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Time and time again, I have seen questions such as, "What can I do to have a natural birth?" or "What can I do to have a VBAC?" The same advice is given each time, just presented a little differently each time. One piece of advice that always comes up is, "Hire a doula."
When I first became a doula, I would see that and think, "Heck yeah! Hire a doula! I'm a doula! Doulas are awesome." As I have been doing this for a few years now, I see that advice and think a little differently. It appears that I am not the only one thinking about this lately.
Hiring a doula is a very important step in achieving your ideal birth, but it does not guarantee that you will have the birth you want. It doesn't even guarantee a great birth. In fact, you might leave your birth feeling very let down by the experience and everyone involved. That's one of those inexplicable mysteries of birth. I know you know what I am talking about. "I did everything right and still ended up with..."
So the past few years have gotten me thinking. Hiring a doula is really good advice. However, there's more to it than that. Here are four reasons why it's not enough to just hire a doula.
1. You have to do the work. A doula can't make you prepare for birth.
The advice "hire a doula" reminds me of some of the flute students and even fellow flute friends I've encountered throughout the years. When I was in high school, I had a few younger flutists come up to me around All-Parish Honor Band audition time and say, "Make me good." Huh? Make you good? What does that even mean? They would want to have a sort of flute slumber party where we would gather together for hours on end and practice the music. But it was too late. They hadn't been practicing all along. Audition day came, nerves got to them, and they didn't make the group. I have students who don't give it all they have for months before Region Band auditions, and then the last lesson or two before the audition, they finally panic. They start to give it their all. I'm happy they are finally trying, but it's usually too late. They don't make the group, whereas my students who have consistently practiced and worked hard all semester generally do very well. I only meet with my students once a week for 30 minutes at a time. It's up to them to spend the rest of the week practicing the material. I can't make them practice. I can give them tips on how to make their music sound better, I can give them tips on how to practice more effectively, and I can try to motivate and inspire them to want to practice. But I can't follow them home. I can't force them to spend time with the flute on their face.
One of my favorite parts of lessons is when a student comes the next week who has just blossomed since the previous week. I'll ask, "What did you do? You sound great!" Just about every time I ask, the answer is, "I practiced."
Oh, really? You mean, that's what it takes? Of course, that's what's in my brain. What I say is, "That's great. It looks like that is working really well for you. Keep it up!"
2. You have to want it. Really want it. This is your birth.
Throughout the years, my flute students have taught me that I can't want it more than them. If my students don't want to improve, if they don't want to make the top group at school, if they don't want to make Region or All-State groups, it won't happen. It doesn't matter how much I want those things for them, it's not going to happen if they don't want it first. They don't even have a shot if they don't want it. My students that really want it, that really really want to do it, will put in the necessary work. In order to preserve my sanity, I've had to learn to only want it as much as they do. The same applies to birth. If a mama wants it, she will do what it takes.
3. There's more to achieving the birth you want than hiring a doula.
What does it mean to do what it takes? It means to stack the cards in your favor in order to achieve success. Do you want a VBAC? Hire a VBAC friendly provider. Not just a provider who is willing to give you a trial of labor, but a provider who has an outstanding reputation for being truly VBAC supportive. (Need some names? If you are in the Houston area, I have some for you. If not, ask your doula, childbirth educator, or other moms who have had a VBAC.) Do you want a natural birth? Hire a truly natural birth friendly provider, hire a doula and do the work she gives you, and take a good childbirth education class. Read your butt off. There is a lot to know out there. If you aren't willing to do the work, there is a good chance that the fact that you hired a doula won't be enough to make your ideal birth happen.
4. Sometimes things don't work out despite our best efforts.
Finally, occasionally some of my students work so very hard, do everything I ask them to do, and it still doesn't work out. They still don't make that group they wanted to make. They still don't get into Really Awesome School University. I was that kid. It sucks. I hate seeing my students do everything in their power to achieve their goals and things out of their control keep them from their dreams. It really sucks. However, I can't help but believe there is more in our power than we realize. There is more we can do to make things happen than we realize. But when we've done everything in our power and it still doesn't work out? That's another post for another day.