Home > Doula, Homebirth, Unassisted birth, Unassisted childbirth > Doulas and Unassisted Births

Doulas and Unassisted Births

Having an unassisted birth can be a hard journey to take for many women. Often, if you discuss your plans with family and friends, you are bombarded by arguments trying to sway you into having an attended birth, talks of “what if”, or they may choose to avoid any contact with you for the duration of your pregnancy. There are very intense feelings regarding unassisted birth, and many do not want to listen to why you are going unassisted, and definitely do not want to support it in any way. “What if the baby dies?!”

Women who choose to have a UC sometimes want to have an extra support person there, just as they would want one there for an attended birth, but they are afraid to ask around. Most doulas do not feel comfortable serving women who are going unassisted. Some doulas do not believe that women should be able to have unassisted births at all. That, to me, is a sad thing to see in a community of birth workers who support women, yet deny and criticize those who choose a different way. We should giving unassisted birthers respect, just as we give respect to all other women who are giving birth. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to say that you support women, yet only if they do it “the right way”? If you feel uncomfortable with someone else’s birth choices, you can still give them the respect that they deserve as a person.

How can a doula serve a women at an unassisted birth?

A doula can provide all the services she normally provides at any other birth. She can be there to offer support for you, a possibly nervous partner, and siblings. She can prepare food, help set up your birth space, and just be there, present and calm. She will understand when you want to be alone, especially during the birth. Having a doula at your UC means having someone there who truly believes in you and your decision, and is there to help you have the birth you want. Having that trust and relationship with another person can be a great thing at a UC, when often you are left alone to fend for yourself.

After birth, she can help clean up, make sure every one has what they need and help with settling in. She can be a person to look to for resources, advice and postpartum support. Having a doula on your side can ease the worries about not having anyone to turn to postpartum, because you are afraid of what they will think of your decisions. Women should not have to be afraid after their births, because they have no outside support.

Is it still unassisted?

Sure, you can talk semantics about what unassisted birth really is (some will even say that having your partner there means you did not really have a UC), but in the end, almost any UCer I have met online or in person is not really worried about having a UC just to say she had one. Personally, as a doula and someone that has had an unassisted birth, I believe that if a doula is there to serve you and your family at your UC, then yes, you can still say you had an unassisted birth. A doula is not providing any medical care. She is there as a support person, just as she would be at any other birth. A doula does not hold any responsibility for the outcome of your birth, you and your family do.

  1. Laura Pelofske
    July 6, 2010 at 12:51 am

    When Lisa told me she knew a doula who had a UC, my heart leaped! When I met you and immediately got along with you and had confirmation you would be there, a weight lifted off my shoulders! Choosing a doula for a UC was a great decision that allowed me to not to worry about my family while birthing.

    Another reason why I personally chose to have a doula at my UC was that my husband, while supportive, wouldn’t really know how to handle a transfer situation. Having a doula who was on the same page as me birth-choice-wise made me confident that if I did transfer to a hospital, I would have a confident, informed support between me and whatever type of people happened to be working the hospital at the time. The choice was more about having environmental support than birth support. As it turned out, you were on back massage duty, and more directly involved than I had anticipated!

  2. July 6, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    That’s a great point that I left out, Laura, about transferring!

    Your birth was amazing, and I’m so lucky that I was able to serve you and your family.

    Thanks for leaving your feedback. I really appreciate hearing it from a UCer who has also had a doula.

  3. July 6, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Im a doula and I support UC. Attending my first UC in August. I’m totally sharing this over at alldoulas.com. Alldoulas.com is full of very conservative doulas, it’s sickening actually.

    • July 6, 2010 at 5:49 pm

      Sure thing!

      UCs are so great to be apart of! Glad to see other doulas supporting women who are birthing outside of the norm.

    • July 20, 2010 at 2:47 am

      I will be attending a UC at the end of August. I would have to agree that alldoulas.com is full of very conservative doulas. Not to mention,the site is suppose to “provide support and learning experience” from doula to doula. I have posted and been outright ridiculed,actively made fun of,and degraded by most of the doulas that reply to my posts. I have seen some of the most disrespectful comments come from the doulas on that site. I asked them to cancel my membership,because I want nothing to do with a site like that.

      • July 20, 2010 at 6:15 pm

        I have also seen many comments there that put a bad taste in my mouth. I was wondering for awhile if I was one of the only ‘radical’ doulas hanging around there.

  4. July 6, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    This is how the midwifery movement began in North America in the 1970s. Friends helping friends out and learning as they went along. It actually dates back to the early settlers. Every woman was a doula, every woman was a midwife, every woman would give birth herself and help out her neighbours as best she could. There will be a real change in the terrible cesarean statistics when enough doulas start taking their territory as birth attendants and enough nurses start screaming about what they see every day in the hospital. I’m counting on these two groups to transform birth. Gloria Lemay, Vancouver BC Canada

    • July 7, 2010 at 12:17 am

      More women need to speak up and stand up, that is for sure, Gloria. Thanks for your comment! I completely admire all the work you do.

