Women need women. When embarking on this ancient pilgrimage different women will help in different ways, fulfil various needs, all without your conscious knowledge.
1) Your Childless Friend
She has known you a long time, knows who you used to be and has watched you evolve. She will likely be your friend in some way forever even when she has no idea what it's like to be pregnant or be a mother. But she is watching you, taking notes - be careful what she writes down. My favourite part about her is that she will ask you questions that you will be able to answer and this will make you more confident. She will make you aware of your wisdom and knowledge.
2) Sister or Sister in Law
I don't have a sister but I have heard the bond is wonderful and sacred. I do, however, have four sisters-in-law. Two of them have experienced childbirth and two have not. We are tied through love and marriage and we will be aunties to one another's precious babes. We have rivalries. We have fights. We have an unspoken responsibility to care for each other without judgement or reservation. That is the fundamental purpose of a sisterhood. Nurture it.
3) Care Provider
This one is critical. Although male doctors are typically talented and dedicated people, they are far from qualified to care for a pregnant woman and walk beside her in labour and delivery. Childbirth is for women, by women, with women. I switched care providers twice during my pregnancy. I love my family doctor but he just didn't get it, it just wasn't right. I was referred to an OB but I needed a midwife and none were available. My OB was soft and gentle and my appointment was always an hour late. I felt loved by her and safe in her presence. She was noticeably upset when I broke up with her because I finally had a midwife. My midwife gave me the best health care I have ever received. She took the time to get to know my heart and soul. She was hugely invested in my birth plan. She enabled and empowered me. Your care provider should love you, be connected to you, and be completely on board with everything you want after providing you every drop of information. Ask to see information, ask about their protocol, ask for evidence, make sure your plan is safe and reasonable but most of all make sure it is true to your heart. Make sure your care provider will cradle and protect your heart, soul, and trust.
If you can't decide whether or not you need a doula let me make it simple: you need a doula. She doesn't take anybody's place. She is your sister, your friend, your mother, and your worst enemy when she reminds you of your most important wishes when all you want is that bleeping epidural. Your doula sacrifices her family for the well-being of your own. She is experienced in childbirth and knows how to take your hand and walk with you down a path that can be tangled with fear and apprehension. She can show you the beauty of all the things your body is doing and help you find the ancient wisdom inside of every woman.
5) Mother and Mother in Law
I put these two together because at the end of the day they want the same thing for their baby's baby. Wellness. Health. Happiness.
Sometimes they have a different way of telling you that all they want is good things. Well wishes can come veiled as insults or advice you didn't need or want. Let me translate: when either of these women say "Homebirth is dangerous and you need to have your first baby in the hospital." What they mean is "I want every lifesaving tool readily available for my grandbaby because if anything were to happen I could not stand the pain." When they say, "Your baby needs to sleep in its own room!" What they really mean is "I want your baby to grow into a strong independent person and my personal opinion is that this is an important step in achieving that."
Do you see where I am going? They only want the best. You have to be gracious. You don't need to argue. You don't need to hurl statistics about the safety of homebirth or how social sleeping is, in fact, a better environment for children to learn independence. You can argue if you want. It is more rewarding to silently accept what they have said, do what feels right in your heart, and let them see the beautiful results later.
On the contrary, your baby may be screaming at 3AM and you remember an infuriating conversation from earlier that you roughly translated to "You are a poopy mom." Sometimes (lots of the time) their tried and true tricks of the trade plain and simply work. She raised you and you seem okay, right? And your partner? You seem quite fond of your baby daddy. Listen to her, consult your heart, do what feels right?
6) A Well Meaning Stranger
When a well-meaning stranger offers any sort of sentiment on pregnancy, childbirth, or childrearing you have a few options. If it was flattering, graciously accept the compliment. Chances are it wasn't flattering, maybe it was supposed to be, but it certainly was not. Here is where you practice being a gentle and understanding parent. You can scream and throw your hands in the air or you can take a deep breath, turn around and walk away - hopefully you never have to see them again. It is not your responsibility to educate or enlighten them, save your breath to help your child be as wonderfully tolerant as you are.
Yes, you. You rock. You know what you need. You know what your baby needs. No doctor, nurse, author, or anybody else knows any better than you. Trust your wisdom. Gather information and keep what fits your life, you can throw the rest away. Remember how your mom knew how to fix everything all the time? So do you. You hang the moon. You make the sun come up. You are the whole world. That's a big responsibility so remember to take care of yourself. Call on any of the aforementioned women above (well, not the stranger) when you need help - whether it is for someone to paint your toes, calm a screaming baby, remind you of the simpler times, or just to sit and talk - they have been or will be there someday and there is no shame in needing help. You are strong, powerful, you are wise. Surround yourself with inspirational women and you will thrive.