I’ve written before about the transformative power of motherhood – how it truly changes everything about you. Once that pregnancy test is positive, someone else comes first – and that’s true for the rest of your life, not just till after baby is born.
Even more amazing than how motherhood changes us personally, is how it changes the way we relate to others. I’ve met so many women who have made a career of serving others during their pregnancies. Virtually every woman tells me that their passion for helping others stems from their own motherhood journeys.
Debbie Hull, BS, CCE, CLD, CAPPA Labor Doula Faculty, is another woman I’ve been blessed to meet whose story is incredibly inspiring. May 2018 marks 19 years and 370+ births that she’s been a doula – how amazing to touch so many lives in such a personal, lasting way!
For any mamas considering a doula for your upcoming birth, Debbie has shared so much wisdom and advice here. Settle in with cup of coffee or tea and soak up her 19 years of experience helping mamas (and partners!) deliver their babies.
01. What inspired you to pursue a career as a doula?
I find that many people become doulas either because they had a terrific birth or because they had a traumatic birth.
My first birth was not what I wanted or planned. I became involved with ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) and became the leader of our local chapter. There was one woman who asked my help with planning her VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I helped her find a supportive doctor, write a birth plan, and process all the emotions she had after her cesarean. She told me that she wanted me to be her doula.
I had only attended a few friends’ births so my response was to tell her that she really needed to hire Sally Head, who had been my doula and was the most experienced and respected doula in the community. She called Sally, then called me back. “I really want YOU!”
Now I called Sally, in a panic, and like the fabulous doula she is, she talked me off the ledge, assuring me that I was ready.
I attended the birth. She had a VBAC about half an hour after we arrived at the hospital. I found out that I loved it, attending her birth. I was good at it. I liked making a difference. I like my children seeing me make a difference. I began formal training to become a certified childbirth educator and apprenticing, with Sally, to become a doula. That was 19 years, 370+ births ago, this May.
02. What is your favorite part of working with patients/clients?
It is difficult for me to choose one thing. I love helping women move, knowledge-wise, from where they are to where they need to be to achieve their goals for their births. I enjoy helping women on their journey to healing after a traumatic birth, then witnessing their healing birth, watching them find their voice and power and confidence. It is precious to me to be invited into the space of a birthing family, to bear witness to a man loving his wife through labor, watching them welcome a long-awaited, much-loved baby. It is an incredible honor to be invited to attend a laboring woman, to be asked into her space at such an intimate, sacred time. I never get over the honor of being chosen to do this.
03. What are 3 things you wish more couples knew about using a doula for labor & delivery?
work before labor
Many people do not realize that much of the most important work doulas do happens before labor and delivery.
As a doula, I serve as a sounding board, helping clients process their decision to birth at home, hospital or birth center. I help my clients formulate questions to help them determine if they have hired a care provider who does birth how they want their birth done. I help clients formulate birth plans, process the logistics of their birth day, learn about setting boundaries for their birth day.
The earlier I begin working with a woman and her partner, the more time we have to get to know one another, bond and become more comfortable together so that when baby day comes, we have already gelled and work well together.
My husband had what I have come to know is a common reaction to the idea of using a doula. When I first came home excited about wanting to hire a doula, my husband was heartbroken. He was worried that our doula would push him out of the way, that there would be no place for him at our birth, nothing for him to do.
What actually happened for us is that our doula helped my husband to be more involved, offering him guidance and encouragement and taking off the pressure of handling all the logistics. Our doula took care of everything and allowed my husband to just be my husband.
Doulas know that dads are having babies, too. A big part of my job as a doula is to make sure that partners are supported and make space for them to take care of themselves. I take responsibility for knowing what position might turn a posterior baby and allow partners to be just be present and love the laboring woman.
Laboring women pick up on fear or stress from their partners and it can affect the course of labor. Well-supported partners make for calmer laboring women. Calmer laboring women help labor progress more smoothly and smooth labors are healthier for babies. Everybody wins.
I wish more couples knew that doulas offer valuable support at every kind of birth. I have attended planned cesareans, where I helped couples by walking them through the process, step by step, and providing breastfeeding support after baby was born.
I have worked with women who planned epidurals, but then gave birth too quickly. I have also worked with women who absolutely did not want to have an epidural, but chose to get one when labor was long.
I tell my clients that our job is to make our best plans for our births because we and our babies deserve the best. But the truth is that we are not in control of how birth goes and we have to play the hand we are dealt.
As I doula, I help clients figure out what their perfect birth looks like and help them plan it. At their births, I help them play the hand they are dealt, navigate the labor as it unfolds, stick as close to their plans as possible and reevaluate and explore options on the fly.
People often assume that doulas are only for couples planning natural or un-medicated births. The truth is that the births I attend are not mine, in any way. My only job is to support clients in their wishes, without judgement, and to help them through what is sure to be one of the most emotional days of their lives.
04. Can you give a few examples of how you provide support during labor for home birth and a hospital birth?
Much of the support that I provide at births looks like what people expect it would look like. I hold women’s hands, encourage them when labor is hard, push on their backs where it hurts. I help partners know how things are progressing and make suggestions for how we might help things along when labor isn’t progressing.
Partners need to take care of themselves during labor, so I make sure that the laboring woman is never left alone if dad needs a meal or a nap or just a breath of fresh air or a break from the intensity of labor.
I have a bag of tricks to help women cope with labor. I let couples know what is happening when labor doesn’t go as expected. Most of the time, being a doula is about warm fuzzies.
Sometimes, though, being a doula is about doing and saying hard things. If a woman gets in the tub and her contractions space out, it is my job to say, “I know that water feels great, but since the contractions are spacing out, we need to get out and do some moving. After this next contraction, let’s do some curb walking.”
It is much easier for a woman to hear this bad news from me than it is coming from her partner. He gets to be her safe place to fall. I will be the one to tell her that I know this particular position hurts more, that this means it is getting more work done and I will ask her to stay there even though it hurts.
My bag of tricks for negotiating labor includes positioning mom to help when we have a malpositioned baby, helping couples navigate hospital procedures, and reminding couples that even though it may feel scary, their labor is normal.
I help explain options when labor does not go the way we expect. I have been trained in acupressure techniques and in using a rebozo (Mexican shawl) to help with pain relief. I take responsibility for the logistics of labor: when did she last empty her bladder and how much has she had to drink? How I do my job varies by birth, as it varies by woman. Women find their way through labor. It is my job as a doula to adapt my style and techniques to each woman I work with, to fit around her in the way that best serves her.
05. Can you share a favorite memory of an especially inspiring birth story that you’ve been a part of?
I have been privileged to be part of so many births. Each one is sacred and special and I can remember pieces of every one of the hundreds of births I’ve attended. The births of rainbow babies, babies born after a family has suffered a previous loss, are always moving.
Being with women as they push out a baby when their previous birth ended in a cesarean is especially inspiring. The long labors, where a woman works so hard for hours and hours, then just when she thinks it is never going to happen, she pushes out her baby: these labors are so very satisfying.
I’ve attended births where older siblings watch “their” baby be born. The wonder in their faces and the love and protectiveness they feel for their baby always brings tears to my eyes.
I have such an amazing job, not always easy, but always fulfilling and always an honor.
For more information about Debbie and the services she offers, reach out to her here. You can also catch her as a Guest Host on Whole Mother – KPFT.org and 90.1 FM, live, Sundays, 7:30 – 8 pm.