Giving birth makes many women feel apprehensive, particularly after you listen to all those scary birth stories that mums seem to be compelled to tell you when they know you are pregnant. You often just yearn for a calming influence and for unbiased advice based on knowledge.
There are of course a multitude of books, web pages and magazines to wade your way through. These do provide lots of information and have their place in your pool of knowledge. However, you may want to talk personally to someone who is a professional, who can offer you support and most importantly can tailor that support specifically to you. This is what your midwife or doula should be able to provide.
There are some wonderful midwifes in the NHS. However, in some areas you can't be guaranteed to see the same midwife at each appointment, or at your actual birth. For this reason some women choose to book a private midwife or a doula. A private or independent midwife is a fully qualified midwife who has chosen to work outside the NHS on a self-employed basis. Independent Midwives UK represents the majority of independent midwives in the UK. Their website, www.independentmidwives.org.uk, has lots of useful information for parents-to-be and a search facility to find your nearest independent midwife. The key belief of the association is that women should have continuity of care from a midwife who will support them throughout their pregnancy, birth and the early weeks of motherhood. Your midwife should get to know you and your family during your pregnancy, providing support and advice. By the time the birth comes along you should have a happy and trusting relationship which will make the birth much easier for you.
You may not have known about doulas until you were pregnant but they are the answer to many women's prayers. Doula is a Greek word meaning 'woman servant or caregiver'. Today, it has come to mean a woman who offers emotional and practical support to a woman, before, during and after the birth. Many people understand it as 'mothering the mother'. A doula does not have clinical experience but has a great understanding and knowledge of the needs of a mum-to-be and a new mum. A doula's role will vary from family to family, as they aim to fit in with any given situation. Generally, the doula will meet with the mum or mum and partner at least once before the birth, and will provide continuous support and reassurance during the labour. Many doulas also provide post natal support to the whole family so that they can concentrate on enjoying their new baby rather than worrying about practicalities once they return home. Post natal doulas will also provide emotional and practical support to the new mum, which can be very reassuring particularly if you don't have close family nearby. Not all doulas provide post natal support, whilst others specialise in this area. If you interesting in using a doula take a look at www.doula.org.uk (the non-profit association of doulas) which should provide answers to many of your questions and allows you to search for doulas in your area.