Why You Should Hire A Doula (Even If You’re Getting An Epidural)

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, then this is old news, but I would feel deeply negligent if I didn’t also post my good news here on the blog! This, the blog where the birth stories of most of my other kids (at least, my second son, my first daughter, my third son) can be found (I think the story of my oldest’s birth is enshrined somewhere in the dusty annals of Facebook notes. Remember those?).

Yes, that’s right, I had my baby! Last Thursday, at 4:30, we welcomed our second daughter to our family. It sounds so simple, written out like that, but the reality is that her birth was harder than all my other births combined. No joke.

This whole pregnancy was actually pretty hard, to be honest. The first trimester completely knocked me out, and I spent most of Tishrei sleeping on the couch. The second trimester was classically good, the kind where I felt like “oh, hey, I could do this a few more times, sure! This isn’t so bad!” But with the arrival of the third trimester, I was so exhausted and uncomfortable, it was only the fact that I had committed to certain engagements that got me out of the house.

It might have seemed from my social media posts (we all know that they are not representative of real life, right, RIGHT?) that I was managing well and being all accomplished and productive or whatever, but the reality is that I was horizontal as much as humanly possible.

My main goals were to stay on top of grocery shopping and laundry, and after that, I had to let go and take deep breaths as the entropy crept into all the corners of my home. I just could not do more than the bare minimum.

Towards the end of the pregnancy, I developed this thing called polyhydramnios (say that three times fast), which means that I had an excess of amniotic fluid, which, apparently, isn’t a good thing. Apparently, it’s also not super common (only seen in about 1% of pregnancies! Lucky me!).

It was very uncomfortable. I felt huge. Huger than the normal feeling of pregnancy hugeness. And then there are potential complications (I’ll let you google them if you want. I’m glad I didn’t google them while I was still pregnant), so it meant I got to go in for extra ultrasounds, and that my ob-gyn recommended that I be induced at 39 weeks.

Now, since I was already so physically uncomfortable and miserable (happy to be pregnant, believe me, but still, so uncomfortable), I was thrilled at the idea that I would actually give birth BEFORE my due date (that’s never happened. All my other kids were born at 41 weeks on the dot). I was aware that induction can be no picnic, but I was induced with my second son and it was only a five-hour labor so I was unconcerned.

Let me back up, though, to when I started thinking about giving birth. Because of the upsetting pain management (or lack thereof) situation in my last birth, I was quite nervous, so I decided to hire a doula. I wanted someone there with me to support me and help me deal with any pain or anxiety that came up. I wanted someone who was experienced with the whole birth process. I wanted someone I liked in case I had a nurse I didn’t click with (like the one in the last birth who told me I had a “lazy uterus.” Don’t insult my uterus, lady!!).

Even though I was fairly confident in this decision, I still felt a mildly silly hiring a doula. After all, my plan was to go to the hospital, get an epidural, have the baby. Did I really need a doula for that?

We had a couple prenatal meetings, to discuss my history and my hopes and concerns for this delivery, and even just those two meetings were enough to help me feel more confident going into this birth.

When my doctor recommended an induction, it seemed maybe it wouldn’t even be necessary to have a doula. I had been planning on her support for all my pre-hospital labor, to help me know when to actually go to the hospital and all that. Now, I would be driving to the hospital at the scheduled time, and my husband and I would let my doula know when we wanted her to come in.

During the beginning hours of the induction, we kept in contact with my doula via text, and my husband and I wondered to each other if we were even going to really need her services all that much.

Regardless of how much time she ended up spending with us during labor, we both agreed it was worth the presence of mind to have hired her, even if we didn’t end up needing her help much.

Ha. Hahahahahahaha. How silly we were.

[WARNING: This is where it gets kind of graphic with labor details so if you don’t want to read the specifics of my delivery, skip down to where I let you know it’s safe to resume reading!]

Okay, back to how this birth was different from all my other births (see what I did there? Because Pesach??).

Last time, I was overdue with an uncomplicated pregnancy. This time, I was being induced at 39 weeks with this extra fluid thing (polyhydramnios!), which made the L&D team proceed with caution (a good thing), but also made for a very slow-going labor progression. Last time they started me on pitocin right away. Not this time.

This time they started by inserting some medicine, then we waited for four hours (almost the entire duration of my last induction, ugh) to see how much it helped. It didn’t help so much. A little.

