These days many pregnant mamas know what a doula is. Or, at least, they have read about doulas or know someone who has hired a doula. They may have learned in Childbirth Class that the word itself, Doula, is Greek and means "a woman who serves". The may have stumbled across the work of Penny Simkin, Ina Mae Gaskin and Dr. Williams Sears recommending doulas as a important part of any woman's birth team. Pregnant mamas may know that doulas offer non medical physical and emotional support to birthing families. They may have researched online or glanced over various organizations mission statements. All of these avenues will provide a basic understanding of what a doula does . . .in theory.
But, if you want to know what a doula does . . . if you want to know what I do . . .
Lean in close and I will tell you.
As a doula, the first thing I do is listen to the story.
The story of the mother and the story of her partner. The story of their childhood. The story of their togetherness. The story of this baby. The story of her body, her home, her dreams. By listening deeply to the mother's story, she learns on a primal level that she is seen, heard and will be supported in her labor. I don't do 15 minute appointments. Trust takes time. Listening takes time.
As a doula, I tell the story of birth. There are folks everywhere wanting to share their birth story when they see a pregnant mama. Often these stories are not healthy emotionally or medically accurate. I want pregnant mamas and papas to hear the story that tells them birth is normal. I want to reframe the story to tells us that is birth is transformative, women are strong, men and tender and babies are intelligent beings. Every birth may be different - but those truths remain. Birth is transformative. Women are strong. Men are tender. Babies are intelligent. Truth, indeed and very different that the story our culture tells us about birth.
I love the following classic Monty Python sketch. This poor lady definitely needs a doula. Ping!
As a doula, I am quiet. Actually, when you meet me, I am quite friendly and outgoing. I like to drink coffee, tell jokes, chat and laugh. But at a birth, a different energy is required. I note how much focus a mama need and match my presence to her needs. It has been my experience that women crave low lighting, low voices and firm physical contact during contractions. In a clinical setting, there is lots of noises, lights and distractions. My job is to be the antidote for all that and keep the focus of gentle breath, movement and comfort for the laboring mom.
As a doula, I use my hands. I don't bring a lot of things to a birth, although there are some doulas who cart along all types of props. I bring breath mints, a snack, a bottle of water, a notepad with pen and my knitting. I have found I rarely need anything else. I am often standing behind a mom applying counter pressure on her lower back and hips. I can be found kneeling at the foot of the bed, rubbing on mom's feet. Sometimes, I gently touch mom's forehead or shoulders as reminder to soften those areas. I can be found holding back mom's hair if she is puking. I whisper encouragement as this progress. I hold legs, support squats and guide baby mouth to nipple. This is hands on work.
As a doula, I trust you. I trust you. I trust your instincts and wisdom. I trust your body. I trust you to grow, birth, deliver and feed your baby. You can do this, I know you can! I will stay by you and support you every step on your journey.
As a doula, I celebrate your birth. Every birth is a miracle. Each and every one. Natural or medicated, in home or in hospital, vaginal or c-section, I celebrate your baby's entrance into this world.
Yes, of course, I have tips and tricks! I will share them future posts. But the real work of the doula is not tips or tricks. The work of a doula is experience, compassion, patience and wisdom. That's what doulas do!