I have been a doula for almost 15 years now and in that time have learnt so much about labour and birth. As a prenatal yoga teacher and mother I have also learnt a lot… but particularly as a doula.
The doula is at the coalface of birth – there is no better way to say it. We are there the longest time. We give the greatest continuity of care over any other caregiver. We provide information and we are the pain relief. We empower couples to advocate for themselves, and support them in getting what they want. And most importantly we ensure mum has a high degree of birth satisfaction!! Because birth is hard work and you are doing a great job, always!!
It was through my work as a doula and those many intimate hours with couples that I created She Births®. I saw what worked and what was missing from people’s education prior to birth. I saw the emotional hurdles they were not prepared for and the lack of practical tools partners and mums had to draw upon.
I still attend births and was at four amazingly beautiful births last year – each one different and powerful and yet perfect in its own way.
Roughly about 60% of She Births® couples employ a doula. We do have some star ‘Daddy Doulas’ too that we are going to award very soon but more about that in the coming weeks! In all my years I have never heard a couple say that having a doula was a waste of time…I’ve only ever heard the comment ‘Next time we are getting a doula’ 😉
The times when I have seen doula work be the most beneficial is when birth doesn’t go to plan. I know that She Births is the best education around, but unfortunately, we cannot be there with a woman 24/7 helping her through all the twists and turns that may arise during pregnancy or birth. We have books, videos, comprehensive information, holistic tips, etc, but we are not able to actually be there holding her hand, explaining and reassuring her she is doing the best job she can…That’s why I always say get a doula!
I truly believe that prenatal yoga – getting into your body, slowing down, doing She Births® and getting a doula is the best thing you can do for yourself, your birth and your relationship.
All of our She Births® educators are either midwives or doulas. Bree Downes, our new Melbourne-based educator explains what a doula actually does and how they can support you throughout pregnancy, birth and into parenthood. I hope you enjoy this week’s edition with Bree, and if you would like to share your birth experience with a doula, please get in touch as I’d love to hear from you.
What is a doula and what do they do?
A doula is a woman who gives support and information to another woman during pregnancy and the birth of her child. It is a Greek word meaning ‘woman servant’, as traditionally doulas were servants skilled in attending women in labour. Modern day doulas are often mothers themselves, who offer continuous physical, emotional and informational one on one support, to improve your birth experience and outcome.
Birth is a highly emotional journey for most women and their partners, and to have someone dedicated to supporting you through the entire journey is invaluable. The care, respect, comfort and information that a doula provides is a role unto its own and cannot be replaced by other health care providers.
Doulas are fast becoming a must-have companion for birthing women, particularly in the hospital setting, who want a natural or vaginal birth and need assistance navigating the hospital system of medical procedures and protocols.
A doula is an ambassador for natural birth, they see the link between an empowering birth and a smooth transition into motherhood; and ultimately a nurturer of the future generation for this planet. A doula will also support you to have an empowering caesarean should it be necessary. Giving you options through the whole process no matter what path your birth takes is extremely empowering.
Doulas know how the birthing body works, and have a toolkit of positions, movements, touches, techniques and endless ideas on how you can engage with your natural birthing powers.
There are also post natal doulas who work extensively with a new family after the birth of their child. Their role is varied with each mother as they tailor their role to suit each woman. It may include things such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, and minding baby or older children while the mother catches up on sleep. They are often also able to offer breastfeeding assistance, or support and information on any post birth hurdles. Also birth debriefing and a compassionate ear to listen to anything the mother needs to get off her chest.
Why have a doula?
There are many benefits to having a doula during your pregnancy and birth. Some expected, and others not. Women often find that a doula provides much more than what was expected and have a sense that they don’t know how they could have had the same experience without a doulas support.
Having a doula provides you with a direct line of information, options and resources. It’s like having your own personal birth hotline! Most doulas are constantly available to you by phone and email during your pregnancy, on top of your pre natal face-to-face appointments, and then on call 24/7 from 38 weeks onwards. A doula will help you fully understand all of your options and choices at every crossroad in your journey, and this results in a fully informed process where even if your birth does not go to plan, you will have benefitted immensely by knowing your choices, options and rights throughout the whole process, leaving you feeling empowered and like it was still YOUR birth. Being informed allows you to be an active participant in the decision making for your birth.
