I was in the hospital, almost ready to deliver my third baby. I asked for my cell phone to text my husband: “getting ready to push!” My husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and a messaging app was my only connection to him that day. A woman handed me the phone, then took it back to prepare to take photos of our newborn baby. She held my hand when the time came, and coached me through the delivery. A few weeks earlier, I might have referred to her as a stranger. But that night, she was my hero. She was a doula.
When I gave birth to my first two babies, I had never heard of a doula. When I later heard friends use the term, all I knew is that a doula had something to do with people who wanted to give natural, medicine-free births. Since I was totally okay with the epidurals I received, I didn’t think that I would ever require a doula’s services.
All that changed when I was pregnant with our third baby. From the time I learned I was pregnant, we knew that my husband would be deployed overseas for the birth. Contrary to the belief of some well-meaning family and friends, no—the military does not let husbands return from combat deployments for their baby’s birth. Sometimes there are opportunities for Skype or phone calls, but that all depends on where the unit is stationed and what communication options are available. In Afghanistan in 2011, his options were very limited.
The thought of giving birth without my husband was terrifying. Even though my first two babies were delivered with no major complications, there had been plenty of pain and tears. My husband’s presence and reassurance kept me calm when my body started to panic. When I thought about going through all that without him, I would sometimes cry and shake with fear.
I needed someone to hold my hand and keep me sane. Of course, my mom offered to be with me, but I needed her to stay with my other young children while I went to the hospital. That’s when I researched doulas. I learned of a project called Operation Special Delivery where professional doulas offer their services at a discount to military wives whose husbands are deployed. It was the perfect solution. During my pregnancy, I met twice with my doula to get to know her and discuss a birth plan. She was comfortable with everything I told her about my prior births, and didn’t push me to go more natural than I wanted. Meeting her put me at ease and helped me feel confident about delivering my baby. In the end, I was relieved to have a doula, because without her I may not have made it to the hospital at all. (In 2011, this service was free for enlisted wives. There is now a fee.)
Here is everything my doula did for me:
- When my contractions started, she was right there. She helped me time my contractions, advised me when to rest or eat, and helped me decide when it was time to go to the hospital.
- Drove me to the hospital. Our arrangement included her being my ride to the hospital. My mom remained at my house with my older kids. I was in pain with the contractions, and it would not have been safe for me to drive myself. She kept me calm during the trip.
- Helped me get admitted. Originally, the maternity ward wanted to turn me away, saying I was not in “enough labor” to be admitted that night. To me, the news was devastating. I had been experiencing contractions for several days, enough to prevent me from sleeping well. I was exhausted and felt defeated. However, my doula knew me and she talked to the medical staff and explained why she thought being admitted may be a good option. Shortly thereafter, I got a bed (and an epidural)!
- She kept me calm and focused. During the entire labor process, my heartrate was a little unsteady. Consequently, the baby’s heart rate was constantly observed. The doula helped me relax by distracting me with stories or helping me think about my husband during the painful contractions. I later learned that there is science behind this. Thinking of a “happy place” or meditating on a loved one can literally slow your heart rate. Whenever she saw mine rising on the monitor, she calmly and authoritatively helped me slow it down. This may have prevented me needing a c-section, which the doctors kept discussing.
- She kept me connected to my husband. She was responsible for my phone, which was my only link to my husband. She kept it charged, handed it to me when I asked, and took the first pictures of our newborn baby while I was still getting cleaned up. The nurses shook their heads when I was texting during contractions, but the doula was by my side and knew how important this connection with my husband was.
- She held my hand (and my leg!) I ended up delivering the baby while laying on my side, since he was turned sideways. Because of the epidural, my legs were completely numb and unable to move. She helped me hold them in the correct position so that the baby could be delivered quickly.
In the end, I am so glad I had a doula with me that night. She was more helpful than a friend, more calming than a mother, and almost as good as a husband. When I described it all to my husband later, he said, “Oh, so basically she does my job!” It you are ever faced with the challenge of delivering a baby while your husband is deployed, I encourage you to talk to a doula and learn all that they can do for you.
By: Lizann Lightfoot
Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and of the Seasoned Spouse blog.
Find military encouragement on her Facebook page.
Find inspiration for care packages, deployments, and more on her Pinterest page.