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How to Choose a Doula from the Pool of Local Pros

My daughter was born in 2009 via an emergency C-section that proved very traumatic for me. My husband and I are thinking of adding a fourth member to our little family soon, and if we do, I will be trying for a Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC). I know my chances of a VBAC will be helped by hiring a capable and competent doula to help me, so I plan to start looking for a doula after the first positive pregnancy test. In case you don’t know, the word doula is Greek for “female servant,” but it has come to mean a professional support person who helps mothers before, during, and after giving birth.

I am a doula in training, so I know all about the proven benefits of working with a doula during labor, including increased maternal satisfaction with the labor experience, a reduction in postpartum depression, reduced need for pain medication, and a 60-80% reduction in risk of C-section. Unlike in my hometown in Virginia, where there were only a few practicing doulas, Portland has a tremendous pool of professional doulas. I find myself wondering: When the time comes, how will I ever choose a doula with so many great options?

How to choose a doula

Like I do with all life’s important questions, I started by posing this question to my friends and discovered that many of them, even those who gave birth by C-section, hired doulas for their deliveries.  Your friends are a great starting point in your doula search. Ask around and find out who your friends worked with. Many doulas find clients mostly through word of mouth, so a friend’s recommendation may tell you more than an anonymous online review. Don’t be afraid to tap into your circle of online friends as well.  I’ve seen several pregnant mamas asking for doula recommendations in local online moms groups. It seems like moms who have worked with a great doula are only too happy to share their knowledge.

On a side note, be sure to decide what kind of doula you are looking for early on in your search process; some doulas specialize in pregnancy and birth, while others focus on postpartum support. A full-spectrum doula could potentially work with you all the way from prenatal through postpartum and may even provide extra services like placenta encapsulation and sleep coaching. Knowing what kind of doula you need will help you narrow your search.

If your friends don’t have any suggestions, try contacting a local midwifery school, like Birthingway, or a birthing center such as Alma Midwifery or Andaluz Waterbirth Center to get recommendations.  These organizations may know of student doulas looking for experience, or they may regularly work with certain doulas that they are glad to recommend.  You can also consult doula certification groups like DONA or toLabor, each of which has an online search tool to help you find local doulas who trained with the organization. Another online option is the nationwide search tool Doula Match, which allows you to search doulas in your area according to their availability around your due date.

Local doula associations are another great resource. Doula associations in Portland include the Portland Doula Association and the Oregon Doula Association. FYI, I found out that if you plan to deliver at OHSU, you may be eligible for free doula services. Other area hospitals also have doula programs, so check to see if the hospital where you plan to deliver already has doulas on staff.  Of course, if you want to build a relationship and mutual trust with your doula before your delivery, hiring a doula yourself may be the way to go. Many doulas work on a sliding scale, so if you want a doula, you can probably find one, especially with the help of doula associations and training groups.

Several friends said that it’s a good idea to interview a few doulas to find one with whom you click. Doula associations will sometimes hold “matchmaking” events to give pregnant moms a chance to meet several doulas at once. Pay attention to how you feel in the doula’s presence, how you communicate with the doula, and how your concerns and anxieties are handled.  Your doula will support you through the most physically and emotionally exhausting time of your life. You should choose someone whose personality and views support your vision for your birth.

If you plan to have your partner or another support person in the delivery room, don’t worry that a doula will replace him or her. As a quote from the documentary Doulas: Making a Difference affirms, “My [partner] is my left hand, and my doula is my right.”  If you choose a doula through thoughtful research and careful interviewing, you will ensure that both you and your partner are supported throughout your labor and into postpartum. If possible, include your partner in at least one of your prenatal visits with your doula to be sure that their personalities mesh, and iron out any potential issues long before you reach 10 centimeters.

Keep in mind that your doula’s job is to give you the comfort, support, and knowledge you need to face your first moments of motherhood feeling empowered and heard. Whatever your birth plan, you should choose a doula who respects your wishes and helps you advocate for what you and your partner want.

So many things about giving birth are out of your control, but one thing you can choose is your support team.  Hopefully, these suggestions will help you choose wisely.  I’d love to know how these pointers work and what else worked for you in your doula search, so please let me know how it goes!

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