We were still chilled at this point, texting my doula to keep her in the loop, texting friends and family, and I started reading Celeste Ng’s novel Everything I Never Told You.

Then, after assessing the efficacy of the cytotec, they inserted a balloon thingy (yes! A balloon thingy. It’s actually called a Foley catheter. It made me think of children’s birthday parties, which was a slightly bizarre association, but, hey! That’s where my brain went). And then we waited some more. And some more. And more.

Finally, after eight or nine hours of waiting for labor to progress in any meaningful way (during which time the day shift went home, the night shift came on, and I finished Ng’s novel), staying in contact with people (“everything’s fine, just slow going over here!”) my water broke.

This really freaked me out because the Ob-Gyn who had been working when I came in (shout out to Dr. Lee! My actual Ob-Gyn was in clinic the whole day so she wasn’t there for any of my labor) had warned me that when my water broke, because of the extra amniotic fluid, my baby’s head was higher than ideal, which meant there was an increased chance of cord prolapse, which would mean emergency C-section, basically.

So when I felt the gush of my water breaking (first I felt the pop of the balloon, which was both really cool and really weird), I got very, very, very nervous. So did the staff, who all seemed to rush in (calmly, but quickly), and verified that, thankfully, the baby’s head came down before the cord and everything was fine, we just had to wait for labor to pick up, which, everyone assured me, would probably happen rapidly now that my water had broken.

Well. They were wrong.

We had asked my doula to come in when my water broke, thinking delivery was imminent (again: WE WERE SO WRONG). It was these next fifteen to sixteen hours that transformed me from casual doula fan to lifelong doula enthusiast.

Everything was fine, but it also kind of wasn’t. When my water broke and my baby’s head came down, it didn’t come down in a great position (not only was she in posterior position, her forehead was tilted kind of funny), so her head wasn’t putting the kind of pressure on my cervix that it needed to open up, which meant….more waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. And adjusting my position to try to help move things along.  And waiting and waiting and waiting. And laying this way and that way and the other way, and on all fours to try to rotate her (that didn’t work).

When Thursday morning rolled around (I had come in Wednesday morning to begin the induction) and Dr. Lee came back on shift, she checked out what was going on up in there (not enough! not enough at all!). Every time someone came to check me, they had me push a little to try to open up my stubborn, tired, baffling cervix.

But I was stuck at eight centimeters for an eternity. My initial epidural wore off, so they gave me a super-charged epidural, which then also wore off. With all the shift changes, all the personnel started blurring together. I became increasingly annoyed with each new, fresh face (those poor residents) that came in, full of ideas and hope and telling me “you’re going to meet your baby soon, we just have to do xyz and wait.”

I wanted to tell them, loudly, and with great hostility, “WE ALREADY DID XYZ TWELVE HOURS AGO AND IT DID JACK SQUAT STOP MAKING PROMISES YOU CAN’T KEEP…”

When yet another new resident (there probably weren’t that many, tbh, it was just hard to keep track/I wasn’t really interested in keeping track by the third shift) came in and told me she was going to “just check me to see how I was progressing” I asked her not to. And then I started crying.

I had never experienced anything like this. I had never been in labor this long. I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours. I had disgusting heartburn. I was throwing up the nothing that was (wasn’t?) in my stomach. I was frustrated and worried and scared and feeling all sorts of negative emotions. I just wanted to be finished. I was worried that I would stay stuck in this non-progressive labor for another twelve plus hours and end up having to have a C-section anyways, so part of me wanted to just skip to the C-section now.

I said as much to the team, at some point mid-Thursday morning, and, to her credit, Dr. Lee strongly discouraged me from that course of action. I mean, she told me that obviously if I really wanted it, then they would do what I wanted, but she also told me that she had consulted with all the other ob-gyns and anesthesiologists and they all agreed that a C-Section would not be recommended at this point.

This felt extremely frustrating at the time. I was not happy, I was very very not happy. I kind of hated Dr. Lee from that point (until after the delivery, when I started loving her).

But despite how frustrating and angry it made me in those pain-stricken moments, I am so very glad that they were so willing to keep trying for a vaginal delivery, despite all the complications that existed in my labor.

