How to be your own doula

After the birth of my first daughter (a natural but traumatic birth–you can read the story here), I was genuinely afraid to give birth again. At the same, I was absolutely obsessed with redeeming that first experience. I find a lot of woment share that sentiment after their first birth didn’t go as hoped. When I got pregnant with my second daughter just 13 months later, the anxiety I carried from childbirth launched me even deeper into educating, empowering, and preparing myself for not just a better experience–but the BEST possible experience out there. “Fear-free birth.” “Pain-free birth.” “Laughing during birth.” “Orgasmic birth.” “Supernatural birth.” I wanted all of it. Of course birth must be held with an open hand. Stuff happens. So I learned how to use fear-clearing practices to embrace and educate myself on the protocols of any possible outcome– C-Section included. At the same time, I researched like mad, read books and blogs, listened to multiple podcasts a day, even called around to different midwifery practices and doulas, just to ask questions. At around 7 months pregnant, I was contacted by a local doula service in Nashville to remind me that now was a good time to engage and hire a doula for my estimated due date. A doula is a specially trained birth coach who can help prepare you for your desired birth as well as advocate for you during your labor to ensure your desires are fought for. I was devastated when I found out it would cost me $1,000. Don’t get me wrong. A great doula is worth the investment, and will earn every cent and then some. My husband and I were just plain out of cents. I knew from my first birth that a volunteer doula was an option, but having a stranger join my labor last minute didn’t vibe well with the intimate atmosphere I wanted to create. So I shifted gears in my research and began to look into birth from the perspective of BEING MY OWN DOULA .

I was blessed that there were no fluke complications in my birth, and I was able to implement everything I had spent the last 3 years researching to achieve what to me was the holy grail of natural birth. It was ALL THE THINGS! (You can read that amazing story here.) Through that journey, I realized that serving as a birth & post-partum doula was my calling in life. Since then, I developed a unique “4-Session Doula Plan” out of all my research, training, and experiences to help my clients thoroughly prepare for their birth & post-partum. I believe that a truly great birth must be approached from a much wider perspective than just labor and delivery. And for those who can’t afford a Doula to help walk them through that in person, here is my exact plan for FREE. This plan is geared towards someone giving birth with a birth partner, but it can be customized for whatever version of support you have access to. You can do this mama!

Prepwork: Start reading through The Birth Partner if you haven’t already.

Doula Session 1: Birth Framing
(*To be completed ideally within the 1st trimester of pregnancy.) In the “Birth Framing” session, you and your partner will need to find someone (be that each other, a counselor, mentor, close friend, willing midwife, etc.) to talk to about your individual perspectives on birth.The key when talking through these things is to reflect often on how you FELT. Often we carry feelings about birth that we don’t even realize are there until we tell our stories and put those feelings into words. This first session is to help you and your partner understand each other’s context with birth. If your birth partner is your husband, it is good to remember that men typically do not have as much context with birth. Hearing the woman’s perspective put into words can help them understand where you’re coming from and give them context for what you hope this birth to be and why. Here are your talking points:

  1. Your mother’s birth with you & siblings
  2. Any other birth stories (if any) that you have been close to or can remember.
  3. Your own previous birth experiences if you’ve given birth before.
  4. How do you hope to feel emotionally during your birth?
  5. How do you hope to feel emotionally after your birth?
  6. How do you hope this birth with make you feel as a woman?
  7. To the partners–as a man?
  8. How do you hope this birth will make you feel about each other as partners?
  • Homework: You should each come up with 3 words that you hope to be/feel during your birth. You should write them down somewhere you will see them often over the next several months. Example: Calm, Present, Powerful.
  • Prep-work: Start writing down any fears you may have around birth & postpartum. Keep that list handy for Session 2. You may also find it helpful to start scanning titles on the Fear Free Childbirth podcast and listen through any episodes that sound relevant to your concerns.

Doula Session 2: Fear-Clearing
(*To be completed ideally early in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy. However you can continue follow this process for any fears that may arise for the remainder of your pregnancy.) This is a hard session for many, but so beautiful once you’ve done the work. Fear clearing is the process of intentionally naming each fear we may hold in regards to birth. You & your partner will share your list of birth fears and then either 1) Speak life over those fears or 2) Write them down as homework to educate yourself on your options so that you can remain empowered if that worst case were to arise. The goal is to approach our undesired scenarios from a position of strength by emotionally processing (aka “speaking life”) and educating ourselves on the best course of action should those undesired scenarios arise. If you refuse to address the fear, the unknowns that shroud that scenario fill you with subconscious anxiety and tension that you carry with you into birth. However, if you address your fear and educate yourself on your options, you allow your mind to rest assured knowing that you can emerge from even your worst case scenario feeling confident and empowered. Once your fears are addressed, you don’t need to return to them or worry over them any more. You can release them knowing that even if they come to pass, there is still goodness to be found. Examples:

