In Iowa City’s PLOTWAD* circles, we have one, universally recognized, mega-doula. The queen of all the other doulas**. She has her own Web site. She headlines all the consciousness birth summits. She has been practicing for years and, I swear, makes you feel calmer just by looking at you. Plus, she knows all the staff in the birthing ward in the hospital, all the birthing pain-relief positions, all the possible things that could go wrong and how to try to prevent them or at least manage them in a “natural way,” if that is your shtick.
If birthing were Congress, she would be the highest paid lobbyist.
When you meet other women around here who have had babies or are going to have babies, there is often a point in which someone will mention either having had a doula or not. Iowa City has it’s own doula club, after all, which is–surprise, surprise–run by the Queen. It’s not uncommon to hear a doula referred to as a “birthing advocate.” We are, in other words, very doula-friendly.
When talking with other PLOTWADs about doulas, there is always one who will mention that she had the Queen as her doula. This is kind of like driving a Rolls Royce. Though the hybrid, fuel-efficient variety. As graduate students, we can’t afford a hybrid Rolls Royce. So, at our midwife’s suggestion, we wrote to the Queen and asked her if she knew of any discount doulas.
Or, rather, we told her that our midwife had told us that there are sometimes doulas-in-training who are willing to offer their services at a slightly cheaper rate. These are women who have only gone through a couple births. Women who might not yet be doula certified. Women who we began to refer to as discount doulas, though never to the discount doula’s face. Because that would be crass.
The Queen wrote us back with a list of names and we called one of them. She had a nice description of herself on the Iowa City Doula’s web site and she seemed sweet enough. She came out to the house in November to meet us. She sat on our couch barefoot and explained her services, and herself. She lives on a farm outside Iowa City and has two kids. Her sister is also a doula. She is really young, but also very eager. We hired her. At a discounted price.***
This past Friday, she came to the house for our first official consultation. She brought oatmeal cranberry white-chocolate cookies. We made tea and looked at her drawings of the baby in different positions in the uterus and at a graph of how the cervix expands. We asked, what the hell are birthing plans? She explained. She asked Marta what helps her relax, does she like massage, like music, soft lights?
Marta said: “I need someone to tell me what to do.”
Our doula nodded and scribbled this down on her notepad. I ached for her.
She is a very sweet, soft-spoken, and calm individual. Marta is, well, kind of the opposite. Ok, she is exceedingly sweet in her own, brash, way. That’s what I love about Marta: she is unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. But, man, am I glad it’s our doula’s job and not mine to try to boss Marta around while she’s in the worst pain of her life.
That is when I realized what a joy it will be to have a doula. Our doula explained that she can even handle over-anxious grandparents-to-be, by calling them with updates if Marta and I are too overwhelmed to do so. She gave us a book filled with pain-relief positions we can try in the hospital (I believe these are officially called “birth movements”) one of which is the swing dancing move. I’ve already made Marta try this with me in the kitchen.
In other words, our doula really did begin to seem like an advocate. And ever since, it’s been hard to call her our discount doula.
Sentimentality puts a real damper on irony.
**Definition: Doulas are birthing experts who use their knowledge of the hospital and the body to give you the birth you want, which for some is a “natural” birth and for others (ahem, Marta) is just a less scary birth.
*** If you must know: we are paying $200; a regular-price doula around here costs between $600 – $800