At some point (I have no idea what hour it was – it was all pain o’clock for so long), they started increasing my pitocin, and by the time I got up to 16 (the max was 20), my epidural was no longer enough to mask the pain and it felt like my body was being ripped apart. Fun times! So anesthesiology came in. Again. This was like, the third or fourth time they had to come in and adjust my pain management. They were amazing, really, over the course of those 28 or so hours.

Finally, finally, around 4:30 Thursday afternoon, Dr. Lee came in to check me (again with the checking! All that checking!!) and apparently, after some more of that pushing, I was dilated enough to try for delivery. I wasn’t quite at 10, but I was at 9 1/2, and that was good enough. What I didn’t really know (I mean, they told me, but I wasn’t exactly at peak paying attention and absorbing information mode by this point) was that the baby was still in posterior position and guess what! That makes it HARDER TO PUSH. Most babies turn on their own before delivery but NOT MINE.

In my previous births I’d always been able to push my babies out in one contraction. I would hear stories of women who would push for hours and I would just be silently grateful that I didn’t have to experience that. Two or three pushes and my babies would greet the world.

Not so much this time.

It wasn’t hours of pushing (thank G-d!), but it did take about four contractions worth of pushing before she came out, which was so different than my previous experiences (that’s like, the theme of this delivery, in case you hadn’t noticed – Completely New And Not At All Improved!) that I really felt like my pushing was doing nothing. I felt like I was pushing and pushing and everyone was all “you’re doing great!” but I wasn’t actually doing great, I was just in a lot of pain, and would be, forever.



But it wasn’t forever. She was born. And she was a girl (yay! Balances out the family dynamics a bit. Plus, ruffles). And then I was done. And thank G-d, bli ayin hara, poo poo poo, she has been just fantastic since birth.

And what of my doula? Well, she saved me. Completely saved me.

Having her there, completely dedicated to making me as comfortable as possible, both physically and emotionally, was an indescribably invaluable thing. She listened to my fears and concerns with complete support and no judgment, even when I was practically begging for surgery to just make it stop. She talked me through each excruciating contraction as the pitocin was being increased. She gently wafted peppermint and/or spearmint (I don’t remember!) under my nose when I was feeling incredibly nauseous.

I grossly underestimated how helpful and soothing things like a wet washcloth to my forehead, or a warmed rice pack on my back would feel. Or having someone spoon ice chips into my mouth, or get me some chapstick, or fanning me, or setting up essential oils (I picked orange) to make the room smell amazing (which everyone on the L&D team appreciated as well!).

It was like having a mom there, but a mom who wasn’t nervous, and who was tuned into every potential need that could come up. My doula stayed with us through those last, grueling fifteen (sixteen?) hours of labor, and was completely present and supportive that entire time (okay, she obviously was able to eat and get coffee and rest here and there, for sure. It was a long, long shift. But, to me, it felt like she was supporting me continuously).

I would not have made it through this birth without her support. Not a chance. And she continues to provide postpartum support as well.

I don’t think I can accurately convey how important that comfort, relief, and support was and is.

SO! People! I cannot recommend strongly enough finding yourself a doula like this, if you can. As with all services, you have to find the right fit, the right personality, etc., but when you find a good doula, oh man, you will be set to handle whatever kind of birth you find yourself having.

May we continue to share good news, and chag kosher v’sameach to everyone who is celebrating Pesach this week!


12 thoughts on “Why You Should Hire A Doula (Even If You’re Getting An Epidural)

  1. Dude! I had one posterior delivery and one “tilted head” delivery, and the idea of both at the same time…sheesh! You are some kind of warrior queen!!!

    Mazel tov again and so glad that doula helped you through!

    1. Thank you! After I started writing this piece and looking things up, I realized how hard core this birth really was and it totally does make me feel super fierce!!

  2. Mazel tov on the birth of your daughter. What wonderful news. Sorry to hear the birth was so long and difficult for you (I can really empathize with your experience). Hope you are recovering from your marathon event and that your energy comes back soon.

    1. Thank you and amen amen amen! Even though it was so grueling, I’m so grateful that all the outcomes were so good, that the baby is doing great and that, despite all my sore muscles and general physical trauma of giving birth, I didn’t have any complications beyond that.

  3. I was waiting for the birth story! Ha! So sorry it was not at all improved. I can relate to your feelings about the doula very much. After the birth stories I know, including my own, I think having mental support and feeling cared for is one (two?) of the most important and helpful things during dirth. If not _the_ most important thing. It’s great that your doula provided that.

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