  1. So if your fear is not getting an epidural in time, then you’ll need to clear that fear by educating yourself on natural coping techniques & tools as well other calming options like nitrous oxide (a gas that you can self-administer at any time).
  2. Or if your fear is c-sections, then you’ll need to educate yourself on local hospital procedures and prepare your plan for how you’d want that c-section to go. Here’s a great plan for gentle c-sections with a list of protocol to ask from the obstetrician.
  3. A common worst fear is to lose the baby. An example of clearing that fear by speaking life would go along the lines of, “I am afraid that we would lose the baby in birth. That’s not going to happen. But even if it does it will not cause me to lose my faith that God is good. It will not destroy our marriage. We will not blame each other. We will forgive ourselves. We will allow ourselves to mourn and then when we’re ready, we will continue our dream of growing our family by trying to conceive or adopting.” Whatever speaking life sounds like to you.
  • Homework: 
    1. Research your options for any birth fears or interventions that were discussed during your fear clearing session. Discuss with your partner what your preferences are should that scenario arise.
    2. The most common fear source in childbirth has to do with the baby’s position. It is good to familiarize yourself now with the different possible positions of your baby by spending some time exploring Spinningbabies.com. There are techniques you can begin as early as you’d like to get your baby in the optimal head down position. The Spinning Babies website can walk you through all of that. Another good series of exercises for optimal baby positioning is called the Miles Circuit. Their website also does a great job of informing and teaching that technique.
  • Prepwork: Start researching birth plans. Listen to or read as many different birth stories as possible to get a better grasp of what birth can be like across the board. My favorite birth story resources are Ina May’s Guide to ChildbirthThe Birth Hour podcastBirthful PodcastDoing It At Home Podcast, Fear Free Childbirth Podcast, and Rockstar Birth Magazine. Keep note of what you want and what you don’t want as you learn from other people’s experiences. I encourage you to continue listening to positive birth stories for the remainder of your pregnancy even once your birth plan is in place.

Doula Session 3: The Birth Plan
(*To be completed ideally by the 7th month of pregnancy.) Most hospitals and even birth centers/midwives will begin discussing your “birth plan” with you sometime around your 36 week checkup. I recommend doing your homework earlier so that you are fully prepared to address any questions with your provider when they start asking for your birth plan. Until you start preparing your own birth plan, you might not even know what questions to ask. Often this is where women feel duped by their care providers. They have all these interventions done to them during birth and once they’ve processed what happened, they’re angry and wonder “Why didn’t my provider prepare me for this possibility.” It is not wise to count on most birth providers these days to take the time to fully educate you on birth or what might be offered to you/done to you during labor. That falls on you mama. But you can do it! There are some great birth plans online. I love this customizable visual birth plan by Mama Natural. Whatever you want your birth plan to look like, this is the opportunity for you and your birth partner to sit down to write out YOUR plan.

  • Homework: Once you’ve written it out, you can email your birth plan to your care provider, bring it to your “birth plan” prenatal appointment, and print a couple of paper copies to have near you during labor.
  • Prep-work: Unless you are going in for an early scheduled c-section, you will more than likely experience a contraction or “birth wave” as I call them. For this reason, I encourage every woman to prepare herself with coping tools & techniques for fear-free, pain-free childbirth. That brings us to “Doula Session 3.5: Coping Tools & Techniques.” To prepare for that session, you and your partner should read through my article on Coping Tools & Techniques for Fear-Free Pain-Free Childbirth. I cover EVERYTHING–it’s truly a wealth of resources for an empowered and calm laboring experience. Once you’ve read it through, you should begin gathering as many of the coping tools as possible so that you and your birth partner can experiment with them together during the next session.

Doula Session 3.5: Coping Tools & Techniques
During this session you will go through all the coping tools & techniques you’ve gathered and practice them with your birth partner(s). This is just to help familiarize both of you with the tools so you are more comfortable reaching for them or suggesting them during labor. You should also practice all of the laboring positions listed out as well as go through an abbreviated version of The Miles Circuit. Practicing now allows muscle memory to kick in once you’re in labor.

  • Homework: Continue to gather your coping tools & practice with them as often as you’d like. Establish a bag or box where you keep all your tools so that they are organized and ready to bring with you if you are traveling to a hospital or birth center when you go into labor. You will also want to contact your birth team (if you have more than one person attending your birth) to assign roles or tools for each person so they know their boundaries and what assistance you’re comfortable with them giving during labor.

Doula Session 4: Postpartum
(*To be completed ideally by 34 weeks.) Every woman’s postpartum journey is different depending on a number of factors, but in general it is good to begin gathering good support resources to have in place once that sweet baby is earth side! Here are my top recommendations:

  1. Ask a friend to (or do it yourself) set up a Meal Train online where friends and family can assign themselves to dates you make available to bring you a meal.
  2. Explore La Leche League to find a group near you in case you need breastfeeding support.
  3. Subscribe to the Postpartum Podcast for some great topics and relatable issues to listen along to when you need them.
  4. Try joining a few local Facebook mom’s groups to get introduced to the community of moms near you.
  5. Educate yourself on sleep training & baby soothing options. I have seen the greatest successes when parents follow some customized version of Babywise & The Happiest Baby on the Block. Be warned: sleep training can be a very polarizing issue in the mom community (insert eye roll). Whatever keeps you and baby healthy & happy! No judgement!
  6. Familiarize yourself with postpartum depression screenings so that it doesn’t sneak up on you if you happen to be one of the women it effects.
  7. Prepare your nest for baby. This is a fun and obvious one. There are a lot of products out there. Researching and reading reviews will go a long way to save you money and the frustration of ineffective baby gear. Here’s a list of my Mama Must-Haves for Newborns. Lucy’s List is a really great resource that covers almost every product on the market!
  8. Prepare your nest for your healing! The hospital or birth center will send you home with some Depends or large pads, ice packs, tucks pads, and possibly even some Dermaplast. All of those are great. Chances are you will need more than they send you home with so you’ll want to be prepared with your own stash to come home to. DIY Padcicles are amazing & there are some great tutorials online! I also make DIY Postpartum Herb Baths for my mama clients!

There’s a lot more I want to share about the Postpartum phase of childbirth, but that’s another blog for another time. Hopefully you feel empowered and supported in your birth journey. Doulas are amazing! I should think so, I am one! But just because you can’t afford or just don’t want to hire a doula doesn’t mean you can’t be your own birth coach! You can mama! You were made to do this! As always, please feel free to comment or contact me directly. I love helping out mama’s any way I can!

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