The Doula Experience

By Sara Milford, mother of four, writer and birth activist

She squeezed my hips with every bit as much pressure as my husband had for the past hour. While I could sense my husband standing in the doorway of our little bathroom, she sat calmly in a squat before me. Sitting on the toilet, my hands on my knees which were spread birthing-wide, I shook my head back and forth slowly, breathing deeply.

“I know women have done this for centuries,” I told her in a whisper, “but I just don’t know if I can.” The words were coming out, coming from me, yet from somewhere else. My reality was in another realm. My contractions had me in the here and now like only a contraction can, but in the moment, in the many moments that made up those few short hours, I felt safe, comfortable, supported – completely different from our first birth experience. She smiled at me, encouraged us, and she squeezed as long as I told her to.

She followed us to the hospital, where I arrived fully dilated and effaced, my amniotic sac still intact. Our healthy 11 pound, 12 ounce baby boy was born within the hour, doula and husband at my side. Afterwards, they moved us to a room and essentially forgot about us. Breastfeeding went great, and when she checked back with us at our home a week or so later, snow still on the ground because of the ice storm, she assured me all was well.

After taking her Bradley childbirth classes and having her as our doula, I realized how important her role was in our birth experience. I, too, wanted to help mothers experience this side of birth, the normal side of birth in all its raw, organic beauty. Having now become a doula myself, this is part of what I strive to do today.

Specifically, a doula is a laboring woman’s servant. She’s a well-trained, knowledgeable woman who knows the process and, more importantly, trusts the natural process. Ultimately, the doula is there to help the mother have the best birth experience possible based upon that mother’s vision. Doulas put their own egos aside and serve the laboring woman.

In our area, we’re blessed with many qualified doulas. Sites like BirthNetworkNWA ( and DONA, Doulas of North America (, are wonderful resources for finding the right doula for you. Interview several to find which one most matches what you seek in your “labor angel.” It is important to realize that a doula does not practice medicine nor give medical advice; she will not be your care provider, just your labor support, physically and emotionally. She can help you gather information, though, should you need it to make an informed decision.

Doulas do charge for their services, though some offer scholarships, trade or payment options, and rates vary from under $200 to over $500, most often depending on experience. Considering the time a doula offers and the benefits she brings to a client, most women find her services to be priceless.

Scientific studies prove that just having a woman in the room lessens the length of labor and reduces the perception of pain. These benefits increase with more qualified, interactive women serving in a supportive role. Even for women receiving an epidural or having a cesarean section, there are benefits in having a doula, such as breastfeeding support and less postpartum depression. Husbands also benefit from a doula’s presence because she is someone he can look to for assurance, suggestions and relief, when needed.

Since the birth of our second child, we’ve had two more birth experiences – one in which we wished we had used a doula for a hospital birth and one in which we had two midwives and an apprentice in attendance at our home. A doula can come in various forms – a sister, friend, mother, midwife, nurse, apprentice – but always she’s there for you, without fear and anxiety, providing calm and assurance. A doula will see you through the birth and be there for you afterwards. She is blessed to share one of the most intimate moments in your life, and you’re blessed to experience unconditional support and a genuine, loving spirit. I wouldn’t trade our experiences for anything.

To read more from Sara Milford, a local doula, check out her personal blog, Everyday Simple.