With my first child, I had no idea there was such a thing as a doula -- I had never heard the word. With my second, we moved while I was 7 months pregnant, and I had since learned what a doula was; as I was away from home and family, I thought about finding a doula to help me through that birth, but in the end, the fear of the cost left my husband and I on our own again. With my third child, I finally decided I deserved a doula!
And do I ever love her!
Once my contractions began and we headed for the hospital, we called two people: My mom (who was three hours away), and my doula. My doula, Alicia, met us soon after at the hospital. She came ready to serve with her doula bag, her calm demeanor, and her gentle smile. I felt instantly better as she walked into my room, like "now I can do this."
My husband had been with me through two other labors and births -- he wasn't a newbie. But Alicia could intuit what my needs were without even asking. She was so good at helping me, she was almost like a fixture in the room -- the one handing me cold wash clothes to put on my hot belly, the one adjusting the bubbles in the Jacuzzi tub, the one giving the soft physical and verbal encouragement when I hadn't even realized I was struggling.
From my husband I had love and security; from my doula I had nurturing and normalcy. Now I know, if I ever have another baby, I absolutely will have a doula.
Sometimes it's fun to hear what people think we do as doulas. Often we get the same kinds of answers. In Day 9 Kelly Bolerjack shares a great top 5 list of misconceptions related to doulas and the work we actually do.
I’ve noticed a lot of confusion from the general public about doulas. And it’s understandable. Doulas aren’t portrayed in television or movies. You don’t hear about us on the news. Most people will never even meet a doula; and if they do they may not ask any questions. (I’m pretty sure my dad thinks I’m a doctor of some sort.) So, I thought I’d spend some time today clearing up the five most common misconceptions I hear about doulas.
1. We’re essentially midwives. Umm, no. Not quite. Midwives handle the physiological aspects of birth. They monitor the health and status of mother and baby, diagnose and treat problems, and are medically trained in healthcare to some degree. Midwives are essentially OBGYN-replacements. Doulas give emotional, physical, and informational support as well as advocate for the rights and wishes of the birthing woman. As a doula, I offer knowledge (from training) and experience (from practice) in an attempt to normalize birth. There are many unknowns in birth and women can feel scared or threatened. A helpful and familiar doula who can offer advice or encouragement, without the burden of (midwife/OB) responsibility, can help the woman achieve the birth she desires.
2. We’re all patchouli-loving hippies. I actually hate the smell of patchouli. And while I admire hippie women who live free and uninhibited lives, I like my medications, Iphone, high heels, and smooth legs. Doulas come in many varieties. This misconception is based in a (sort of) truth in that modern doulas arose in response to the medical births of the early and mid 1900s. Our first doulas (and midwives) were a group of hippies in the 1970s who began the natural birth movement. Hospitals were putting women under so many medications during labor and birth, they were unconscious, also known as Twilight Sleep. But while hippies may have started the movement, options in birth has become a mainstream idea. I know medications can be successfully used in some birth situations. I simply advocate for a woman’s right to choose where and how she gives birth.
3. We only attend natural births. In my personal practice, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I attend far more births where the woman is utilizing some sort of medical intervention, be it pain relief or induction. Some doulas may choose to decline medicated births for personal reasons. But not me. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly have (very) strong opinions on what I believe are the best ways to give birth. But I’ve already had the pleasure of planning and experiencing my own births. As a doula, I help other women with their births. If my client wants medicine, I want it for her, too. If she wants to be induced, I support that fully. If she wants to schedule a cesarean, I will stand by her side.
4. We replace the partner in the birth room. That would be a terrible thing, indeed. I am constantly including the partner in whatever I am doing for the birthing woman so that the partner can be a part of the experience. The truth is that this birth is their memory, not mine. I won’t be invited to the child’s birthday parties or high school graduation. I am in their life for a short, yet sacred time. I strive to be an addition to the birth team; to be the part that seemed to be missing. I cannot replace the loving bond that connects the woman to her partner and their new child.
5. What we do is easy and should be offered for little or no cost. It’s not easy. It’s hard work. Doulas must create their own small business and run it. We network with perinatal providers in the community to attract clients and spend a lot of time and energy in letting pregnant women around us know that we are available. We must build an intimate relationship with our client (akin to a counselor) in a very short period of time, while tailoring our services to their specific needs. We study, learn, and grow constantly in our knowledge so that we can hopefully be of help in every sort of situation. We put ourselves on-call and contract to drop everything else (family, friends, commitments) when our clients go into labor. We support women (physically and emotionally) on little to no sleep with the diet of coffee and adrenaline. Most importantly, we hold space. We witness birthing women and see them without making any judgements. All the while, we sometimes witness hard and scary things during birth that can make us question just what the heck we’re doing. But we love it. Doulas are compelled to join women during labor: to stand with them and support their choices. And in valuing other women, we must value ourselves: our time, our knowledge, our strength, our service.
I hope that this has been informative for you in clarifying the role of the doula. If you have any questions or comments, please write them below. I’d love to hear from you!
