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Choosing a Labor/Birth Doula: The Ultimate Guide

The months (or years) spent preparing to welcome a new baby often pale in comparison to the day(s) spent working to bring the baby into the world through labor and birth. These days will go down in your personal history as some of the most important and life-changing. It stands to reason that choosing the people who will participate in this beautiful work should take some thought and consideration. You'll choose a medical care provider and decide between a midwife & an OB/GYN. You'll choose whether to birth at home, in a free standing birth center, or in a hospital, so you'll come into contact with any number of these sites' staff. One of the options I hope you consider is a professional support person or persons in the form of labor or birth doula. If you’re reading this article on Your Birth Team's site, you’re likely to know what a birth doula is and how she/he/they can support your parenting journey. But just in case you don’t and are curious, click here.

Like anything else on the internet, my suggestions are merely that-not a set protocol. While I hope my article makes you think critically about the interview process so that you can find the doula who fits your needs best, there are inevitably things I couldn't write about here that you might keep in mind. For instance, there are male doulas; there are perfectly lovely doulas who never certify with an organization; and there are plenty of childbirth educators in the world who doula on the side but don't call it that. It’s very likely that there’s a doula/doulas closer to you than you realize, no matter where you live. If you take the time to figure out what you want and need from a labor or birth doula before hiring, all parties are bound to have a wonderful experience and fond memories at the end of the day.

Don't Act Like A Hiring Manager

Like any potential employer should, take the hiring process seriously. However, you’re hiring someone to step into your home and your life for a day or two (not including time spent in your home pre- or post-natal). You’re hiring someone who will see you at your most vulnerable; you could be naked in front of this person; you could scream at this person; you could cry with this person; you could sleep in the same room as this person. For the sake of your sanity, you need to make sure you’re going to be comfortable with the person you hire to be on your birth team. So get the logistics situated first, but then hone in on whether or not you are personally comfortable with that person(s).

Gettin' Cozy

Let’s talk comfort levels, shall we? I’m referring to the symbiotic exchange between a laboring woman, her partner, and her doula. For one person, being comfortable might mean hiring a birth doula who can clearly understand, respect, and keep in mind the personal boundaries you have set up because…“there is NO WAY anyone should see me naked in birth and if one step is made toward my lower half I will kick that person out.” For another, being comfortable could mean hiring a birth doula who commits to always answering her phone no matter what and dedicates an entire month of on-call time to you alone so you don’t have to worry about her missing your birth due to a scheduling conflict. Yes, those are extremes on a graduated scale of needs, and you’ll most likely fall somewhere in the middle there with yours. But, the extremes are real issues for many families that should be taken into account and respected when possible.

Food for Thought

So, before you go inviting a handful of doulas to your home for interviews, sit down with your birthing partner(s) and figure out what it is you want out of the experience. Why are you hiring a doula? What do you want your doula to actually do during your labor and birth? What are your boundaries? Do you envision a doula who will run out to grab food to keep everyone’s energy up? Would you be more comfortable with a doula that shared your ethnic background? Would you prefer a doula who identifies as LGBTQ? Would you prefer to work with a solo doula, a set of doulas in a partnership, or a group of doulas who work independtly but backup for each other when needed?

Know Your Options

If you live in a metropolitan area or its outlying cities, chances are good that you’ll have a variety of personalities to choose from. No matter where you’re located, though, there are online directories to help you find your doula choices. There are international directories from trainig organizations like DONA, Birthing From Within, & CAPPA or nation-wide directories like in the states & Doula UK on the other side of the Atlantic. Searches can even be broken down into states or regions, as seen in Southern California's DASC and Utah's UDA. I'm sure other region-centric directories exist and google should be of some help there.