“Oh I don’t need a doula, I am giving birth in the hospital” is a statement I often hear when talking to women expecting their first baby. The truth of the matter is that if you really knew how much time you and your partner will be alone in that labouring room, you may feel differently. One of the reasons for this misunderstanding is the expectation of how physically present the hospital maternity staff are while you are in labour.
The reality is that upon arrival in the hospital you get a maternity nurse and a clinical midwife or resident doctor assigned to you. The nurse sporadically comes in and out to check on you or to do her routine tests and even more sporadically the midwife or resident doctor are with her to check how the labour process is going. If it is very quiet on the ward then you may get some extra attention, the nurse usually wants to assist you as well as she can, but if she has more than one birth at a time she cannot physically be in two places at once. If you are being transferred by your midwife, because of a complication or the use of certain pain relief options, then she may or may not stay with you.
The Gynecologist only comes if there is a complication. He or she is keeping an eye on your situation by looking at a computer screen, with your contractions and the baby’s heart rate, in the office room down the hall! They are in charge of the ward and are mostly referred to outside of your room. You will likely only meet them face-to-face if you need an intervention of some sort or if the midwife needs to confer about an issue in your presence.
At any time you can call on them by pressing a button that alerts them you need assistance or help and they will be there as soon as they can. But, in-between there are quite some hours that you and your partner are alone. Just the two of you!
During the time you are alone with your partner you are busy labouring in the best way you know how. You may appreciate being alone but it is very likely that your partner will feel helpless and have questions plaguing him like: Should I call the nurse now? What can I do? Isn’t it time? And, Why are they taking so long they said they would come and check again in 1 hour? What if the baby comes and no one is here? Is this normal, so much pain? He will want to support you but inside will likely feel stressed out however prepared he felt before hand. You will likely also have a variation of these questions circling around in your head at some point or another. A birth is very unpredictable and takes turns we don’t expect that can cause uncertainty and concern.
If you are prepared for this then you may be okay with the idea of labouring with just the two of you. If you and/or your partner are uncomfortable with the idea, then you may want to consider what a difference a doula will make to your birthing experience. A doula will be with you from beginning to end. Better still she has gotten to know you a bit in the months leading up to your birth so she feels familiar and you feel safe with her present. At times she may sit in the corner chair and just “be there” When labour really starts to kick in she will be making sure you are comfortable, helping you find whatever position feels comfortable, massaging you, giving you sips of water. Helping your partner feel at ease and giving him ideas of how to “be there” for you. She will be encouraging and motivating you when you feel like you can’t go on, one contraction at a time. She will believe in you and your ability to birth your baby. If interventions are advised she will help you weigh up the pros and cons and hold your hand through whatever is necessary. You will feel safe because she is familiar with birth and during those seemingly endless hours, she understands what is going on. Feeling safe helps you relax which helps the birthing process move along. Stress will hinder the process and slow it down. If you make sure your birthing environment FEELS safe to you, your birthing experience will benefit.
The continual support of a doula is very valuable and makes a difference, especially in the hospital setting.
If you are not planning on using a doula be as prepared as you can for those hours alone, be informed about the birthing process so you can minimize the stress and the unknown.