Kelly is a DONA-certified birth doula living the dream in Austin, TX. A mother of 3 daughters and a lover of exercise and taco food trucks, Kelly incorporates a modern and urban dynamic into her work as a doula. She serves women of all backgrounds and identifications, with all types of care providers and in all settings. Kelly's clients value her honesty and relentless desire for informed decision-making. Kelly also provides trauma-informed care and helps each woman she meets screen for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Find her on Facebook as @kellybolerjackdoula, Instagram as kelly_bolerjack_doula, or her website www.kellybolerjackdoula.com to find out more.
Today's feature brought out mixed feelings in me. I don't want to give it away, so please read Deena's ideas and see how they make you feel. Is she right? Is she wrong? Is she somewhere in between? What kind of doula are you and can you support anyone's birth choices, truly? Is it time for doulas to "science up?"
On my third date with my boyfriend, we were at a local pub, having drinks and consuming mass quantities of greasy but tasty loaded fries, he suddenly became nervous and sincere. He leaned across the table and looked into my eyes. I was curious because we were only causally dating, and this seemed rather serious to me.
He started to speak, caught himself, and then spoke again. “I know you teach yoga, childbirth education and I understand what you do as a doula.”
I nodded, waiting for the rest of his statement.
He asked me, “Ok, I have to know, what’s your thought on vaccines?”
The look of relief on his face was measurable when I said, “Vaccines are a public health issue. It’s irresponsible not to vaccinate your kids or yourself.” He assumed, erroneously, since I wore all of those job titles proudly, that I must be anti-vaccine.
He replied, with a huge smile, “Good, because it would have been a total relationship deal breaker if you were anti-vaccine.” More than a year later, here we are, still together.
Fast forward to last week, I had an initial consultation with a new potential doula client. She asked me a question I’ve never been asked before in a consultation appointment in my almost ten-year career. “There is this stereotype about doulas”, she said, “It’s that doulas are, well, all-natural, hippie, alternative medicine people. I’m not any of those. Are you like that?”
The question gave me brief pause. I smiled and her and said, “I like my science. I will never try to fix your health issues with essential oils, or for that matter, try to sell them to you.” She smiled back and said, “Oh, thank god!” We discussed the topic a bit further and then moved back into the rest of the consultation.
Her question was a valid one, and so was that of my boyfriend.
The perception of doulas in the greater community is how this pregnant mother described. It’s one of placenta encapsulation, essential oils, earth-mother figures, natural birth, and anti-medical establishment attitudes. Thus, it becomes an exclusive club, leaving behind those who wouldn’t touch a placenta, let alone ingest it in any form and those who trust their doctors and want their epidurals. Yet, these women want, and sometimes need a doula too. The public perception restricts these women’s desire to reach out to us for an interview, let alone to hire us.
Yes, I know what we all preach. A doula for every birth! We support what you want and need, my personal bias is shelved for your birth!
However, that’s not how we always practice and that’s not the perception of many pregnant people out there of what we doulas do and how we do it. Perception is reality. Those women seeking the holistic, anti-medical establishment but still in a hospital birth are the ones who often find us and the mothers who are comfortable with the system, may not seek us out at all. So, we end up filling the role that fits the stereotype because of how we’ve presented ourselves as doulas. It becomes a circle, belief leads to practice and practice leads to belief.
I have no answers here, with regards to how to amend the public perception of who we are and how we practice. I know that there are doulas who are very natural oriented and that suits them and their clients. I also know there are doulas, and other birth professionals, who like me, are firmly grounded in science and evidence-based medicine with a healthy dose of doula compassion and TLC for their clients mixed in.
We can serve more birthing people, better, if we can change the perception and move more into the mainstream. It makes me wonder too if we’d be more likely to be successful at having health insurance companies cover our services if we can amend this perception.
My question to the readers is thus: How do we better show to the public, those who don’t know us, that there is no one way to doula? How do we show that some of us are science based and some of us lean more holistically? What about those of us who straddle both worlds of alternative therapies and evidence-based medicine?
Deena Blumenfeld ERYT, RPYT, LCCE, FACCE is the maven behind Shining Light Prenatal Education. She has been working with women since 2008 as a prenatal yoga instructor, doula, childbirth educator and teacher of teachers. She specializes in women’s health for all phases of reproduction: fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum and pelvic floor health. Her two children put her on her path to serving other women throughout their childbearing years. She can be reached through her websites, shininglightprenatal.com and
Shining Light: building empowerment, self-confidence and connection through candid education and compassionate advocacy for all families before, during and after pregnancy.
Today Sharon Muza shares one of her most embarrassing moments as a doula. We can all recall our missteps -- those times we wish we would have done something a little differently, said something else, or held that poker face a bit more tightly. We are human, and these things will happen. All we can do is laugh at ourselves when appropriate, and try to do better the next time!
As a doula, I always try to do my best. And sometimes, doing my best results in funny outcomes. I am sure that we all could share a funny story or two about our birth work. This is one of my favorites.
I had been at a birth of some clients. I was with them for about 15 hours. It was a perfectly normal birth, things moved along as they should, and a baby was born. I took my leave at the appropriate time, said my goodbyes and made my way home to rest and return to the rest of my life, which as you know, had been put on hold. It was mid morning, and I took a quick nap, thinking I would just go to bed early that night.
