(This is Chrissy, smiling and 5cm dilated, as we arrive at the hospital.)
Back in ancient times, a royal woman had many servants who all attended to her in different ways. But there was one servant who knew her inside and out, talked her through her problems, comforted her when she was distressed, and was there whenever she needed her. This special servant was called her "doula."
The specific translation for the word "doula" is "woman's servant." It has been adopted today to mean "a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth" (from DONA's website). Let me just touch on those three points...
Ever wonder why they call it "labor?" Because it's just that: physical labor. It is tough work! The closest thing I could compare it to would be running a really long race, only ten times harder. As a doula, I stay with the laboring mom from the time I arrive (either at home or hospital), until her baby is born and they have successfully breastfed. Throughout that time I encourage relaxation with my voice, soft touch, or massage. I suggest positions that are helpful, encouraging the baby to descend or to relieve back pain. I can also instruct the dad in different techniques, so he can play an active role in supporting his partner. And I'm there for support if mom needs someone to lean on or just a hand to hold.
Pregnancy and birth can be a very emotional time, especially for first-time mothers. Having been there myself, I can relate very closely with what each new mom is going through. I offer continuous emotional support throughout the pregnancy, and especially during the birth.
There is so much to know about pregnancy and birth! There is way more information out there than can be soaked up in the short nine months of pregnancy. I have had extensive training and education about the birth process, and am equipped to answer your questions. I can make book recommendations based on your specific situation and desire for your birth. I also have a network of childbirth professionals to refer you to if need be. The more informed you are going into labor, the less fear you will have, and the better your experience will be!
If you're still not convinced about the helpfulness of a doula, check out these statistics:
Studies have shown that women supported by a doula during labor have:
~50% reduction in the cesarean rate
~25% shorter labor
~60% reduction in epidural requests
~40% reduction in pitocin use
~30% reduction in analgesia use
~40% reduction in forceps delivery
~greater interaction between mothers and babies
~decreased postpartum depression
(Statistics from Mothering the Mother by Klaus, Kennel, and Klaus)