December 17, 2014

What Exactly is a Doula?

Michelle R my doula

I get asked all the time what a doula is.

I speak often about my doula as she always comes up when I talk about my births. Some of my friends have used their services, but for the vast majority of people it is a new word in their vocabulary.

Perhaps you have heard of doulas and are considering employing their services for your birth but you don’t really understand what that role will entail. Rather than go into my lengthy birth stories, I would like to share why having a doula was important to me and how it might be a huge help for you.

So what is a doula and why did I have one at two of my births?

Wikipedia says:

“A Doula, also known as a labor coach and originating from the Ancient Greek word (meaning female servant) is a nonmedical person who assists a woman before, during, or after childbirth, as well as her husband and/or family, by providing physical assistance, and emotional support.”

Within the phrases ‘assists a woman’ and ’emotional support’ is where the essence of the doula really lies. Depending on you and your particular needs during pregnancy, birth and after, your doula will attune to those and present support where needed. The strength of the doula’s support spans back millennia and is a tradition as old as time.

I often say that a doula is the Mother of the Mother. Someone to take care of the needs of a mother during the special transitional time that is giving birth. You see, not only is the baby new, but the mother is new too. For all the right reasons, the focus of most childbirth establishments is on the safe delivery of the baby. The focus isn’t necessarily on the emotional and spiritual support of the mother during this process.

This is where the doula comes in.

Even on subsequent births the woman is different every time. Just like children, we continue to grow and learn as we age and essentially each child has a different mother. Having someone there who not only understands that, but radiates it from every cell in her body is the most important ally you can have.

I’m not suggesting that the noble work of the midwives isn’t a reflection of these qualities, it is, but their primary job is to safely deliver the baby. While the role of the partner, if present, is to care and support the birthing mother, they are the guardian of the baby and as such their focus is also on that.
And while a doula is there to strengthen the bond and communication between the partners if present, my doula was there for me—and that made me feel so safe it became a part of how I gave birth.

I have three children, my eldest son was a year old when I met the woman who was to become my friend and my birthing companion. Claire was my doula for the birth of my second and third sons, and if I was to ever have another child, I wouldn’t do it without Claire by my side.

Is it that my doula helped me to give birth? It isn’t as simple as that. Having a doula with me and reflecting back at me every woman who has ever given birth, every woman who ever will give birth, showed me that I can give birth. Just like all my sisters before me, since time began. Reflected in her eyes is the distant memory and ancestral knowledge that I was born for this and that there is nothing to fear.

My births were beautiful.

There is a great secret.

It’s not that childbirth is painful, it’s that women are strong and if ever there was a landmark in a woman’s life that defines her, it’s the birth of her children.



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Author: Michelle Riordan

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: courtesy of the author 

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Michelle Riordan