I have been a birth and postnatal doula – as well as a mother to two daughters and a foreign languages teacher - for the past five years and often get asked similar questions about what the role involves!
Here are two more common questions that I love to answer!
I will have my partner with me at my birth and he/she is eager to participate in the birth and support me. Isn’t this enough?
I love this question and feel it is one of the things that is most misunderstood about us birth doulas. Never, ever, in no way or form are we there to replace or devalue your partner’s special place by your side! Your partner’s loving presence and the way you feel around him/her is super important to help you birth your baby as you release that wonderful love hormone, oxytocin.
However, your partner may never have seen birth before and just like you, may be unsure of what to expect and how they will manage. If your partner is a bundle of nerves or anxious at the fact of seeing you going through such intense sensations and not being able to do anything to make them stop or if they are squeamish or uneasy in a hospital setting… then this will also rub off on you.
At the majority of the births I have attended (nearing 40!), I would say the partner has been just as relieved as the mother, if not more so, to have me on board! Having a birth doula on your team takes a huge pressure off the partner’s shoulders! They no longer need to be the birth expert and the only support person. Instead, they can focus on being the loving presence the mother needs, can take time out if they need to, find a role and a space they are comfortable with safe in the knowledge that there will always be someone close to the mother.
In our antenatal sessions, we chat about how we will work as a team of three – or more! – and we explore how both of you feel about the different phases of birth. We get to know each other and break things down so that you know which options you have where and what might help at different points. And on the big day, we take things as they come and we roll with it, as a team.
There are few things I love more about my role than seeing the absolute pride, admiration and love between a couple as they meet their new baby. As I step back and busy myself with making sure you both have everything you need to be comfortable and snuggle down with your baby, I witness the birth of a new family and feel so honoured to be there. And as I leave, when everyone is settled and baby and mother are resting, the hugs and the gratitude, the smiles and the tears I often receive from the partner assure me that yes, this partner felt respected, needed and comfortable too.
Aren’t doulas only for women who want a natural, non-medicated birth?
In a nutshell, no, absolutely not!!!
Doulas are there for every woman in all scenarios. Our role is to ensure that you have the information you need to make your choices and then to support you and your partner in those choices.
I have been present at hospital births and home births, water births and caesarean births, have held the hands of women and breathed with them as they have an epidural put in place or as they manage their surges with no medication.
I come with no judgement or ulterior motives! The birth doula’s only wish is for you to feel safe, respected and listened to throughout your birth and we will do what it takes for you to feel that way.
Did this help?! Let me know what other questions you have about birth doulas and I'll be more than happy to answer them!
And keep your eyes peeled for the next blog post that will be about postnatal doula support!
What is a doula?
You may or may not have heard of doulas. I hadn’t heard of the concept until after my first baby was born, and kicked myself I hadn’t found out sooner! Basically, doulas are a new(ish) take on an age-old truth; that birth and becoming a parent are huge life transitions and times in our lives when we need some extra support and gentle guidance.
Think back to a time when a pregnant mother would have been surrounded by a whole host of female figures – mothers, grandmothers, aunties, neighbours – passing on their experience and knowledge, holding, listening and helping out as and when needed. Today, whilst some of us may still have these circles of support around us, the structure of our societies is radically different and many of us will not have such a strong network to nurture us as we become parents.
Well, call the doula! Derived from Greek and meaning “woman who serves”, a doula is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A woman who gives support, help and advice during pregnancy and during and after the birth”. There are two main types of doulas, either birth doulas – who are normally present antenatally and at the birth – or postnatal doulas – who provide help and guidance once baby is born; though some doulas take on both roles.
What does a doula actually do?
The doula’s first role is to be a good listener. Getting to know you and understanding your feelings and beliefs around birth and babies is our priority since the care we provide will be tailored to your uniqueness! During antenatal sessions at your home, we chat all things birth and baby, and explore what is important to you for your baby’s birth and the postnatal period. We might signpost you to other services we think could be of use to you, talk through what might be of most comfort to you during birth or explore any fears or anxieties that you may have.
As your birth draws nearer, we become your best friend, the one who wants to know all the little details about how you are feeling and what your body is doing! We’re looking for signs of things to come and preparing ourselves to drop whatever we are doing to be by your side. We might talk you through the first surprising sensations over the phone, helping you to relax. We might encourage you to rest or to go for a walk, or to have some food, depending on the time of day or night it is, how you are feeling and how things appear to be going. We have seen birth many times and understand it’s ebbs and flows – though it can always surprise us!
From your best friend, we become a motherly figure. We want you to be as comfortable and at ease as possible through what we know is one of the most intense experiences of your life. We hold back hair and massage backs, we breathe with you through contractions and hold you in between, we remind you to take sips of drink and offer gentle words of encouragement and reassurance. If that is what you need. For some, our reassuring presence in the room is enough; each birth and each mother are different. Other roles we may take on include reassuring partners, providing ice-cubes to suck on or cups of tea, seeking out towels or bendy straws or hair ties, even the occasional dog walking or child-minding… Along with the emotional support comes the logistical support!
And once you are back at home with baby, the postnatal doula becomes again the listener, the friend, the mother, all rolled into one comforting, encouraging presence. The person who has your back and is there for you however you need her to be there.