Another baby had a different idea. I received a call from a client about four hours after I got home from that first birth and soon joined another family at a different hospital. This birth took a bit longer and I was with family number two for about 24 hours, including through what was now my second consecutive night of missed sleep.
This baby arrived and once again, after providing post birth support, I began to say my goodbyes with baby number two and its family. It had been a long 24 hour birth (after a long 15 hour birth) and I was now officially and totally wiped out and ready to throw myself in bed for a long sleep.
As I was heading for the door, I looked back over my shoulder for one last goodbye. I called out “Goodbye Samantha, goodbye Jason, I will talk to you tomorrow.”
Before I could open the door and go through it, the dad called out to me. “Oh Sharon, by the way, my name is Kyle, not Jason.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. What?!?! I had been calling him Jason for the past 24 hours. How could his name not be Jason. Then it hit me. Jason was the name of the dad from the first birth I was at, the day before. This indeed was Kyle. I had called him the wrong name probably a 100 times over the past 24 hours. On the day of his child’s birth, the doula had called him by the wrong name every single time.
I was mortified when I realized what I had done. But why did no one correct me. Not the birthing person, not the partner, nor any hospital staff. Not one person questioned why I was calling Kyle by the name Jason. I had never realized my mistake due to my exhaustion and back to back births with Jason.
I did not know what to say. I mumbled some apologies and rapidly shuffled out the door. I was stunned and ashamed. What a fool.
When I saw them next at the postpartum visit, we laughed, sort of, at my mistake. They told me not to worry. I worry about this to this day, probably ten years later. I wonder why he never told me that I was using the wrong name? Why wait till I was walking out the door? I can laugh at it now, but I am still completely curious why I was not corrected. Strange but true.
Have you had strange or funny things that have happened at the births you have attended? Please share in the comments below while respecting client confidentiality.
Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA) BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE has been an active childbirth professional since 2004, teaching Lamaze classes and providing doula services to more than a thousand families through her private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is an instructor at the Simkin Center, Bastyr University where she is a birth doula trainer. Sharon is also a trainer with Passion for Birth, a Lamaze-Accredited Childbirth Educator Program. In September 2011, Sharon was admitted as a Fellow to the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators. In 2015, Sharon was awarded Lamaze International’s Media Award for promoting safe and healthy birth. Very active in her community, serving in a variety of positions that promote maternal-infant health, Sharon enjoys active online engagement and facilitating discussion around best practice, current research and its practical application to community standards and actions by health care providers, and how that affects families in the childbearing year. Sharon has been an engaging speaker at international conferences on topics of interest to birth professionals and enjoys collaborating with others to share ideas and information that benefit birth professionals and families. To learn more about Sharon, you are invited to visit her website, SharonMuza.com.
I always love Joyce's contributions to the 31 Days Project -- and today's does not fail to represent her heart and her mind. If we, as doulas, cannot see ourselves here in this vulnerable position of admitting we know nothing, I would suggest some introspection take place to balance pride with humility.
This month, I celebrate eight years since my DONA International birth doula training! In those eight years, I have had the privilege and sweet responsibility of supporting more than 70 births. My husband and I have added two more babies into our own family in that time. I have achieved and maintained certification through DONA, completed certification as a Hypnobabies Hypno-Doula, volunteer with the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) Lincoln chapter, volunteer with DONA as the Nebraska state representative, and serve locally with Doulas of Lincoln. I have completed training and taught other birth professionals as an Evidence Based Birth(R) Instructor. I have completed training on Rebozo techniques, Spinning Babies, techniques to alleviate back labor. I have brought new doulas with me to births for hands-on training. I have read and read and read some more. And yet. On some level. Despite all the knowledge. I know nothing about birth.
I understand the physiology. I understand the anatomy. I understand the symphony of changes that must happen in birth, at least as much as is understandable. I understand the emotional changes that birthing parents go through as their birth draws nearer. I understand the physical needs common to birthing women. I understand the psychology. I understand the medical considerations. I understand the medical system and its power structure. I understand that my clients will make choices that I would not, and I accept and honor that. I understand how to support women in childbirth, from the early stages to the first weeks postpartum and beyond.
Yes, I have lots of knowledge about birth. And birth surprises me. Regularly.
In those 70+ births, I have seen a woman go from 3cm to pushing out her baby in an hour. I have witnessed a mother going through the emotional signposts of labor during her pre-op for her scheduled Cesarean. I have held space for a woman to process her fears of becoming a mother while her cervix waited at 9.5cm for over 1 hour, and then cheered as she pushed out her healthy baby. I have supported women through inductions, natural births, epidurals, Cesareans, and more. I have been present for external cephalic version. I have experienced the stillness of breath, the concentration, the skill, the hope in the caregiver while resolving shoulder dystocia. I have held my own breath waiting for that first cry of life, and sighed in gratitude and relief when it comes. I have been astounded. I have been afraid. I have been amazed. I have witnessed miracles. I have had prayers answered moments after I prayed them. I have had prayers answered in a way I did not want. I have been allowed into sacred space. I have witnessed the moments that will live within a family forever. I am grateful.
