Finding a doula

15 Apr

A few weeks ago, in the midst of my approaching birth anxieties, a seed was planted that perhaps we should look into hiring a doula.

What is a doula? A doula is a female birth assistant or labor companion. She is present at the birth to assist the laboring mother with anything she needs, providing physical comforts, emotional support, suggesting relaxation techniques or optimal positions, and providing information. For those having hospital births, doulas can help couples navigate the medical system: interpreting jargon, helping refuse unnecessary interventions, helping keep the birthing space sacred and setting boundaries with staff and family members. Studies have shown that the presence of a doula can help shorten labor and avoid unnecessary procedures.

I had planned to look into hiring a doula should we ever have a homebirth, but hadn’t even considered it for our certain hospital birth until Belle suggested that it might really help me. I was (and am) feeling so much anxiety over not knowing how it will go (I always want to know how things will go). Will I be able to go into labor naturally? Will I have to be induced? Will I be able to try for a natural birth? Will I have to have a C-section? And if I try for a natural birth, will I be able to manage it with the stress and emotions of the hospital and of Turtle’s condition?

A doula can help with all of those things, so we decided to look into it. The next question though was, can we afford it? As I quickly found out, the going rate for doulas in the Boston area is $1,200. That’s much higher than what we were comfortable paying, primarily because we don’t know how long Turtle will need to spend in the hospital and if he stays there longer than three months, I might need to look into taking a leave of absence or, worst case scenario, quitting my job. Knowing that’s a possibility, we want to keep as much of a savings cushion in the bank account as possible.

So I just started emailing. I found doulas and if they listed their fee and it was above our price range (we were aiming for $600), I asked if they could help point me in the right direction. I figured there must be someone out there who would be willing to help us out, and potentially drop their fee. As it turns out, there are plenty! One doula posted our request to a doula message board which generated about five or six inquiries. Another doula put out our request to her network which resulted in three or four others. Almost all of them were willing to drop their fees to accommodate our needs, which we so appreciated.

At some point it got overwhelming, dealing with all the inquiries, so I just started with the first few people who had responded to me and went from there. I talked on the phone with one doula and we met with another, neither of whom felt like a good fit. Then I heard from J, who has been a professional doula for 18 years and has attended over 430 births. I honestly was blown away and didn’t think we’d have an opportunity to work with such an experienced doula. I also heard from K, who showed such a sensitivity to our situation over email.

When I talked to J on the phone, we had a good, professional conversation and I remained impressed by her experience and professionalism. J normally charges $1,200 but said she drops her fee a few times a year for those with a “true need” and was willing to drop it for us. I wasn’t sure if we had a “true need” but I explained our situation and she was comfortable dropping it. The next step would be for us to meet in person, however she said she would charge $50 (normally $100) for the initial in person meeting. I told her I’d let her know after we talked to a few more doulas.

When I talked to K on the phone, I felt like she really got it. She talked about viewing our birth as the beginning of the healing process for Turtle, which I never thought of but it immediately helped me just to frame it that way in my mind. Our conversation was long and easy and it was clear that we had a great connection. She also lives about five minutes away, so we planned to meet in person a week later.

The catch was, K has only assisted about 10 births, not including the few years she spent in training in China, where she witnessed many births, primarily induced births. Two of the births she’s attended were C-sections, and she’s had two C-sections herself. I talked to some of J’s recommendations and one admitted that while she didn’t “super click” with J right away, and while her husband never really even liked her (!), they were so impressed with her experience that they hired her. And they didn’t regret it, they’d hire her again.

So all week I have been struggling with experience vs. connection. I interviewed another doula who it turns out we can’t work with because of her schedule, but I asked her opinion on the matter and she said connection matters more than experience. This was what I was wanting to hear, I realized. Giving birth is one of the most intimate, special, biggest moments in your life and it’s a big deal choosing who will be there. This objective doula also pointed out that for an experienced doula, we’d just be another birth under her belt, whereas for a newer doula who is still passionate and not at all jaded, this would be an important and unforgettable experience for her.

