy is going to be the most painful thing they will ever experience—and that will make it a horrible experience.
After Merill Durham’s presentation in our class, I thought a lot about in home births versus hospital births. Although most people do not traditionally use a doula, I think I definitely will when I decide to have children. The way Merrill explained her experience—it made it seem like she grows extremely close with her patients and they are exceptionally comfortable around her. I think it is very important to have that tight nit relationship with the people and doctors involved in your own pregnancy. Women who have negative experiences during their pregnancies most likely are unfamiliar and distant from their doctors and nurses. I feel that if I had a doula who I was close with while going through my own pregnancy, it would be much more pleasant and comfortable. Doulas usually attend births for women who desire to have natural births without medicine or painkillers. I am not sure if I could have a baby with no medication—although Merrill explained natural births as being very beautiful. Whether or not I have a natural birth or choose to use pain medication, I will definitely hire a doula. I want my pregnancies to be as sacred and memorable as possible and enjoy the process instead of being uncomfortable and scared.
Would you prefer to have a home birth or a hospital birth? Do you want to have a doula present at your birth? Why do you think there’s a certain stigma on doulas and in home births? What stigma do you see associated with them? Why do you think women aspire to be doulas instead of nurses? Aside from the physical benefits, what are the mental benefits (provided by the doula) for a woman giving birth?