I have made mistakes.
I had a client who was negatively impacted by seeing the clock, and I wished I had taken it down. I then had a client who was paying close attention to the clock, so I took it down. She lost her focus, and needed me to put the clock back up. I know nothing.
I had a client who was bothered by me explaining things in detail during her birth. I then had a client who wanted more detailed explanations during her birth. I know nothing.
I had a client who loved the bathtub. I then had a client who hated the bathtub. I know nothing.
I had a client who needed to smell peppermint oil to alleviate her nausea. I then had a client who found the smell of peppermint nauseating. I know nothing.
I had a client who needed her support team to be extremely quiet to feel safe. I then had a client who felt safer when her support team was chatting and talking around her. I know nothing.
I have lots of knowledge about childbirth. But when I go to a birth, my only hope to do my job well is to listen to the birthing mother. To read her. To ask her. To trust. To let go of my knowledge and myself and simply serve. I know how birth works, but I cannot know this birth before me.
Only the birthing mother knows birth. It is my duty, my joy, my honor, to serve her.
Joyce is the oldest of four children, and her birth experiences began when she watched her two younger brothers being born, med-free in hospital settings, when she was 4 and 8. When she and her husband discovered they were expecting their first child, she began researching everything she could about natural childbirth. That is when Joyce first learned about doulas. Labor support is her calling, and she is overjoyed at the opportunity to serve women in this way. In addition to being a doula, she is wife to her high school sweetheart and mother of three amazing children! Joyce holds a BA in psychology and a MS in biological sciences.
Joyce breastfed all three of her children to at least one year of age, used cloth diapers, baby sign language, babywearing, use natural remedies in conjunction with Western medicine, and homeschools. She doesn't think of herself as an "attachment parent," a "green parent," or any other parent label, she just does what makes sense for her family, and she encourages others to explore what makes sense for theirs.
Her website, Doula Joyce, and her Facebook page are where you can learn more about her.
BRAIN is one of my favorite examples of an easy way parents can get more information and ideas about different interventions they face. What I have not brought with that is the HEART Megan shares in Day 5's post. I love the combination of the two and am going to print them both out on business-size cards for my next childbirth classes!
One of the most crucial things we do as doulas is help parents make decisions. It's not as glamorous or often discussed as giving massages, squeezing aching hips, or whispering words of comfort and encouragement (not that any of those things are particularly glamorous). But it's one of the most important things we do.
Decision-making happens frequently during pregnancy. Choosing a care provider, a place to birth, which breast pump to buy through your insurance, what kind of birth preparation class to take, what sorts of things to register for, and so on...the decisions to be made sometimes feel endless.
But during labor, things are different. No longer is there a stretch of weeks or even months before baby is on the way - things are happening right now. Add to the urgency of time the fact that most laboring families are not necessarily calm, cool, and collected the way they might like to be when making decisions. Parents often don't even understand the implications of the options their care team is presenting.
That's where we come in.
In our prenatal visits and birth classes, we often use a tool well-known in the birth world. In fact, it's a tool now used by many who encourage healthcare literacy as a helpful way to approach decision-making with care providers. This tool comes in handy no matter where you're birthing, but we find it's often especially helpful for clients who are having their babies in a hospital setting.
The tool is an acronym: BRAIN. When a question comes up in labor, or a procedure or medication is suggested as the next step, our first suggestion is always to stop and take a breath. Sometimes these situations can be nerve-wracking in labor. So give yourself a moment rather than responding quickly and impulsively.
Once you've gotten a nice breath or two under your belt, take some time to go through the acronym letter by letter and ask some questions.
B: Benefits The first question to ask is what the benefits of the suggested procedure, medication, or change to the situation would be. Remember to consider benefits both for you and for your baby. We've found that usually care providers answer this question even before you have to ask it, because their suggestion is made with the intention of giving you and/or your baby a certain benefit. But if you have any additional questions about the benefits, ask them!
R: Risks Next to ask is, what are the possible risks to you? To your baby? Usually in a medical setting the answer to this question reads more like the side effects listed on a drug label. While this is good information to know, there are other indirect considerations to think about which sometimes fall outside the realm of the care provider's role in that moment.
For example, sometimes our clients ask their nurse or anesthesiologist about the risks of an epidural. Usually we hear care providers mention things like the possibility of a drop in blood pressure, headaches, nausea, itching, etc.
However, I've never heard a care provider mention the increased risk of a longer pushing phase, the increased use of medication to augment a labor slowed by epidural (pitocin), or the increased difficulty of breastfeeding after births involving an epidural (probably due to the IV fluids that accompany the administration of an epidural). These are things we discuss with our clients if they're considering an epidural, along with the benefits including "therapeutic rest" if labor has been long and hard.
If you ask about the risks of your care provider's suggestion and receive information from the drug label, also ask if there are any other indirect risks they know of. (And check in with your doula too, to see if they have any other information that might help you as you make your decision.)