The moment of truth came yesterday when we met K in person. She showed up prepared with a whole folder of info, including a questionnaire to see if we were a good fit (including questions like, are you an introvert or an extrovert? And, how do you handle stress?). The connected feeling continued and it was clear that while she wasn’t very experienced, she was very smart, savvy and passionate. Her fee is $650, but she is offering us free placenta encapsulation and two extra hours of postpartum support, plus she’s willing to be on call for two extra weeks, all due to our circumstances.

When we left, we agreed right away to end the search process and just go ahead with K. We both liked her that much. So that’s the long and the short of it. We have a doula! And I’m already feeling better about accepting our birth for whatever it will be, though now I’m hoping more than ever that it can be vaginal and unmedicated.

In the meantime, DH and I are both reading (well, I’m re-reading) Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth – which I highly recommend to all. While some sections of it I don’t agree with (like the idea that maybe you shouldn’t get an ultrasound at all), there is SO much helpful information about easing the labor process. I’m so glad I have this info to supplement the childbirth prep class we took over the weekend, which talked all about the sheer pain of childbirth, how awesome epidurals are, and where I was the only one who admitted wanting to try for a natural birth.

I haven’t been blogging as much lately as things are sort of slowing down in these last 6-8 weeks here. Kind of feels like the quiet before the storm. Everything we can possibly do has, for the most part, been done. Now we just have lots of monitoring appointments to go to and daily encouragement of Turtle to TURN. (Please, please, please.) But I do plan to share our nursery with you in the days ahead, so stay tuned for that! We’ve been working so hard to create a special place for Turtle to come home to… one day.

Have any of you thought of or had experience with hiring a doula? Did you have to make a choice between experience and connection? How did you decide?


16 Responses to “Finding a doula”

  1. Alicia April 15, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    So glad that you found a doula that you connected with! I agree that this is probably more important than experience – you will have an expert, experienced medical team there to support you, Turtle and DH and I think it’s really important that you have someone there that you trust wholeheartedly and that you feel is going to support you emotionally.

    Not that this is the same at all, but my husband and I were present at our daughter’s birth and were the supporters for her birthmom. Neither of us are experienced, but we did share a connection with the birth mother, which seemed to be really important to her as she laboured. We had no idea what to say or do, but I think just that we were there, supporting her 100% and advocating for her was really what she wanted/needed. The nurses and doctors took care of the stuff that we weren’t experienced to deal with.

    The calm before the storm – I can’t wait for the rain to fall, the clouds to clear and for you guys to finally see your rainbow.

  2. Amanda ( April 15, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

    Checking in to make sure you and your family in Boston are okay.

    • Shelley April 15, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

      Thanks Amanda, we are fine! DH was a volunteer at the marathon today but thankfully no where near the finish line. In fact he was home when we found out. Still, he easily could have gone with his coworkers to the after party for volunteers at the finish line. Terrifying.

      • Amanda ( April 17, 2013 at 12:25 am #

        Thank goodness. I’m glad you went with a doula who you have a connection with. We have a new doula and she gave us half off the going rate as she is building a client base – which is awesome. I think she’ll be invaluable.

  3. theyellowblanket April 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    I was a doula for four years, and I must say, it’s very important to feel like you have an emotional connection with your doula. I would personally never try to approach giving birth without one! They are a godsend.

  4. nickeecoco April 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    Before I started on this quest to become a mother, I used to scoff at the idea of using a doula. However, after dealing with infertility, an ectopic, and moving to IVF, I think having someone there for you as an advocate is invaluable.

    On an unrelated note, I hope you and all of your loved ones are okay. I can’t believe what happened today at the marathon.

  5. Sunny April 16, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    I am a 100% believer in a doula, and I think you’re making an excellent choice. After hiring mine, and seeing how helpful she’s been thus far (and I’m only 26 weeks along!) it saddens me that all of the expense for one has to come out of pocket. It feels like it should be a RIGHT for us women to have trained labor support! Being based in Los Angeles, the cost of a doula is marked up significantly from other areas. I did not find one here who listed her price below $1500. Like you, however, almost all of them are open to negotiation, and I got mine for $1,000. I’ve never heard of them charging for an in-person meeting, though…that sounds sort of sketchy to me! I had exactly the same experience as you did with one doula being more “experienced” and the other one who I had more “connection” with. I went with “connection”, and I’m so happy I did. She and I get along so well, and I absolutely feel comfortable with her. I don’t think you will regret the decision you’ve made to go with comfort over experience. I also recently finished reading Ina May’s book, and while I thought it was definitely chock full of useful birth information, all of the birth stories felt pretty far removed for me–I didn’t really identify with them at all. I came across another highly recommended book that I read and LOVED and have been recommending to everyone now! It’s called “Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds”. It goes through real stories of women who created their own natural births in hospital settings, and also includes many important chapters on high risk births, C sections, and all sorts of medical interventions to prepare for while still honoring the natural birth experience.