    • Dewi, another doula ...
      July 8, 2010 at 11:58 pm

      Read the history.
      It was not like that.
      Women who were functioning as the “lay midwife” were also frequently arrested and had to raise alot if money to defend themselves in court for practicing midwifery without a license. It still does happen in the USA.

      Women need to work to make it better in your community, you need to scream and fight for better care, don’t slink off into the night with a doula.
      That changes nothing!
      Kick and scream to make it better for yourself and women coming up behind you and get the laws changed if they suck so much you are left with no good choices in your community. And you resort to birthing UC and thinking that doulas should be with you.

      Hiring a doula is an act of confrontation or creating real change in our shitty system of how women are treated when giving birth.

      • Dewi, another doula ...
        July 8, 2010 at 11:59 pm

        This should read:

        Hiring a doula is NOT an act of confrontation or creating real change in our shitty system of how women are treated when giving birth.

  5. donna
    July 6, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Thanks for writing this! UCing mothers should be supported.

    • July 7, 2010 at 12:11 am

      You’re welcome!

      Yes, they definitely should.

  6. July 6, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Thank you for writing this. A friend of mine shared it on facebook. I really appreciate your perspective as both a UCer and a doula. 🙂

    • July 7, 2010 at 12:16 am

      That’s great to hear, Cindy! This topic is hardly discussed, and so sometimes I feel like I am quite alone with my opinions.

  7. July 8, 2010 at 2:22 am

    I’m thinking a “comment” might make a great blog piece.

    And, fwiw, I’m a midwife who UC’d (I wasn’t a midwife then) -and regret it.

    Let’s see if I can formulate some sort of cogent response. 🙂

    • July 8, 2010 at 3:24 am

      Barbara — I’ll be looking forward to your post! I follow your blog and have commented a couple of times here and there. I appreciate all discussion on this, and I think your posts on the subject of UC get a lot of people thinking.

  8. July 8, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    I shared it over at Alldoulas.com

    Here is the link…..

  9. Dewi, another doula ...
    July 8, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Doulas would be smart to know their state midwifery laws.

    I support UC, but Not in the role of me being your hired doula.
    I have zero interest in taking on the liability for a stranger where I can be charged with practicing midwifery without a license. That is how it’s viewed in my state when you are hired to be at a homebirth and the only paid person is the so called “doula”. Clients can not have you sign away waivers to laws.

  10. sara
    July 14, 2010 at 1:56 am

    I attended an unassisted birth as a doula, and afterward was screamed at by a local midwife for about an hour. I performed no medical tasks and was truly in the scope of practice for a doula, but she didn’t care. She accused me of harming the cause of midwifery. Very scary and controlling. She was extremely threatened by the whole thing. She had actually been interviewed by my client as a potential midwife, and was told she couldn’t have the birth she wanted-minimal intervention, no to limited cervical checks, etc.

    • July 14, 2010 at 2:00 am

      Sara – I’m so sorry that happened to you. I can’t imagine a midwife yelling at me like that 😦

      Sounds like your client made the right choice in choosing not to have that midwife serve her.

  11. Brittany
    July 14, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    I’m having a hard time accepting how having a doula at a birth would still be considered “unassisted”. And I guess I’m having an even harder time understanding why anyone would be so adamant about having an unassisted birth. I completely agree that our whole country is out of whack with our overmedicated, hospitalized rituals of birth (in fact, it infuriates me), but why would anyone be put off by having a midwife or doula present at their birth? Just looking for some clarification.

    • July 17, 2010 at 9:53 pm

      Brittany – well, for some, they would not consider it a UC. There are different thoughts about what a UC is, and that it’s only unassisted if you are completely by yourself. If a doula was there, in my opinion, it would still be unassisted, as long as she wasn’t acting as a midwife.

      There are many reasons women choose to go unassisted. For some, they feel they have no health care providers that they can trust. Others want a homebirth, but are unable to receive care from any midwives close by because of certain issues (post dates, for example). For others, homebirth is illegal, so they can only birth on their own at home, or with an underground midwife. Still, there are many who simply want to have a private birth without the interference of an outside person. Some are sensitive to being watched, or don’t want the stress of a midwife. There are many, many reasons. Laura Shanley wrote this short article about why some women choose UC: http://www.unassistedchildbirth.com/uc/whyuc.html

      It’s a very personal choice, and one that takes some consideration usually. I UC’d with my second child, and it was wonderful for us. If I had another child, I may or may not have another UC, depending on how I felt, and for various health reasons. But that birth I really needed to UC and felt that it was right for our family.