A: Alternatives Ask your care provider if there are any other alternatives that can be tried first before proceeding to the suggested procedure or medication. There may be something less invasive or more temporary that might help address the issue at hand.
Often care providers and medical staff are much more comfortable with medications and medical technology in birth than parents are - primarily because they're around those things all the time. They see highly medicalized care help families every day. But most expecting parents aren't in that boat. Our clients are often surprised that their care providers suggested something more invasive when there was a less invasive alternative. Understanding where your care provider is coming from can be really helpful in this case. And of course, if your care provider suggests an alternative or two, make sure to use your BRAIN when exploring those options as well.
I: Intuition What does your gut say about this? How are you feeling about the situation at hand and the proposed next steps? Studies have actually shown that the intuitive, ancient part of our brains (the part that gives us those gut feelings) often works faster than the more analytical part of our brains. Here is a fascinating article on the subject.
It's important not to discount the sensations in your body we refer to as a gut feeling because what it can mean is that some part of you already knows the answer. It may just take a while for the rest of your mind to catch up and figure out the "why." Pregnancy, birth, and parenting involve a LOT of intuition. Don't leave your intuition at the door when you enter the birth room.
N: Nothing Also known as, "What if we wait an hour?" This question can help you determine whether your care provider feels the situation is an emergency or not. If the answer to "Can we wait an hour?" is "Sure, I'll come check in later," you know you have time to think things over. But if the answer is, "Waiting isn't an option - we need to make a decision now," obviously that gives you a different picture.
If the care provider's response to waiting an hour is positive, sometimes parents are surprised they were being asked to make a decision earlier than necessary. It's important to keep in mind that care providers are often on a schedule and juggling multiple patients at once. Sometimes the timing of things has more to do with their patient load than with your particular situation, which is another reason why it's important for parents to be asking these questions. This question is especially powerful for parents who want to minimize medications and medical technology in their births.
You should be able to take your time in making your decision unless there is a medical emergency at hand.
After you've had a chance to ask your questions, request a few minutes alone without your care providers in the room to consider your options. (If you have a doula, it could be beneficial to have them in the room with you as you talk things over. But if for any reason you'd be more comfortable having the conversation alone, by all means let your doula know.)
Once you're ready, let your care providers know you've considered your options and made a decision. If you are choosing to accept your care provider's recom-mendation, often the conversation will be fairly straightforward. But if you're choosing instead to try an alternative or wait a while before trying anything else, sometimes care providers can feel that their expertise is being undermined or that someone is convincing you not to accept their recommendation. This is a very human reaction!
To help diffuse any tension if this happens, speak from your HEART when communicating your decision to your support team.
H: Hear "I hear what you're saying and I understand why you recommended this..."
E: Empathize "...and I know you want the best for me and my baby..."
A: Affirm/Assert "...but I intend to wait a while longer before considering x, y, or z." OR "...I would rather try this alternative instead."
R: Reassure "I will let you know if anything changes."
T: Thanks "Thank you so much for your time and for taking good care of us."
These kinds of conversations can be difficult, especially if any medical concerns are present. These tools will give you an anchoring point when making decisions in labor and beyond.
Remember to use your BRAIN and HEART!
Megan has been serving growing families since 2014. She is an Advanced Birthing From Within Mentor and doula based in Orange County, CA. She is passionate about providing holistic guidance for her clients, helping them cultivate resilience and openness on their journeys to parenthood. In addition to offering birth doula support, she also teaches birth and parenting preparation classes. Megan practices in partnership with her wife, Marlee, who is also a birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, and lactation counselor. Together they serve families of all shapes and sizes with respect and compassion. Find out more about her by visiting Hero Birth Services, or her Facebook page.
It can be daunting to try and show the world how you differ from other doulas -- and this can often set us up for competition. In Day 4's selection, Natasha Longridge shares her feelings about the race between doulas, and how we can realistically shape our ideas about competition.
I've been a doula for over 10 years. I've seen a lot of doulas come and go in this profession for many reasons, but the one reason for leaving doula work that always hits at my heart, is when other doulas say "There's too much competition". I wish to flip that perception.
Take a step back, and think of where you heard the term doula. Was it from a friend? You're own birth? In the news? Chances are, it wasn't a common discussion, no matter where you heard it.
Statistically, in the US (because nothing is coming up for Canadian doula stats) only 6% of birthing families chose to have a doula. If we are talking about over saturation in the job market, that number would be a lot higher! It also goes on to mention that another 27% would have liked to hire a doula.
I like to look at that as a challenge. Obviously, we know that the word doula is still relatively unheard of in most mainstream circles. For as long as I've been a doula, I still run into people that say - I don't know what that is.
How do we change this? How do we get the word doula to roll off the lips of every beautiful birthing person? This is the challenge; to make it part of everyday conversations. The way for it to make it into more conversations, is if it becomes the norm, and a way to make it the norm, is if there are more doulas! Abundance.
I often share fellow local doulas info, blogs, etc on my business page. I have people ask me all the time why I do this. Why should I share and promote the "competition". To that I say, until every family on this vast planet knows what a doula is and does, I will keep sharing. I share because I'm not the right doula for everyone. I share because my doula sister has some great info, I share because even if I don't get the client, I know they are getting who they need and now one more family has doula support. One more family can now share the word doula with honour and love. Abundance.
