What is a birth doula?
A birth doula is a trained professional you can hire to provide support throughout pregnancy, labor and delivery and into the 4th trimester. Often this includes assisting with preparing for birth in the weeks leading up to delivery, continuous physical, emotional and informational support in the birthing room. It includes phone calls and texts and emails 24/7. A doula’s only goal should be to help the family achieve the healthiest, mentally and emotionally, and most satisfying experience possible with no agenda of their own. Doulas guide you through the pregnancy process by answering questions, talking through scenarios, and helping you form a realistic view of what to expect. Doulas do not make decisions for you, but inform you of facts, risks, benefits, and possibilities so that you can arrive at whatever the next right step is for you. Numerous studies have shown that engaging with a doula will have a positive physical and psychological effect on the birthing family. A client dad said he tells his buddies doula support is like hiring a coach for game day action. That one resonated with me.
Are there other kinds of doulas?
Oh yes! There are so many variations. Birth and postpartum doulas, sibling adjustment doulas, fertility doulas, abortion doulas, transition doulas, pregnancy loss doulas, full spectrum doulas, bereavement doulas. There is a doula for everyone looking for support.
Why did you become a doula?
When I first began my search for What’s Next after staying home with my 3 kids, I knew only that I wanted to support women. Politically? Volunteering? I looked into doula work and it struck a chord. As I saw it, I already had so many qualities of a great doula. Life had shown me that I was a calming energy even during hectic times. I knew that I was a good listener. I have personal experience giving birth in 3 very different ways. The more I learned and trained the more I was convinced that I can bring positive value to the birth experience. I’m not afraid to engage in tough situations. I even think my years of logical/analytical thinking as a statistician aids families in decision making strategies. I became a doula to make a positive difference at one of life’s most influential transitions. One family at a time. It’s been 7 years since I started and I haven’t looked back. I love the challenge of learning a new client, their goals, the way they interact with their partner, their views. I love the challenge of birthing time, when to go in, how to manage, being a witness to this life transition. It fills my cup.
What type of support do you provide to a pregnant individual in labor that is different from a doctor’s support or medical support?
Doulas are a continuous and non-medical support resource. Both of those attributes are where the difference lies with me. Medical staff does not have time, even if they wanted to, to sit with you throughout your whole labor. The most compassionate staff have other patients to attend and paperwork to be done. My only focus is you and your well-being as a whole person, not just a pregnant body. A person with concerns and fears. A person with goals and hopes. Once I join you in labor, I do not leave until after the baby has arrived. I’m watching your labor unfold so I know that you could use comforting back pressure, a cold washcloth on your neck, a chat to allay some fears that are cropping up, food or a nap. I’m trained in how to assist labor progress at various stages with position changes, breathing techniques and mental grounding. The medical team has their own rightful goals of “Healthy Mom and Healthy Baby”. Doulas build on that. I have the goal of ensuring a satisfying experience and making positive memories no matter how labor unfolds. I want my clients to feel like they were a part of their birthing experience. Partners, doulas and medical staff form a complete well rounded team.
What is your best piece of advice for a newly pregnant person as they prepare for labor and delivery?
Hire a doula! LOL!! Seriously though? Okay, DO NOT google your symptoms. We are not trying to get out a grass stain! It leads to worry and bad decision making. Learn from evidence based websites like EvidenceBasedBirth.com. Know that cervical checks during a prenatal visit are usually optional though they may not be presented that way. You can say “No, Thank you” to an exam. Acknowledge your limits, know when to put the books down because they are just making you more anxious. And, learn how to get involved with your care by using the BRAIN acronym to ask questions and make decisions. If you know why something is happening it leads to a more positive experience overall.
What situations do people tend to be in when they decide to hire a doula?
“I love my husband/boyfriend/wife/partner, but I’m not sure they’ll know what to do or say when we’re in labor. That’s why I’m looking for a doula.” I hear this all the time. Unless your partner is an OB why would they know what to do or say? Some clients come to me in their first pregnancy wanting to be fully prepared. Some clients come to me after having a traumatic birth experience wanting this time to be different. Some clients come to me wanting to avoid another C-Section. Some clients come to me looking for motherly type support since their family lives far away. Some clients rely on me to get them to the hospital at the moment they can get an epidural. Some clients come to me to help them amplify their voice. But most come to me seeking all their options for birth and knowing they want to be supported as a whole person, not just the baby carrying vessel others see.
How has the pandemic changed the landscape of pregnancy, prenatal and postpartum care, and mental health in the families you have cared for?
Wow, yes, in many ways. As if pregnancy and labor didn’t already come with massive uncertainty, right? The pandemic brought changes to our perinatal support system with fewer people permitted in the labor room, shortages of nursing staff and even supplies, overworked medical teams, overnight policy changes, offices constantly canceling appointments. This has left families wondering who is actually going to take care of them. Am I getting all the attention I need along the way? Not surprising, pregnant families are stepping up and taking more charge in their care. Yes, hiring doulas, but also researching, taking online classes, and just staying flexible. Mentally, families are feeling isolated and alone. This is exactly why we need more ways to stay connected like the Bumpdate app provides.
What has been your most rewarding experience about being a doula?
This one is tough. I’ve been hi-fived by doctors after a great outcome. I’ve been hugged by nurses after intense teamwork. I’ve been given the most thoughtful gifts from clients. All of this is definitely rewarding. Often I reflect on my drive home from the hospital and deeply know the difference I just made for that client’s experience. At each postpartum visit, we discuss how the birth went. I keep notes during labor, so I refer to the timeline and the client fills in her story. They talk about what I did for them and how I made a difference to them. That’s incredibly rewarding to hear. But, since my Love Language is Words of Encouragement, I’m going to say the most rewarding experience is when a client tells a friend about how I made a difference for them. Or when I get tagged for someone looking for a doula. A simple but very validating referral. One of my favorite parts of doula work is creating the space for the partner to really engage in the experience. This is a beautiful time to strengthen the bond between partners in this shared experience. I get the greatest joy when a reluctant partner puts their hand up and says, “okay – I have a question”. Then the floodgates open. It’s so fun!
Are there people that a doula isn’t right for?
No matter what type of birth is your goal or destiny, a doula can be useful. No matter what your personality type or history is, a doula can be useful. A common phrase in the doula community is, “A doula for everyone who wants one.” If you want doula support, then there is a perfect doula out there for you.
Lila finds inspiration through coaching, travel, reading and family time. Here she is enjoying a summer road trip to Boston with her beautiful family.