    • Amy Skins April 16, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      I agree – charging for an interview seems sketchy to me.

      • Shelley April 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

        Re: charging for an interview, it bothered me too. If J didn’t have a fee, we definitely would have met with her and then she would have had her hat in the ring. As it is, she didn’t really have a chance because we hadn’t met with her. I wondered if lots of people who meet with her DON’T choose her and that’s why she started charging for meetings.

        Surprisingly, her recommendation told me that she paid for initial meetings with BOTH doulas she was considering. She said she thought that was the standard for the experienced doulas and that it’s their job to meet with potential clients so why shouldn’t they get paid for that? I feel like sometimes you have to put in an investment to get a client, just like in my business we often have to put time and lend expertise in new business pitches, which sometimes goes to waste when we don’t get the business but it’s kind of part of the game.

        Anyways, moot point now but agreed.

    • Shelley April 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

      Thank you so much for the book recommendation! I definitely want to read that in the next few weeks!

  6. Amy Skins April 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Absolutely agree with you – go with connection over experience! A doula is an *emotional* support. It’s the emotional connection that matters more than anything.

    I have had two doulas. For my first birth I had a very strong connection with my doula, and I loved her introverted, quiet style. She didn’t have an incredible amount of experience, but her fee was low as a result. During labor, I did a lot of holding her hand and staring into her eyes and feeling like she “got it,” which is exactly what I needed. We even sang together during labor. For my second birth, she was due with a baby within days of me, so I had to find someone new. I picked someone who came highly recommended from several sources. She was super expensive (for our area), but I told her what our budget was and she agreed to lower her rate, even though we really don’t have “true need.” She was fine, but definitely more extroverted, and I just didn’t feel that deep THING with her. She’s one of the most popular doulas around (as far as I can tell), but at my birth, she was just another helpful person, as opposed to this *anchor* for me.

    Also wanted to mention for anyone else reading this that if you are on a budget, hiring a student or less experienced doula is a great way to save money but still get that emotional support.

    I’m so glad you will have a doula – I think it’s huge, especially when you are going into such an uncertain situation.

    “Horse lips” from Ina May’s guide was the single most useful tool in both of my labors.

    Just wanted to rerecommend taking a look at Birthing From Within, even if you just skim through it, to give you some more ideas on how to process some of your anxiety.

    You are doing so great, mama. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with you as you approach your birthing time.

    • Shelley April 18, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

      Thanks Amy, you definitely helped me feel even better about the decision. I just ordered Birthing from Within as well! x

  7. Kristin April 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    I’m so glad that Belle suggested you look into hiring a doula. Every couple deserves to have a doula, regardless of the nature of the birth. This stuff is intense!! It sounds like you’ve made an incredible choice. Also, looking forward to seeing the nursery pictures!

    • Shelley April 18, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

      Soon – I promise! 🙂

  8. Aplatanada April 18, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    A friend of mine from grad school decided to become a doula. I passed along her info, and was so happy when a friend chose her. Their connection was great and in spite of her relative lack of experience (I think my friend was her first ever paying client), they were both incredibly happy. Sounds like you made the right choice! Congrats!

  9. Karlene February 2, 2014 at 2:41 am #

    Hello wonderful ladies,
    I am in my first trimester and am looking for a fabulous doula with experience in natural hospital births with focus on laboring positions, breathing techniques, knowledge of flipping the baby if needed, and massage. Can any of you recommend the doula you worked with? If so, please email what doula you loved working with…I will be so thankful to have suggestions! My email is

    Thanks so much!

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