I'd like to change the word competition (rivalry for supremacy) to abundance (overflowing fullness). If we believe that we do this work out of love, then we need abundance. The world we raise our children in, that we bring future parents into, needs more love. By believing in abundance of love and support we all win.
When we flip the idea that other doulas are competition, we lose the fear, we start to see how strong we are. We start to see the tribe of support that stands around us, holding the space for big things to come. That there is strength in numbers, and with those numbers, we have the power to create a birth world revolution.
Natasha is the mother to 4 spirited children who, along with their dogs, cats, and reptiles reside in Spruce Grove Aberta, Canada.
Natasha has been a practicing doula for over 10 years, and has worked in all Edmonton area hospitals, along with the local Lucina Birth Center and home births.
She takes her role as doula very seriously, and in doing so she is forever upgrading her skills. Natasha has taken training through DONA, Stillbirthday University, and GK University. She is currently enrolled in The Cultured Doula Program, and has recently completed her Masters Rebozo with GKU. As a placenta specialist she trained with PBiU.
Natasha can be found at Supermomma Doula & Placenta Edmonton, and her Facebook page.
Pursuing your passion once you've found it isn't easy. Often a lot of time and growing pains come with becoming a doula. Most of us have gone through this, or are going through this, or have to go through it again and again when other life changes occur, such as a move or having a baby of our own. Darby Morris shares her struggles in Day 3's post -- and I'm sure many of us can relate.
I sat next to one of my closest friends from college in the hospital room. Her husband and I were desperate to help. The nurse came in to the room: “you seem to be in pain, you should really get some pain medication,” she said for the fifth time with one glance at my friend. It was only a few more hours until my friend agreed and the nurse sent us out of the room while an epidural was administered. Her husband and I went to get some food from the cafeteria. He returned to the room with her mother for the birth of his firstborn. I spent the first few nights postpartum at my friend’s home doing all I knew to help her and her newborn. I was obsessed. In love. Infatuated. Though my friend would go on to be buried in postpartum depression, she saw my passion and suggested I become a doula.
I took as many classes as I could possibly find and attempted to create my own company. My first potential client was excited to hire me. I was petrified. How could they put me in charge of their birth? I had never attended a birth before. Was I crazy to want to be a doula? What if I just wanted to be a mom?
With that thought, my career as a doula ended. The answer was a resounding: yes. I did want to be a mom. With that I turned my back on the birth world and continued my pursuit for a career path, eventually getting two masters and starting my journey towards a PhD. In 2015, I had to drive two hours round-trip to get to work every day. My boyfriend had recently introduced me to podcasts and, in an attempt to find a new podcast to listen to, I decided to punch “birth” into the search bar. The Birth Hour, Birthful Podcast, Longest Shortest Time, and Mom and Dad are Fighting. (Today I have some new favorites: Fourth Trimester Podcast, Informed Pregnancy Podcast, Sprogcast, and All Things Breastfeeding Podcast.) I would come home from a full day spent collecting field notes only to spout birth facts -- until my boyfriend begged me to stop talking about birth.
A year and a half later, in November of 2016, my boyfriend found a job in California, we moved across country, and I decided to be a volunteer doula instead of immediately starting my own company. Volunteering as a doula is a unique opportunity. There are not many hospitals nation-wide that have volunteer programs. What I did not realize back in North Carolina in 2009 was that the University of North Carolina had its own volunteer doula program. Had I decided to volunteer the first time around my life would have taken a very different path.
San Francisco also has volunteer programs at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and St Luke’s. SFGH’s volunteer doula program is well established. It took me five months to get into the program after applying and another month to get my badge so I could work there.
SFGH is primarily shift-based doula work. We were required to do one twelve hour shift once a month at the hospital’s labor and delivery ward. I did not enjoy it. There were times when I would sit for hours in the staff break room with nothing to do, staring at a screen trying to decipher the abbreviations that at the time meant nothing. When I was asked by the nurses to help a patient out I would find myself in a situation like this: a woman had barely acknowledged her desire for the epidural that was administered. It was explained by several hospital staff how it worked. Once we were alone she turned to me, “what is this?” she asked, pointing to the epidural button.
If I had been there earlier, I could have helped her understand all of her options, cope with her pain, have the birth she wanted, or at least explained to her the confusing birth hospital system she had been thrown into: all things I was able to do while on call with families at St Luke’s. Instead, the women we serve in shift-based work at SFGH only get support from a doula midway through their births, and at that point I was little better than the drugs the hospital had set her up on: another unexpected, confusing intervention to a natural process that modern medicine has somehow turned into an esoteric exercise for medical technicians.
I no longer do shift-based volunteer work and no longer volunteer at St Luke’s. Instead I work at San Francisco General Hospital for their small on-call program where I help with high-risk births: substance abuse survivors, rape victims, women whose babies will need surgery immediately postpartum, etc. I also started Sweetbay Doula as a doula who works to nurture the relationship between birthing individual and their partner that I believe is so important. And I love my job.
