Do you want to know what the biggest secret of a doula is? What makes her presence so important to a laboring mother and family? It's not that she has special knowledge or training (although that is certainly important!). It's not a great bag of tricks. It's not even her own stories and experiences of childbirth that she can draw upon.
People like to say, "Birth is a normal, natural thing! Women have been doing it for thousands of years!" And it's true. None of us would be here if it weren't for women giving birth.
However, women have not always given birth in isolation- and I'm not talking about privacy. I'm talking about the separation of our culture from the normal physiological processes of pregnancy and birth. Women go off to the hospital pregnant, and come back out with a baby. We don't often see what unfolds in the middle, and the stories that we do hear are often enough to put everyone a little on edge.
Once in the hospital, the nurses and doctors and midwives, no matter how caring, must focus a good bit of their attention on the physical health of you and your baby (and rightly so- that's why you hired them!). They also can't always be there with you continuously- their job means that they are in and out of the room caring for multiple patients. In the midst of the monitoring and charting, the coming and going, something can easily get lost. That something is: the human connection.
And this is one thing that makes a birth doula so important. By being present, even if it's sitting in the corner, a doula can bring that human connection back in to the birthing room. Because she is specifically not there to chart or care for the mother medically, she can be 100% present for the emotional and mental needs of the laboring woman and her partner.
There are some incredibly intense and potentially overwhelming (and yes, even painful!) sensations in labor. When you add in the equipment, charts, lights, and sounds of a hospital, those feelings can easily be interpreted internally as NOT NORMAL. And if you are not sure if the pain or sensations are normal, that can start to feed in to fear and anxiety about what is happening to you or what you are observing happening to your partner.
The birth doula is one person you or your partner can look at who can assure you, just by the nod of her head or the reassuring smile on her face or the gentle touch of her hand or kind word in your ear, that what you are experiencing is NORMAL. Maybe not always easy. Or painless. Or fun. But normal.
Not only can that gentle touch or kind word help to calm you, it literally helps to produce more oxytocin, the hormone that is responsible for labor progress, and the birth of your baby. The hormone that helps to feel more connected and bonded and in the present moment. The presence of a birth doula can help the oxytocin to flow more freely.
A birth doula's presence can immediately ground you back in the reality that women have been giving birth for thousands of years, and while you might not always FEEL like you will make it out, the fact is: you will. You ARE doing it. No matter how you give birth- you are bringing your baby into the world. Just like your mother brought you, and her mother before that, and her mother before that, and so on down the line.