The role of a Doula and why a pregnant woman might consider having one?
Birth is a whole lot more than having a baby. It's a rite of passage, a new phase of your journey as a woman, a time to evolve and grow in new ways as a human being and an opportunity to connect with cultural traditions, and the awesome powers of mother earth. Birth can be incredibly empowering in whatever form it takes. Birth is an everyday occurrence and utterly extraordinary all in the same breath. Your approach, mind-set and attitude to birth will directly impact and shape your birthing experience. As Robyn Lim says;
“Birthing is the most profound initiation to spirituality a woman can have.”
I frequently get asked, 'what is a 'Doula?', often followed by a blank look, a pause and a 'so why the hell would a woman need one to birth her baby?'.
So having been asked this so many times, I felt compelled to write something about the work they do, the impact it can have on birthing experiences and what place they have in our current system of maternity care.
With birth, as with most things, it is not a case that one way is right for every woman. In fact, I believe the exact opposite, birth is so utterly unique and for this reason women need continuity of care. They need to be listened to and supported so they can really trust themselves on a deep, level. Someone who understands their instinctual physical and emotional needs on a deep, cellular level. This is where a Doula comes in....
These are names you may or may not have come across. They all describe the work of someone who essentially offers support to a birthing woman. This may be in pregnancy, birth, post natally or at all these stages. Although these names still seem alittle unfamiliar to some, in many cultures, this person is a highly respected and necessary part of birthing practice.
Research clearly shows that women who have the continual care, support and trust of another female at birth are significantly less likely to request pain relief, need medical intervention and have higher levels of satisfaction regarding their birth experiences.
“The way a woman gives birth can affect the whole of the rest of her life. How can that not matter? Unless the woman herself does not matter”, Beverley Beech and Belinda Phipps.
A birth keeper or doula is there to protect the birthing space. This most importantly involves nurturing and loving the mother, to ensure she feels respected, strong and empowered to trust in herself, her body and her inate ability to grow, birth and nurture her baby. A large part of this process is about mothering the mother. Being there and supporting her with her questions, doubts, fears, excitement, anticipation, boredom you name it. Through this unconditional love and support the mother feels strong, loved and safe in her own skin. By loving the mother we give her the strength to recognise and believe in her own infinite power. A woman who feels cherished in this way can really begin to learn and be in tune with her true self. With this deep sense of trust and loveawareness of herself and the world around her to recognise she already holds an innate knowledge of how to birth her baby.
How my Doula supported me
It has been a life changing journey since the birth of my own son and my doula has been there every step of the way. She has been an anchor, a friend, and a support with both my own and my son’s physical and mental wellbeing. My journey started when I first contacted a doula who had been recommended to me. Nicola Goodall was the woman who showed up at my door, and I thank the stars that she did.
For me personally, the decision to get a doula was one of the best decisions I've made. Having a doula helped me feel supported in pregnancy. My doula encouraged me to believe in and connect with my intuition and instinct. Most importantly, having my doula at my birth gave me the courage to follow my heart, to listen to my body and my baby and to trust in all the preparation I had done. For me having a doula enabled me to navigate my way through birth and through the care system I was using calmly and consciously. Having a doula is not about a golden ticket to a perfect birth (what ever that actually is??). A doula provides the love, wisdom and connection a woman so desperately needs as she journeys through growing, nurturing, birthing and then mothering another human being.
Pregnancy, birth and the period immediately after your birth is a time for you, the mama. It's a sacred time that should be protected so that every woman can experience her own raw energy, power and connectivity to the universe. When a woman feels loved and protected to honour her birthing journey whatever path it takes. Birth can quite literally be one of the most empowering experiences of a woman's life.
Every woman's birth experience is unique and demands that the mother, be the centering force of this experience. The very nature of birth requires us to listen to our intuition and trust in the signs that our body and are baby are communicating, to support us through birth. This is relevant now more than ever.
What’s important is that the birthing woman is given the space, to trust and follow her own body and intuition. Space to consider all the options available to her and most crucially, the time to birth according to her body’s own rhythm and needs. As Michel Odent states ' The ideal scenario is for a woman to give birth in a dark, warm, quiet room, her sole companion a midwife knitting.' The presence of a chosen and trusted woman to protect the birthing space, to advocate your wishes and more often than not to simply hold space (knitting, drawing or reading), to observe with eyes and ears and to respond, comfort and love the mother is what a doula can offer.
Some women may birth quickly, some women may birth over several days. It doesn't mean anything is wrong, as long as the baby and the mother are healthy. This is normal and not a reason to intervene. We are all wonderfully individual and therefore understandably we all birth, in our own unique way. Some women may decide to have a doula, this make take the form of a beloved friend, sister, or their own mother. The presence of a third person to protect the birthing space, to advocate your wishes and more often than not to simply hold space, to observe with eyes and ears and to respond, comfort and love the mother has powerful effect.
In Ina May's book 'spiritual midwifery' she talks about supporting Pamala right at the start of her journey into midwifery her relative inexperience at the time. Pamela's labour lasted for 2days and Ina May recalls learning her most valuable lesson about Midwifery care and ensuring healthy births. The midwife or birth supporter must be a wife to the mother, she stays with you, she is with you through every change you experience in your labour and she believes in you wholeheartedly.
The power of this is infinite.
It can't be underestimated and if we study historically, the patterns of birth and care of the mother, we can learn so much. Honour the mother, care for the mother pre and post natally with love and support and see the impact it has on the nature and makeup of human being she has brought into the world. A human being brought into the world surrounded by compassion, love and awareness.
How we approach our whole birthing journey, from pregnancy through to the post natal period, is crucial. There are positive steps you can take as a woman, regardless of whether you choose to have a doula or not. Whatever turns your birthing journey takes the grounding present and accepting you are .
When I asked my Doula, if she could say one thing to pregnant women the world over what it would be, she said 'You have to own it!'.
These simple five words speak volumes. You have to take charge of your birth. Now, in my opinion this is not an easy option, but I can say from my own experience and seeing the impact of those I have known or supported, it can have such a powerful, positive and empowering effect. Women need to be given the space to trust and follow their own body and intuition, and space to consider all the options available to them without feeling pressure to follow suite.
For both me and my partner, our doula enabled us to be fully present throughout our whole birth journey, a journey which started in pregnancy and has continued into parenthood. The support, amazing wealth and diversity of knowledge, commitment and unconditional love is what anchored us and enabled us to own our whole birthing experience. It also enlightened us and made us fully respect the post partum period, recognising the need to go slowly, shut off from the outside world (that will all still be there when you decide you are ready), and enjoy getting to know the new life you have created.
If you are interested in this topic and want to know more, have a look at this stuff;
Nicola Goodall - ‘Reframing Birth’ Ted Talk, 2015.
Ina May Gaskin - 'Spiritual Midwifery'.
Michel Odent - 'Reborn: what childbirth should be'.
Sarah Buckley 'Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering'.
Midwiferytoday - https://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/birthdoulaeverymother.asp (In essence, the grey box a few paragraphs down gives a nice synopsis of a doulas role in the birthing journey;)