Since May 2017, Darby Morris has been serving private clients, and volunteers at both San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and St. Luke’s Hospital as a birth and postpartum doula.
Darby believes in providing doula experiences based upon continuing education and spreading that knowledge to families. Her business, Sweetbay Doula, is named after the Sweetbay Magnolia tree. Magnolias are known for their strength, flexibility and beauty. They can be found in both warm and cold climates, and are either deciduous or evergreen, depending on the environment. Their blooms are not affected by frost so they are able to bloom into late spring.
In short, Sweetbay Doula, like its namesake, is highly-resilient, flexible, and open-minded in all of the ways an expectant parent needs.
Being a US-based doula, it is easy for me to assume the general ways we practice as doulas are similar around the world. This 31 Days project gives me a dose of reality and shakes up my US-centric thinking when I read stories from doulas like Nicci. I wish Nicci and everyone like her the strength to keep supporting families, the courage to continue the uphill battle, and the heart to handle so much pain. The title for her post is also the motto for her bereavement training program -- thank you, Nicci, for allowing me to share your powerful words here.
My name is Nicci and I am a Bereavement Doula from Pretoria (Gauteng Province, South Africa), dealing exclusively with miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. I have been a "death doula" since 2015 and I am currently one of the most experienced bereavement doulas in the country.
Death humbles you. It leaves many wounded and scared (and scarred!) but also just as many people are awakened to the miracle and the fragility that is life. It opens your eyes to the absolute gift it is to breathe (and have those you love breathe) every single day. I deal with indescribable pain and heartache. My job is not an easy one, in fact, it’s probably one of the most emotionally challenging professions out there. But it is made bearable by knowing that I could help a mommy or daddy carry the load, even if it’s only for a little while. There is something unique about child loss. Because you don’t only lose a child you love, you lose the promise of that child’s life. You lose the "could have beens". You miss their first day of school. You miss their 16th and 21st and 30th birthdays. You miss out on every little thing that would have made that child "yours".
Like the character in the book The Shack, I carry The Great Sadness with me every single day of my life. Sometimes The Great Sadness is quite satisfied to sit in the corner of a room or on the roof of my car and just leave me alone – sometimes even for a day or two. Other days, The Great Sadness would just not let go of me. It will cling to me whilst I brush my teeth, when I feed the dogs, when I pray, when I speak to a telesales agent and decline a cellphone contract for the umpteenth time. It will rear its sad head when I walk in a shopping centre and see something or someone that triggers a memory. Sometimes when I walk passed a baby store The Great Sadness would hug me so tight that I struggle to breathe. But the Great Sadness and I have come to an agreement: Whenever I am with a client, it will not show up for a while. But sometimes The Great Sadness breaks its word and all that I can do is be sad with them.
The parents I assist and I usually have a lot of time talk and cry and yes, even laugh. Sometimes it’s much easier to talk about your pain to a stranger – somebody that you don’t feel guilty over because you are "burdening" them with your pain. Someone that won’t judge, just listen – who may shed a tear or two with you but who will not fall apart.
As a bereavement doula I am learning more and more about life, death, loss and everything in between every day. I have seen that parents feel guilty because they are experiencing deep grief over the death of their child. Statements made by well-meaning friends may cause them to question the validity of their deep feelings of sorrow – statements like the following: “Just be glad you didn’t get to know her. This way you won’t have to suffer the grief.” Or “The woman down the street lost all her children in a fire, you are lucky compared to her.”
The fact is that grief cannot be compared – not even between parents. Grief will not lessen just because the grief of another person is perceived to be greater. Also, they may have given birth to another child. But this will be another child, not a substitute for the one who has died. I always say babies aren’t puppies who can fulfill a general need. And to be honest, not even a dog can be replaced, how on earth can people expect parents to "replace" their baby who has passed on with another!
Although primarily my focus, I don’t just assist with baby loss but also with other losses. I have assisted a mother who gave birth via c-section to a healthy, beautiful little baby boy. The reason she needed me though, was because her husband was brutally shot and killed in front of her. This woman was shattered and tears jumped in my eyes when I looked into hers. It was almost unbearable to look at her. But she needed a calm, collected and professional person to assist her during the birth. In hindsight, I was none of the above. I may have appeared calm and collected, and yes, even professional to the untrained eye. But I was falling apart on the inside. The moment the doctor lifted that precious little boy from his mommy’s tummy I had such a huge lump in my throat I couldn’t breathe. The Great Sadness won that day…
Because there is such a huge need for bereavement birth workers in South Africa, I have written an Online Bereavement Training Program to enable as many people as possible in South Africa with a heart for bereavement to assist parents going through loss. Students are equipped with the right information, tools and coping skills to guide families in South Africa going through the unimaginable.
It is my dream that my profession will be formally recognized and acknowledged in South Africa and that bereavement doulas’ services will be covered by all medical aids. The motto of the bereavement doulas trained by Nicci.doula Bereavement is “to serve with love in loss” – I hope to be able to do this for a very long time to come.
