For those of you who have given birth or been around birth, you just know. There’s a moment in the birth process when the woman feels like she has reached the end of her strength, patience, and energy, and she needs some new ideas to cope. She needs that person looking her straight in the eyes and saying, “You can do this! You’re powerful! You’re strong! Your body is capable, and I believe in you.” This can come from her partner, maybe her mother, sister, friend, or care provider, or doula.
A doula can be one player on her team of people to help prepare for and attend her birth. Maybe you’ve heard someone refer to a doula, or maybe even thought about hiring one to assist in your birth, or perhaps even entertained the idea of becoming one. So, what exactly is a doula?
Well, I’m a doula, and I want to distill the information, myths, and stories all over the Internet or told by a friend of a friend that knew a friend that… Essentially, I’d like to help you reach an understanding of the doula’s role and the valuable asset that one can be during the birth process.
Doulas have been around as long as childbirth itself, providing emotional, informational, and physical support in the time of pregnancy and birth. According to Doulas of North America, International, “the word ‘doula’ comes from the ancient Greek meaning ‘a woman who serves’.” Since then, the term has expanded, referring to a trained and experienced birth support professional. A doula’s training can come from large International organizations like DONA, which offers certifications, or other avenues like apprenticeships and experience-based learning.
Nonetheless, a doula is different than a midwife or doctor, and doesn’t perform medical tasks. A doula cannot tell you how dilated you are or how long it will be until your baby is born, and they aren’t trained to deliver your baby or give your newborn an exam. Their training is of a different nature, and focuses on the fact that birth is a physical task that requires trained medical knowledge to monitor and oversee it.
It’s inherently physical in its movement, expansion, and change in the body, and a doula can recommend various labor and pushing positions, offer massage as a coping technique, assist with physiologic needs like reminding the mother to stay hydrated and urinate frequently, or just be a firm hand to hold. The doula isn’t meant to overshadow or replace the mother’s support person; in fact, the doula can offer suggestions so that the support person can participate at his or her comfort level.
Furthermore, the doula recognizes the emotional importance of the birth experience for a woman and her family, and seeks to find ways to help them process the transition. Together, the doula can help the family work through questions, thoughts, and feelings about pregnancy, birth, and starting or expanding their family. The doula should be seen as an added resource with unique perspectives on finding ways to assist the family on their journey, from choosing the birth environment to care providers to parenting styles; in this way, the doula is a wellspring of informational support, helping the family navigate through various medical decisions during the birth process to choosing pharmacologic pain relief, to choosing a water birth. Ultimately, the doula provides the mother and her family the information necessary to choose their path and communicate their needs to their care provider, therefore helping them prepare for the unknown.
Hiring a doula, as well as choosing to become one, is a personal journey. One that can be fulfilling and honoring to birth and to the power of the female body. Below are links to various resources, should you like to continue exploring.
Honor yourself and each other!