Birth Partners: Doula Or Don’t Ya?
The birth of your baby is one of the most intimate and precious times of your life. So why would you add a virtual stranger to the mix as an additional birth partner or ‘doula’?
What if you think about it this way? Would travelling to a faraway land seem less daunting if you had the support of a guide who’d been there before? Would stepping into the unknown feel more comfortable if you had someone’s hand to hold? Would running a race be easier going if you had someone to cheer you on? Would listening to a foreign language be more informative if it was interpreted by a translator?
Well, to me – as a trainee doula – these are just a few of the ways I could answer the question that I’m asked at least once a day: ‘what does a doula do?’
What Does a Doula Do?
By hiring a doula to support your labour and birth you are hiring a guide, a comforter, a coach & cheerleader and often a translator. In many instances there’s a lot more involved – massage, meditation and suggestions for positions to labour in to name a few.
Just by being with you and offering a reassuring presence, from the onset of labour until you are settled with your new arrival, can go a long way to allaying many of the concerns that women have: I don’t know who the midwife on duty will be, how will my partner drive me to the birth centre/hospital while I’m having contractions in the back seat, what if I panic, what if he panics, I don’t want to be afraid…?
Of course, in an ideal world and in many traditional societies across the world (and historically in our own) it would be the role of the experienced women of the community to attend to you during your labour and birth; among them your grandmother, mother, aunts and sisters. However, for many reasons that’s rarely the case today.
For many couples, the decision to hire a doula comes from the desire to create a more nurturing and natural environment for their birth. The statistics back this up, for example a study undertaken in 1993 (Mothering the Mother, Klaus et al) showed that having a doula present at birth:
- Shortens first-time labour by an average of 2 hours
- Decreases the chance of caesarean section by 50%
- Decreases the need for pain medication
- Helps fathers participate with confidence
- Increases success in breastfeeding
Choosing a Doula
Of course each doula will work differently, each bringing a different set of experiences, training and philosophy with them but what unites every doula registered with Doula UK – the non-profit association of doulas in the UK – is the dedication to “enable a woman to have the most satisfying and empowered time that she can during pregnancy, birth and the early days as a new mum. This type of support also helps the whole family to relax and enjoy the experience”.
Of course it’s sensible to look at a doula’s background and qualifications to see that she has the experience that you feel you need to offer the support you are looking for. More importantly, however, it is essential that you check that her approach and personality is in line with yours.
For me, it is about creating and helping to maintain a safe and relaxed environment for you and your birthing partner (if you have one already) to be yourselves and to be together whilst being fully supported, encouraged and empowered to make the choices that feel right for you and your baby.
I feel that it is my role to act as an advocate and facilitator for the type of birth that you hope for, whilst giving you the strength to be at peace with however things turn out on the day. Coming from a holistic therapy background (massage & reiki), I believe that this requires a holistic approach; that reaches your mind, body & spirit.
It’s about what and how you think…“I know my body is strong enough and wise enough to carry and deliver this baby.” It’s about how you prepare…“I am aware of and have practised natural birthing techniques and have the support I need in place.” And it’s about how you feel…“I am excited and relaxed about bringing new life into the world and know that I have nothing to fear.”
To achieve this, I will do all I can to encourage you to:
- Be present – to focus on the here and now, not worrying about the past or the future
- Listen to what has heart and meaning – to cut through to what is really important
- Speak your truth – to ask for what you need
- Be open to the outcome – whatever that might be Broader Context
Before we go back to the original question, let’s put all of this into a wider context. Maternity services across the country are becoming more and more overstretched; it is not unusual for women see a different midwife for each antenatal check and in many cases midwives are attending to more than one labouring woman at any one time. Add to this the distinct possibility of shift changes part way through your labour bringing a new face and personality into the mix and you have a pregnancy and birth full of strangers.
So, why would you add a virtual stranger to the mix as your doula? If you’re still not sure, you might rephrase the question to this: If you had the opportunity to handpick someone to be with you throughout your labour, someone who would be there as support for you and your partner from the first contraction through to after the baby is born, would you?