I often say about myself, “You can take the girl out of Connecticut, but you can’t take Connecticut out of the girl.” Despite living on the West Coast most of my adult life—first in San Francisco and now in Portland, Ore.—I still smack of East Coast Establishment. I own monogrammed hand towels; I reply to RSVPs; and I needlepoint. Yet lately, I have surrounded myself with doulas.
Despite their medically proven benefits, such as shorter, less painful labors and fewer Cesarean sections, there’s still a patchouli-and-chimes aura surrounding doulas. (If you do a search on the Internet, you might end up at a site like www.goddessmoon.org.) My first encounter with one took place when I was six months pregnant with my daughter Phoebe, now 3. Her name was Oceania (cue the Enya CD, light the sage smudge), and I went to her for a prenatal massage. My make-pleasant-but-not-controversial-conversation upbringing kicked in. “Hey, I just learned that Oceania is the name for the subcontinent that incorporates Australia and New Zealand!” I said, trying to keep my WASPy face from registering that I didn’t think a geographic term was a legitimate name.
My second doula was different. Soon after my Oceania journey, I met Michelle (a legit, albeit Beatles-inspired, name) on a photo shoot for a workout article I had written. Michelle was the model, and we immediately hit it off. She wore crisp DKNY perfume instead of patchouli and believed crystals were strictly for chandeliers. Not once had I considered hiring a birth doula, but at my next prenatal visit, the midwife at my OB-GYN’s office suggested I do so because I had a low-lying placenta. She explained that if something went wrong after the delivery, my husband could remain with the baby while the doula stayed by my side.
Bingo: In my eighth month, I hired Michelle—and she proved invaluable. Michelle turned out to be a very intuitive person, but not in a “seeing with your third eye” way. During my labor and delivery, it was as if she was inside my head, encouraging me with allusions to running up steep hills—something I could actually relate to. No chanting, no chimes.
A couple of years later, pregnant with twins, I hired Deana, a postpartum doula, for thrice-weekly night duty. Like Michelle, Deana didn’t give off a crunchy-granola vibe, and like me, she’s a runner. Asics, not Earth Shoes—that’s my style. (I also lined up another doula, a certified lactation consultant, in case I needed help tandem nursing; luckily, I didn’t.)