Ever since the traumatic birth of her firstborn, the subsequent birth of his brothers, 6 infertility treatments, 3 miscarriages and 1 adoption, it has always been Nicci's dream to make a difference in the lives of bereaved parents. She is Birth and Perinatal Bereavement Doula, and a certified SBD Doula®. Passionate about ensuring families of all kinds have the unique support they need, she is the former director at Voice of the Unborn Baby, and Managing Director of Doulas of South Africa. Nicci is an avid writer and has written many short stories on her experiences as bereavement doula. Nicci also wrote a book about her infertility struggles. Besides being a doula, she is also a professional stillbirth photographer. Nicci believes in the power of encouragement, and in building confident and empowered doulas to make a difference in South Africa. She also believes in dreaming big and working hard. She is passionate about people in general and more specifically about the doula profession. If you would like more information on the work Nicci does, please visit www.niccidoula.com or visit her Facebook page. For international bereavement training please visit www.stillbirthday.com.
Nicci lives in a leafy suburb at the foot of the Magalies mountains, in the Pretoria area of Gauteng Province, South Africa.
Recently I was asked to doula a fellow doula for her upcoming birth. A close member of her family, who supposedly knows what doulas do, asked, "So Stacie is going to deliver your baby?" This pregnant doula was exasperated by the question, because she has explained many times to her family members (who have been her biggest supporters) what she does when she is hired by families -- and that is always punctuated by, "we don't deliver babies." Erica shines a new light on the answer to this question, and the idea to me is lovely and accurate.
Through almost a decade of discussions with friends and family, this has been the most frequent question asked: what DO doulas do? A loaded one. In the few instances where someone does know the word doula, I typically see generalized notions picked up from media, college, or that hippy-dippy aunt of yours that had her baby at home, such as labor and delivery support, birth assistant, maid, personal assistant, stand-in for unsupportive partners, etc. And while I could speak on the subject for days, I often find myself explaining over and over again how integral a doula can be in any birthing experience from a planned cesarean to an unmedicated home birth, even a high-risk pregnancy and loss of pregnancy. Doulas wear many labels, often times several: birth doula, postpartum doula, antepartum doula, bereavement doula, etc. This led me to find out what the leading experts say about the modern-day doula.
In the fourth edition of The Birth Partner | The Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions, Penny Simkin states:
"The [birth] doula is on call for you, arrives at your home or the hospital when you need her, and remains with you continuously, with few or no breaks, until after the baby is born. The doula is trained and experienced in providing emotional support, physical comfort, and nonclinical advice. She draws on her knowledge and experience as she reassures, encourages, comforts, and empathizes with the mother."
Ann Douglas, in The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, writes:
"[Postpartum doulas] offer a similar service [as birth doulas] during the postpartum period, providing hands-on assistance to new parents during the first few days or weeks of parenthood. Postpartum doulas are “jill of all trades,” who bring a range of different skills to the table."
The Doula Book, written by Marshall H. Klaus, MD, John H. Kennell, MD, and Phyllis H Klaus, MFT, LMSW, explains:
"…a doula needs specific skills and insights. A successful doula is comfortable with giving of herself and is not afraid to love. She also can enter another’s space and be highly responsive and aware of another’s needs, moods, changes, and unspoken feelings. At the same time, she is able to be flexible in this process, adapting herself to each mother’s needs, and has no need to control or smother."
Clearly, there are a wide-range of definitions available for a doula, and often times doulas vary in what they offer to clients and their families. I’m reminded of a term I learned while watching animated films with my husband and son: Inbetweeners. In animation, these are assistants to the animators that ‘fill in’ drawings around the key frames to maintain smooth evolution from one to another. Just like a doula, they do not control the story line (that’s left to the writers, directors, editors, etc.), rather they assist progression to accomplish the end goal of a successful film. In birth, doulas are the Inbetweeners.
Doulas do the inbetween work – applying counter pressure on mom while she leans on her partner, managing meal prep and household upkeep while mom, dad, and baby adjust to their new life together, offering words of encouragement during a challenging transition. She does not control your birthing experience. You may not see her in birth photos (just like we rarely notice credits for Inbetweeners), but she is there, assisting progression to accomplish the end goal of each mother.
Her face isn’t what you’ll carry with you. A birthing experience void of confusion, desperation, frustration, or regret is the ultimate service of a doula, and this is a passive one. She is dedicated to facilitating an experience as close to the wishes of the mother as situationally possible.
What DO doulas do? Everything inbetween.
Erica Verbeck, born and raised in Southern Indiana, is the owner of Doula the Damn Thing. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication and Culture with studies in Anthropology, Family Studies, and Early Childhood Education from Indiana University.
She values homeopathic restoration of our natural bodies through healthy diet, minimalism (work-in-progress), and unschooling her toddler. She works to balance her traditional upbringing with the ancient methods of our predecessors to enlighten her journey through pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.
When not playing with her young son or discussing birth and babies, Erica enjoys wire-wrapping jewelry and reading the latest research on pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. Through a mother's most intimate and primal journey, she hopes to build a trusting and informed birth experience for all who desire one. You can find her through her Facebook pagedoulathedamnthing.com, or her website, Doula the Damn Thing.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)