October 5, 2010

The Birth Doula.

A Needed Presence in Birth.

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” ~Dr. John H. Kennell

What is a birth doula?

The Greek word doula translates to “woman caregiver.” Therefore, a birth doula is a woman who looks after and watches over birth. Synonyms for this word include labor assistant, birth companion, and childbirth coach. A doula is a professional caregiver who trusts, respects, and understands the birth process. Her role also is to help mama and partner to have a wonderful experience that they look back upon as an uplifting and joyous occasion.

How can a doula help me?

A doula offers physical support for mama in labor ~ suggesting positions for laboring, supporting mom into those positions and helping mamas relax their physical body so their uterus can work perfectly to push her baby out. A doula offers emotional support ~ acknowledging the intense emotions and feelings that arise and helping mama to embrace what she needs to feel. A doula offers educational support ~ helping mama and partner to understand the divine design of birth. A doula is a positive advocate, helping mama to find her own voice. She will not replace mama’s partner unless that was predetermined. But, she will help partner help mama and when needed will gently guide him or her to actively participate. Partners really should not be expected to be a coach, because they are giving birth too! (Just don’t tell mama this when she’s in labor.)

Every family deserves a birth doula.

Recently, I attended a birth doula training with “The Organization of Labor Assistants for Birth Options and Resources (toLabor).” Having previously trained as a childbirth educator and birth doula, I was curious as to what new information or insights would be shown to me. Many new discoveries were made through the weekend, but two very important ones are as follows.

  1. A doula is a professional. Webster’s Dictionary defines professional as “conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession, based on sound knowledge and conscientiousness; reflecting the result of education, training, and experience.”
  2. A doula facilitates. Roget’s Thesaurus explains this as “to make easier, to ease, to smooth, to explain, to simplify; but also to empower, to allow, to clear the way.”

The light bulb went off for me as I received this understanding of my role. I am educated, trained, experienced, conscientious, and follow ethical and technical standards. My goal is to help families have an birth experience that is smooth, flows with ease and feels empowering for them. Every family deserves the presence of a  doula!

About The Organization of Labor Assistants for Birth Options & Resources (toLabor)

Thérèse Hak-Kuhn, Executive Director of toLabor believes that pregnancy, labor and birth serve a purpose ~ to help prepare the way to raise a child.

When asked about the organization and its mission she says,  “The intention of toLabor is to educate and certify professional labor assistants/birth doulas so that they may help women and their partners become active participants in their birth in order that they may feel a sense of confidence and power that can be carried forward into their parenting as well as into their daily lives. toLabor believes that all women benefit from support and resources that will help them be aware of and educated about the options and choices that are available so that they may make informed decisions concerning their birth experience. We believe that in every birth, there is room for compassion and respect for the process. We embrace the evidence that a woman who actively participates in her birth will have a healthier birth for her baby, herself and her family; physically and emotionally.”

Recently, a woman who attended the toLabor birth doula training said, “I learned from this workshop was so much more than I had anticipated. I not only learned how to be with a woman throughout the pregnancy year but how to be a better spouse, a better mother.”  Thérèse’s life experience of raising 6 children, attending hundreds of births’ and facilitating over a 1000 women (and some men), has brought her “a depth in my life that I carry into the workshops and I walk away enriched even more.” She views it is an honor and a privilege to be on this journey with so many. “We are all teaching and learning from one another that we all want to be heard, we all want to be treated with respect and compassion and to feel safe,” she says.

Doulas at the Births’ of My Children

At each of my own children’s births’ I chose to hire a professional birth doula, and thank goodness! My first daughter was presenting posterior (meaning that her backside was against my backside) which is not the optimum presentation. As soon as my doula heard from the midwife at the hospital that my baby was posterior, she worked with me to suggest positions to help rotate the baby as well as suggesting affirmations and talking to the baby. If my doula was not there, it would have been myself and my partner alone in the room most of the time. My baby did turn and was born vaginally! My second daughter’s birth at home was fast and furious and my doula was so encouraging and even jumped into the birthing pool to support me! Looking back on both births, I feel such a sense of empowerment, accomplishment and strength … I can do anything! Every family deserves this!

Services Provided By the Doula

Each professional birth doula offers different services. Most doulas offer 2 prenatal educational visits to answer your questions, help with birth plan creation, and get to know you so that she can be more helpful to you during birth. Most doulas stay with you throughout your entire labor, birth, and a few hours afterward. Doctors and nurses change shifts, but your doula is continuously by your side. She will visit you a few days after you give birth and may offer breastfeeding and childcare support, depending upon your needs as you transition into parenthood. Other doulas may offer massage, energy healing, postpartum doula services, photography, lotus birth assistance or placenta medicine. Homebirth mamas also benefit from the presence of a birth doula!

What Mamas Are Saying

Crystal Lauderer of Boulder, Colorado says, “My doula was there with me and my husband  during any major decisions  – – we called her when we knew the doctor would be coming. She brought food for my husband, covered for him so he could go home, take a break, and take care of our dog. She is also a masseuse, so she gave both me and Steve fabulous shoulder massages. She helped us better understand our decisions, and brought up alternative options, that the doctor didn’t even think of. She was aware of every factor that would lead to a positive birth experience (lighting, music, etc) and helped maintain an ideal environment.”

Laura Gore of Tonawanda, NY says, “Both times I had a doula, she helped me focus and relax.  With my first child she was in the room with me almost the whole time and kept me sane. The hospital was having a large amount of births that day and the nursing staff was stretched thin. She could let me know what to expect and answered all my questions. I know if she wasn’t there I would have given in and gotten an epidural.  There was one nurse who kept insisting that I get one, my Doula knew my wishes and helped keep me strong and on my birth plan.  She also took photos and kept a log of what happened, which is a treasure. I won my first doula from a drawing at a local store. I had never heard of one before and wasn’t sure about it. I am pretty shy and the thought of another person there while I was so exposed frightened me. I talked to some of my friends and decided to go for it. It was the best decision I ever made. My first labor was over 25 hours long and I only got through it for a natural childbirth because she was there being supportive and an advocate for me. She let me know my rights and my choices so I could make the best informed decision for me, not the choice the hospital staff wanted me to make to make their day easier.”

Emma Blue of Boulder, Colorado says, “My doula created a nurturing environment, I could relax because I was with someone who had experienced birth many times before and was there to give our family 100% of her support and attention. When it came down to the wire and my midwife proposed a cesarean as a real consideration, my doula helped formulate my thoughts and concerns into “tough questions” to ask the midwife. She put everyone at ease with her presence, my midwife had previously stated she wished every woman had a doula, so it was an environment where everyone was working together. She helped take some of the pressure of the nurse and was able to help me move physically after my epidural so the nurse could do other things. She lead us in prayer and encouraged me when I felt responsible for my slow labor, she was educated and inspiring.”

Did you hire a doula?

Share your experience too!

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