So, you've finagled an invitation to attend the birth of your grandchild. And you just found out that — guess what? — the doula's been invited, too. Sure, it's clear why your daughter's hiring a doula may be a touchy subject. But remember who in the delivery room should be doing the pushing. (Hint: She has a big stomach.) And, having an extra body in the delivery room doesn't have to create a mom-to-be, grandma-to-be, and doula-to-be-endured scenario.
For the uninitiated, a doula assists a woman giving birth — whether at home or in the hospital. Her job is to provide emotional support and encouragement for the mother, whereas, a midwife is more involved with delivering the baby. A birthing doula may be involved in pre-birth discussions; a postpartum doula helps families adjust to life with baby and teaches breastfeeding techniques. A doula's job description typically reads “mother to the mother.”
Wait a minute. Back up. Is someone (cough, Grandma!) being demoted? On hearing a definition like that, as a grandma, you could feel downright replaced.
“When a loved one invites you into that [delivery] room,” says Cathy, a Florida grandmother of two, [pullquote allign=right] “it’s one of the highest compliments the person could give you. If my daughter invited a stranger in lieu of me, my feelings would be hurt. I would secretly wonder why — is it because I would be too emotional? Is my relationship with her not close enough?"
While Cathy says she'd swallow the disappointment and accept her daughter's decision, she would wonder if a doula could have the unconditional love for the woman giving birth that a mother does.
Maybe That's Just It?
Penny Simkin, co-founder of Doulas of North America (DONA), has been a doula at hundreds of births and attended all eight of her grandchildren’s births. Such strong emotional bonds can make seeing your daughter in pain difficult, she says. "You see facial expressions that remind you of when she was 2 years old. I had to melt in the corner and cry at times. The doula can help the grandmother, because she doesn't have that history or emotional tie with the woman.”
And, while it may not be ideal in your eyes, having a seat next to the doula is at least a seat. Jessica Shaw, 35, of Brooklyn, N.Y., chose to have a doula, and a midwife, rather than her mom in the delivery room when she gave birth last May. "It’s pretty intense," says Jessica. "You’re grunting to get the baby out. It’s very primal and you need to be 100 percent comfortable. And you have to be careful about who you let in." To her, the birth was something very sacred and intimate to share only with her husband, Steve.
Where Do Doulas Come From?
Doulas, while non-medical, are trained and certified at doula schools around the country or sites online such as Dona.org. Certification, depending on the school, can take anywhere from five days to much longer. Lest you lump doulas in with chiropractors, who are sometimes regarded by the medical community with suspicion, you should know they may offer medical benefits. Studies outlined in Marshall H. Klaus' book, Mothering a Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier, and Healthier Birth (Perseus Press), found that women who used a doula were 50 percent less likely to have a C-section, and the duration of their labor was 25 percent shorter.
Breathing Life Into the Doula Movement
Despite these stats, insurance companies don’t cover doulas. Women who hire them pay anywhere from $200 to nearly $2,000. According to DONA, there are about 10,000 certified doulas currently in the U.S.
DONA co-founder Simkin (whose third edition of The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions hits bookshelves in February) says the organization was formed in 1992 when "Cesarean rates were skyrocketing and there was a terrible nursing shortage."
Indeed, there is room for everyone in the delivery room, including you, if the mom wishes. Keeping your emotions in check, preparing yourself, and not labeling doula the enemy can ease tensions.
Players, Take Your Positions
When Hermine Thorpe heard that her son Jon had asked Cori, his doula sister (Hermine's daughter) to be present at his wife Sara's birth, she hoped Grandma could be included, too. “I just asked if I could be there in the room at the hospital, and my daughter-in-law said fine,” says Hermine.
She understood that she was supposed to just sit there and not make any movements, says Hermine. "But, when my son told me, ‘I think it’s best if you sit on the chair,’ my first reaction was, ‘Oops, maybe I’m really not wanted here.'"
Then, says Hermine, she realized there were just too many people present for her to be able to stand. And, she discovered the wonderful opportunity she'd been afforded — a bird’s-eye view. "We were all well-placed," she says. "I had a perfect view!" As a doula, Cori brought calm, positive energy to a tense time, says Hermine. She adjusted pillows, massaged and talked to Sara as she was giving birth. And, says Hermine, "she enabled my son to watch his baby being born.”
Plan of Delivery
If you’ve been invited to the birth, but don’t have a glowing relationship with your children, try to work on it before the big event, suggests Paula Caplan, author of Don't Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship, who's teaching a first-ever course this fall at Harvard University called Myths of Motherhood.
Caplan recommends talking with expectant parents – and the doula – before the birth. Ask why they want you there and what they want you to do. Set up signals with the doula — a hand gesture or a clearing-of-the-throat — so she can send you cues if you're accidentally doing something that could disrupt delivery. Ask the doula about her philosophy and procedure. Sort out what specific things you each will do – and when. And know, says Caplan, that just sitting there being present with your daughter helps.
No matter how much you prepare, hearing your daughter screech in pain will be tough. Check with the doula about what's most appropriate to ask when your daughter's screaming. Is it "Can’t you give her something for the pain?!", or more of a ,"What do you want, honey? It’s fine to scream."
In the end, you want your daughter to be happy. You want this to be the best, most amazing experience of her life – point blank. Having a doula present at the birth of your grandchild does not mean you've been demoted. Your title is Grandmother — for life. By the way, one Greek translation for the word doula? Woman’s servant. Puh-lease, you are no one’s servant. So, sit back and relax. Really, you’ll have the best view.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.