There’s hardly a doula fresh out of training that hasn’t shared some variation of these statistics that you see above, myself included. Shorter labor, reduction in caesarean birth, oxytocin, analgesia, and epidurals; all of these things are meant to illuminate the value of doulas. These numbers are meant to wow the masses of what it is we can offer to ‘improve’ birth out comes for our clients. It’s well meaning, but it’s time for a healthy dose of perspective.
The Cocherane Review has one of the most recognized studies that speaks to the benefits of doula attended births and provides evidence for these claims (You can see the actual study with accurate facts and figures, here.) This study is an excellent compilation of research that does in fact illuminate the difference a doula can make for a birth, but the way these statistics are being shared in the birth world may be doing more harm than good.
When I share with you the ways in which I may be able to ‘enhance’ your birth by preventing analgesia or epidurals, I’m assuming you want to give birth without medication.
When I tell you that studies show my presence may reduce the length of your labor, I may be setting you up to feel as though your long labor was the result of a broken body or some bad luck.
When I suggest that, with my help, you may be able to avoid a cesarean birth, I’m assuming that this isn’t an ideal option for you, whether by necessity or by choice.
Here’s the thing: there is no golden standard for an ideal birth.These statistics suggest differently. Each of these numbers represents a preference, a personal ideal. Too often there ends up being an unnecessary weight of guilt and disappointment that mothers carry when their birth doesn’t meet expectations either set by someone else’s standard or their own.
Nobody should expect or hope that any of the issues on these lists are important to you– maybe they are, maybe they’re not. Your doulas job isn’t to try to provide you with some statistically ideal birth plan, our job is to offer unconditional support to you through the birth you end up having; through the choices you make and the outcomes beyond your control.
Neither you or I can determine the outcome of your birth. If I take on the burden of trying to measure up to a statistic, I may not only be setting myself up for failure, but I may actually prevent you from birthing the way you want to. Birth doesn’t always stick to the plan; the unpredictability of labor means that you need to be ready to be flexible, to change your mind without apology, to grieve the things you’d hoped for and lost, and then celebrate how incredible you are for bringing life into this world.
So what is relevant here? What’s the point doula support if it comes without the guarantee of the birth you’ve planned for? Studies have shown that a woman’s satisfaction with her birth isn’t a result of interventions, outcomes, or having things go as planned; it largely relies on how she was cared for, heard, and supported, and that is an outcome I can promise to deliver. So here’s a statistic I think is worth sharing: