As we wave goodbye to World Doula Week (22-28 March), I thought it would be nice to write about what it means to be a Doula. What is a Doula? The difference we can make to the families we support and the difference those families make to us.
So, what is a Doula?
Whenever I am asked what I do, I proudly say “I am a Doula”, to which it is often repeated back to me “A dealer?” I refuse to apologise for my London accent, but a dealer; really? The other response I get is, “Oh yes, like a midwife?”. People will often know my role is something to do with maternity work. I then go on to explain that I am trained and qualified to assist new and expectant families, providing emotional and practical support from conception to pregnancy, labour and beyond.
But let’s take a step back and look at the definition of the word Doula;
‘The word Doula is of Greek origin meaning a female helper or maidservant and derives from the Greek word doulē which means female slave, with the word slave having obvious negative connotations. The modern definition of Doula is a person, usually a woman, who is trained to provide advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during and just after childbirth. A doula assists in educating the new family in helping build their confidence as new parents.’
Doula, Birth Companion, Birth Coach or Birth Guardian. However you wish to describe this amazing role, a Doula is there to help guide the path to parenthood in a positive and informed way.
The difference a Doula can make
We know about the non-judgemental, practical and emotional support. We also know about providing information for options and informed choices and having someone experienced to attend the labour and birth.
But research also shows that having a Doula can reduce levels of medical intervention, shorten labour and improve the condition of babies at birth. A Doula’s involvement can lead to higher levels of sustained breastfeeding, increased attachment and bonding, resulting in a more positive birth experience and the better well-being of the mother following birth. Let us not forget the impact on partners; having a supportive partner involved in the birth journey can also have better relationship outcomes in terms of bonding with the new baby.
A Doula will provide you with all the information you need and go on to support you and respect your birthing and/or feeding plans.
Before agreeing to support a new family I always offer the chance of a free, no obligation meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to get to know one another and agree what type of service is required. It is really important that we all feel comfortable going forward.
The positive impact families have on us
But being a Doula is not only about the difference a Doula can make to a new family. As a parent, the biggest challenge is letting go. But we know that if we get it right, this little person, forever our baby, will be able to go out into the world and hold their own with confidence.
In many ways the relationship between a Doula and a new family is similar; there’s a mutual exchange of time, hope and investment. A sense of adventure with an impending new life and changes to the mother. So many determining factors; place of birth, desired type of birth, a boy or girl, multiples, how much in weight, the date and time born, who will the baby resemble and what personality? Our birthing experiences stay with us forever and each one is a uniquely special and precious experience.
There is always a feeling of pride as families grow, becoming stronger and more confident, asking questions, re-evaluating and challenging themselves. For me, it can be hard to walk away but, as your Doula I will always be a part of this momentous time and those memories will always be a part of us. The beauty of seeing a new family empowered to move forward independently is that, like oxytocin it is contagious, and it is impossible not to feel empowered and changed by it.
What it means to me to be a Doula
So, I started my Doula career working with a wonderful charity. In exchange for intensive training, I provided volunteer Doula services to vulnerable women who otherwise would not be able to access a Doula service. Today, I still volunteer giving one day a week of my time and gaining far more in return.
I love getting to know women and understanding and helping them to shape their own birthing experience. Whilst this is empowering to the families I support, as a woman and a mother, tapping into their strength and seeing them grow is also empowering to me. Alongside the actual birth, each family’s journey is one of the things that still moves and motivates me today. Bringing a life into the world is special beyond compare and it is impossible not to be touched by it. That is why as a Doula I am honoured and privileged to be able to be a part of this life changing experience.
When a new family sincerely cannot thank me enough or delights in the difference in this birth compared to a previous one, when they tell me they could not have done it without me and comment on intimate things like how I held their hand, looked into their eyes, calmed them with my voice or massaged their back. When a baby takes its first breath, lets out its first birth cry and, even in the very beginning of life, starts to show personality and promise. As a Doula, it is my absolute pleasure and all of these things make the connection all the more special.
For me being a Doula is, quite simply, one of the best jobs in the world.