A little help in the delivery room

A little help in the delivery room

Being pregnant in the Netherlands is not like being pregnant in the UK. Aside from the language, the culture around childbirth is different. The Netherlands prides itself on home births and natural births. For an expat, away from her mother and best friends, a helping hand and a friendly face is a welcome addition to the delivery room. That is why I opted for a doula the second time around.

Opting for a doula

At 6.15am, an hour and a half after I had felt the first contraction, the doorbell rang. My in-laws were already perched on the sofa in anticipation of what the day would bring, ready to entertain my eldest son as soon as he woke. I opened the door and my doula, Malua, was poised on the doorstep. It was the moment we had spent months preparing for. She took control as another contraction worked its way to a crescendo.

"Breathe," she said, "like we have practiced." I relaxed and the contraction passed. Gathering up my suitcase and yoga ball we set off on the short drive to the local hospital.

I first met Malua in 2006 when I was pregnant with our first son. She was the course leader of a pre-natal class called Samen Bevallen (Giving Birth Together) and was then training to be a doula. She offered her services for free back then, as part of her training and after umming and arring we had decided not to take her up on the offer figuring an extra person in the delivery room would be excess. How wrong we were and this pregnancy around she was top of the list of calls to make.

Our first meeting was one of reflection about the labour and birth of our first son. The birth was not a particularly pleasant experience - until the moment he arrived. We wanted to make sure the experience the second time around was a different one, one we could look back on with a beaming smile. We talked about what had happened and what we wanted for this birth. It was an emotional discussion, and one that closed a door on the mishaps of the first birth and set the stage to see the second birth as a new and separate event.

"So how do you see my role during the birth?" our not-yet-hired doula asked.

"Like a lighthouse in rough seas," answered my husband.

She smiled. She explained what her role as a doula entailed and what we could expect from her. She said we could have some time to think about it all and give her a call when we had decided. 

My husband and I exchanged a glance and a nod and before she could escape we confirmed we wanted her as our doula.

We met every month in our home to talk about the pregnancy, any developments with the midwife, hospital visits and how we felt about the impending birth. In the early months Malua advised us to revisit the first birth and write a birth plan to capture what we did want, rather than focussing on the elements of the first birth that we wanted no repeat of. She gave us tips about what to consider, how to word the plan to help make hospital staff aware of the earlier experience and help make this birth positively memorable.

Malua reinforced the importance of relaxation and rest - an easy thing to forget with a busy three year-old in the house. She gave me a pregnancy massage. She practiced breathing techniques with us and revisited labour and birthing positions. She had spent months emotionally and practically preparing us for the moment we now found ourselves in-puffing contractions away in a delivery room, full of excitement, eager to meet our new arrival.

Instead of a sense of dread about labour and the birth, my husband and I were in good spirits because of Malua's presence. The good humour was in abundance in the delivery room as we laughed about the broom cupboard we had been provided with to give birth in (there was a spate of births that day and the main delivery rooms were already occupied with puffing, grunting women) and the lack of pace and energy of the two builders working in the spring sunshine outside directly in front of our delivery room.

Our backs were covered by our doula; we could relax and enjoy the moments between contractions because we knew we had an expert on hand who would take the lead when we needed her to.

Three hours after contractions started the midwife confirmed I was two centimetres dilated. A further three hours passed and she confirmed that I was still two centimetres dilated. She returned two hours later, at one o’clock to bring the bad news that despite hours of strong contractions I was still two centimetres dilated. I deflated. It was the first birth repeating itself.

When I needed an emotional boost, in stepped Malua. At the time my husband needed a lift Malua took charge. She explained our options as the midwife was consulting with the hospital staff and she gave us a pep talk.

An hour later, with renewed focus, fresh motivation and an oxytocin infuse we were ready to continue. Malua led us in the arduous march to the finish line at twenty to four when our son was born, healthy with all his fingers and toes.

Our doula certainly lived up to the request to be a lighthouse in rough seas.

For more information about doulas in the Netherlands visit

Amanda van Mulligen


Amanda van Mulligen

I am an expat writer and a mother finding my way through life in the Netherlands as well as motherhood. I specialise in writing articles about expatriate issues, particularly women. I...

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