Your Mom is NOT Your Doula

By David J Laporte

I have been thinking about this post for a long time.I’m not sure if I should write it even now. Talking to women in my birth classes, many plan on having their mother present at their births- or even their mother-in-law. (Do you even need to ask what I think of this?!)

Question is, is this a good idea?
Answer is, it probably depends on a lot of factors. But the truth is, I don’t feel that many people want to honestly answer these questions for fear of offending people. Nor are many willing to re-evaluate this choice in the middle of labor.

Some things you might want to remember:

1. Your mother is not your doula.
No matter how experienced your mom is or isn’t with natural birth, if she isn’t a professional doula or midwife, she does not have all the skills that might be needed to help you in labor. A skilled doula can literally work miracles when it comes to emotional support or position changes for mom and baby.

You may feel that you only want people at your birth who know you and changed your diaper at some point, but that isn’t really a skill set that necessarily translates well in labor. A well chosen midwife or doula who knows what the Gaskin maneuver is or can skillfully apply a double hip squeeze or wrap a rebozo or who knows what the word “uterine catheter” refers to, is priceless. 


2. Your mother has a huge emotional investment in your birth AND your pain.
Let’s say for a moment that your mom is wonderful and you want her at your birth. Let’s say that she is also really experienced in natural birth and is excited for you to have one. This is fabulous!

This doesn’t mean she will feel that way at the birth!

Sometimes the noises and things that a woman does in labor aren’t fun for a loved one to watch. I encourage classes for the significant other for this reason: if dad doesn’t know what to expect, it can be frightening when she is vomiting and is sure she is going to die.

If dad has a great birth class then I think he can hang. But your mom, the woman who changed your diaper and fixed your booboos, she might have a harder time watching you “suffer.” (Hopefully a supported woman in labor doesn’t ever suffer, but it might look that way to a person who wants to “save” you.)

I know that for many people the idea of hiring a “stranger” as a doula sounds crazy. Thing is, sometimes the emotional distance provided by a “stranger” is a good thing, not a negative.

As a mother I certainly want to save my kids from unnecessary pain. If you are planning a natural birth and your mom feels like an epidural or a c-section will save you from suffering, how do you think that will impact your birth?

Be honest. This is an important question.

3. You might change your mind in labor about who you want there.
This goes for lots of people involved in your birth, but especially for family. While your bestfriend/mom/dad/relative/etc might sound like somebody you “need” there when you are pregnant, in labor they might throw off a very negative vibe and maybe you will want them to leave.

It is OK to change your mind and have them leave. (Mom should not have to do the dirty work.) The thing with family is, there is often some serious emotional blowback when you ask them to leave an event as momentous as your birth.

Can they handle this? Can you? For the rest of your life?
I know that this is a hard subject. I won’t even share my experiences and fun stories with it. There are too many. But don’t think that the people at your birth won’t impact it for the better or worse. Every person there will take a side- either supporting you or hindering you. There is no middle ground in birth. Do you know where your loved ones stand? Can you speak to them truthfully?

Mother-in-law jokes aside (you know those are my favorite kind)- I have heard birth stories where the family in attendance seriously stalled things out and resulted in interventions because of the emotional impact they had on the environment.

Food for thought.


Jennifer said…
Thank you for this! I SO wish I would have had this information (among a million other things) prior to the birth of my first (and sadly, second). This couldn't have been more true. And it's hard now for me not to place some blame on my mom (warranted or not) for my first birth being an absolutely horrible experience topped off by an unwanted unplanned cesarean... I am envious of anyone who is able have a different experience.
Anonymous said…
Last days, a friend asked us if my mother will be at the birth of my baby, and fortunately my mother don't want to be! because I don't want her with me at this moment too...

Now, I have more reasons
Joy@WDDCH said…
To add to the list - this isn't a show. The mom shouldn't have to worry that her loved ones are taking care of themselves or distracting her, etc.

If I could redo my births I'd have had them ALL at home, with a doula. I've never had a doula and I sure could have used one in each birth, especially the last one where I WAS at home, with a baby coming out a little wonky (seriously the worse pain - there was no "transition la la land" for me in that birth!).

Midwife team was wonderful but they don't fulfill the same role that a doula fills. Mommas need to keep that in mind as well.
Unknown said…
I have completed a doula class and am currently completing my requirements for doula certification so I am definitely a fan of doulas. However I have not had a doula at either of my births. Instead I had my hubby, (oldest of 8 kids 5 of whom were born at home and a trained medical professional so definitely comfortable with natural birth) my mom, (who fought the system and had 5 all natural hospital births and breastfed when it was a dying art) my midwife and assistant, (who I formed a close bond with) and last but not least the dreaded mother - in - law (who had 6 natural births 5 at home 1 unassisted and is not at all the typical mother-in-law we have a close relationship and she has been like a second mom to me since before my hubby and I even got together). With a birth team like that I really felt no need for a doula. My husband was very hands on and seemed to know exactly what to do to help relieve pressure and my mom's both had excellent advice on position changes and gave hubby tips on comfort measures. They were not midwives or certified doulas but had just had so much combined experience in their own births and others they had attended not to mention research they had done that a doula was unnecessary. So I would have to both agree and disagree with your post. My mom's and hubby were very much my doulas but not everyone is as blessed as I am so I would have to say it on a case by case basis instead of a one size fits all statement. Both of my labors were 5 hours one flipped breech while I was in labor and I had a natural breech birth no tearing or trauma with either one and with the comfort measures my mom's and hubby used pain was extremely manageable.