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.