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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What is a Doula anyway??

By now you have probably heard the name, and you may even know someone who has had one. But unless you have worked with one yourself, you most likely have some questions about who they really are, and what exactly they do.

I have worked as a Birth Doula for the past four years and would love to help you understand the benefits of our assistance. The title itself comes from an ancient Greek word meaning, “A woman who serves.” And whether we are attending a labor and delivery, or helping a family transition into life with a newborn, that is exactly what we try to do!

But of course every family, every woman, and ultimately every birth, is so unique. The specifics of our service can translate into many different things depending on what our clients want and need. This is why it can be somewhat difficult to get an exact answer to your questions.

While most of us are formally trained and/or certified we are not medically trained, so our assistance comes in the form of physical and emotional support during labor. We are passionate about all things related to pregnancy and childbirth. And we seek to educate and empower by arming our clients with information about all available choices, and the risks or benefits of each one. We are there to be your advocate, but not your voice. And to remind you that birth is natural, and you can trust your body.

We typically meet our clients up to three times before the birth, and then once after. During prenatal appointments, we ask questions about any previous deliveries, and try to get a sense of who you are as a couple. We listen for your thoughts and beliefs about pregnancy and childbirth, and we answer your questions and help ease your concerns. We can work with you to establish a birth plan, and then remind you of your desires in the midst of labor, when it takes all of your focus just to get through the contractions. During the postpartum appointment we check in to make sure mom and baby are doing well, to offer breastfeeding encouragement and review the birth experience.

One of the most common questions I hear is how our position relates to that of the baby’s father in the delivery room. Doulas are not trying to replace your partner during one of the most amazing moments in his life. In fact, quite the opposite is true. We are there to support them as well. It’s so hard for them to see the women they love in pain, and they are usually scared of doing or saying the wrong thing. Having a trained birth attendant there helps relieve an immense amount of pressure, pressure they often don’t realize they are experiencing until it’s removed by the presence of a doula. It’s absolutely amazing to meet dads beforehand that appear somewhat indifferent about having a doula, and then seeing the obvious relief on their face when I walk in the door.

We can also give guidance when needed, and offer explanations when things feel overwhelming and scary. I have seen intense worry come over dads’ faces when contractions get strong, or transition hits and mom’s body starts shaking. It’s so helpful for them to know when things like that are just a normal part of labor, and even a good sign that things are progressing. We can give him guilt-free breaks to grab a bite to eat, or take a trip to the bathroom. Having this second set of hands ensures our laboring moms are never without someone by their side. And if mom needs someone in front of her with whom to make eye contact and to remind her to breathe, she can still have someone rubbing her back or applying pressure to her hips.

I also hear a lot of misconceptions about who we are within the medical community. Often times we are viewed by doctors and hospitals as people who will go against everything they say and do. They often see our presence as an inconvenience, as someone who is going to make their job harder. We know that this line of thinking is more commonly found among Obstetricians and Nurses, but I was floored recently when I was told by one of my clients that her Certified Nurse Midwife asked if I would let her have an epidural, if she really wanted one. Thankfully, my client knew me well enough to assure her CNM I would be there to make sure she had the birth that was right for her.

And when she went into labor, I was beside her as she walked the halls. I was there to make sure her voice was heard when she wanted a Hep-lock instead of an IV. I was there to encourage use of the birth ball and the hospital’s Jacuzzi tub as labor progressed. I was there to rub her back and squeeze her hips when contractions got really strong. I was there when she asked for and received an epidural at seven centimeters. And I was there when she delivered her beautiful nine pound baby boy.

She told me later that her nurse commented the next day on what a wonderful doula I was. I think the nurse was genuinely surprised that I listened to my client, advocated for her when she made choices outside of the normal hospital routine, but didn’t stand in her way when she did.

As your doula, if you have made an educated decision to have an epidural at the hospital, my job is to support you with that. Or if you have made an educated decision to have a midwife attended homebirth, then my job is to support you with that.

Because while it is true that we want our clients to be informed, and to speak up for themselves and their choices, we are truly not there with our own agenda, we are there to support yours!!

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