      Hope that helps!

  12. July 18, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I am a doula and very recently attended my first birth. It was an unassisted birth of a very good friend of mine. She was having her second child and had received prenatal throughout her pregnancy. Her birth was beautiful, powerful and perfect for her and her family.

    I think its important to interview with any client you might decide to take on to find out if you match well with each other. I think all doulas would agree to that. And this would be especially important to me if I were to ever take on another UC client (although my previous experience was not doula/client so much as doula/friend). Many women choose to birth w/o a midwife or doula but they should not be discredited just for their choice to UC. Similarly I would not discredit any woman’s birth choices even if they were something I would not choose for myself. If I felt uncomfortable with a choice a potential client was making I would use that as a place to start a conversation. And possibly find the potential client a doula that would feel comfortable with her choice(s).

    When are we going to stop judging women and start supporting them in whatever way we can? That does not mean taking on every women who asks for your services but that does mean respecting everyone’s right to govern their own body.

    • July 19, 2010 at 12:51 am

      Thank you, Jennifer! I feel the exact same way.

  13. August 29, 2010 at 2:19 am

    I’m so glad I found this post and conversation! I was recently contacted by a mom who wants to have a UC. She actually contacted me about it last year, but just wanted information about natural birth in general and was not interested in hiring a doula at that time. She attempted UC last August or September and ended up transferring for stalled labor at 7 cm and antsy husband. She had two other children at the time and ended up laboring ALONE in the hospital because her husband went home to be with the kids. This time it seems like she preparing much more in advance and her husband is a little more on board. She is now interested in hiring me as a doula to help her husband and in the case of transfer. I would love to help this mom. However, I live in Alabama where midwives risk prosecution for attending births at home. My contract very specifically states that I do not perform medical tasks. If something were to go wrong, do you think this would be enough protection for me? Has anyone else been in this situation? Should I draw up some sort of release forms? ANY thoughts/advice will be SO much appreciated! Great to see a group of doulas focused on making sure moms have what they want and need during their births. That’s what we’re here for!

    • August 29, 2010 at 2:46 am

      Personally, I would attend, and also create a separate contract for a UC release form between you both. I know many many doulas would not consider working with a client at a UC in a state where it is illegal for midwives, but I would do it. Again, that’s me, though. If you feel strongly to support her, then look more into how you can work alongside her and protect yourself from any possible problems. Are there any doulas you can speak with in your area? Midwives? Are you familiar with mothering.com/discussions? There’s a sub-forum there for doulas and midwives, and that may lead to some good info for you.

      I agree! Glad to see there are other doulas out there looking to support all mothers. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at: nicole.m.murray@gmail.com


  14. December 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Like Barb, I am a midwife who had 2 unassisted births. The first UC, my 4th baby, was amazing. 2 hours of labor, daddy caught his only son. (Insert mood music and angelic pictures). My second UC, 5th baby, was not so ideal. She was a big baby at 10# and I really wish I had had my assistant who is a doula with me. Labor was still short at 6 hours, but for me that was much longer than I had anticipated it would be. I parked my butt in the birth pool and sat there for 5 hours! Never got up to the bathroom, never moved around, just sat. Labor brain at its best….lol. My baby came out as soon as I remembered to move and stood up to get out of the pool. She’s fine and we had no real trouble. Wonder how many hours I would have shaved off my labor by moving a bit?

    DONA frowns on being a doula at unassisted births. My personal opinion is that as long as you can stay within the scope of practice, you’re fine. I attended a couple UC’s as a doula. We were all very clear that I had no medical training and as such had no ability to be responsible for the health of mother or baby. Things went fine. At one of them I actually ended up fixing lunch for the older kids while mom labored and just barely was back in the room to witness the birth. Awesome. I agree with Jennifer, too, that it comes down to knowing the family and feeling close enough to work well with the situation. Definitely not a place for fear on the part of the doula.

    Great discussion going on here!

  15. T. Kalous
    January 1, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Most UCers that I know UC because they trust in birth. They know that birth is inherently safe and that interference is risky and they prefer not to fight with an OB or midwife who is either not as trusting of birth or who is trying to protect their license instead of serving the woman and her family. Birth doesn’t need to be managed, just observed. A truly trained and birth-respecting practitioner would know which signs to WATCH for that indicate a potential problem instead of believing that interference in the normal birth process is superior than woman’s divine design to give birth. As a doula and a student midwife, I would hope that we can inspire women everywhere to birth on whatever terms they feel most safe and secure. I believe we need to educate women so they believe in their bodies’ ability to give birth. Afterall, that is what they are designed to do 🙂

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