Another benefit is actually for your partner. Unless your partner has done some special training, intensive research or attended many births before, they will not have the skills or knowledge to support you through what may be one of the toughest things you will ever do. This pressure to be and do all for their loved one can often feel like quite a load to carry or they may feel anxious or concerned about how they are going to cope AND be your everything all at once.
How does a doula work with mum’s partner?
Partners often put quite a bit of pressure on themselves to be the only support a birthing woman needs, to fulfil on their role as provider and be their woman’s ‘everything’. To look after her and provide for her. Usually first time partners don’t even realise what will be required of them on the day/s of birth and they will be just as vulnerable and unsure as the birthing woman.
A birthing woman has endorphins pumping through her system to keep her going, often through many hours without rest or sleep. Partners unfortunately don’t get these endorphins and often need to rest or take breaks to re-fill their energy levels so that they can keep giving to their woman and still be present when their baby arrives, so having a doula there to relieve the partner can be immensely helpful.
Doulas are also very mindful of always encouraging connection between the couple. They will offer suggestions for the partner so that they can provide effective support, and will explain each process as it unfolds, pointing out beautiful signs of labour’s progress that they may have not otherwise noticed. Providing explanations and insight into the birthing process often amazes and deepens the partner’s experience of birth, and their role as the woman’s main supporter. Often partners become more involved in supporting a birthing woman as they learn and adopt many of the doula’s comforting techniques. If the labour is particularly trying, difficult, or emotionally charged, a doula’s presence soothes nerves and raises a birthing couple’s confidence.
How does a doula work with the hospital team?
Doulas are not midwives, obstetricians, or nurses. But together with these professionals, doulas work beautifully to support a woman through her birth. While the focus of the medical team involves safeguarding the physical health of both mother and baby, a doula focuses on the holistic wellbeing of the mother. A woman will feel safest and most cared for when there is a team vibe and calm in the room, where everyone is working for her.
A doula can help explain any medical terms to the birthing couple and also refer to the couples birthing preferences when discussing options with the medical care providers. A doula can also request for the couple to have time to discuss and think about options when intervention is being suggested. A doula is also often great at asking questions of the medical care providers that the birthing couple may not think of, which can also assist in important information when making decisions. At the end of the day, the ideal situation is that everyone in the room is working for the woman, bringing their own unique skills and knowledge and share a deep respect and reverence for a woman’s natural ability to birth.
How and why did you become a doula?
I became a doula through a 9 month face to face course with Rhea Dempsey, Birthing Wisdom, in Victoria. Sitting in circle with like minded women once a month whilst we shared and discussed everything a doula needs to know, including unpacking our very own birth journeys. I’ve also read many many books and watched countless birth films. This knowledge plus the learnings from my own three labours and listening to many women sharing their birth stories continually deepens my doula work. No two births are the same so you can never stop learning or growing as a doula.
I became a doula because I feel birthing a baby is life’s most sacred work and I wanted to offer women the information, care and support that I deeply cherished in my own birth. We have lost our way as a society in regards to birth and stopped trusting our bodies and our intuition. I wanted to remind women that they are strong and that they were in fact made for this. Birth can be such a spiritual and life changing event if you let it be.
Why do you think birth education is important, even for those who have a doula?
The strength, power and decisions come from within the woman – not from the doula, nor the woman’s partner, nor the medical care providers. A doula’s greatest work at a birth is to hold space for the birthing woman to let go and surrender, to keep her informed along the way should she arrive at any crossroads, and to offer physical support when needed.
For the birthing woman to be able to make empowering decisions in her birth she needs to know all her options, understand all her inner and outer resources, and also to have a deep understanding as to why she has made the choices she has so that she feels firm in her decisions. There is a great saying that “if you don’t know your options, you don’t have any” and I feel this is so true.
Why did you decide to become a She Births educator?
I have always been passionate about intensive pre-natal preparation with my clients, so when I discovered She Births® and the holistic approach in which it is constructed, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to be part of this offering. Women deserve to be given all the pieces of the puzzle so they can create their own beautiful picture of birth, and I am so excited to be able to offer this by teaching She Births®.