It seems like even with the current evolution of the birth world- with documentaries like “The Business of Being Born” and “Born in the USA” becoming quite well known, and more women choosing home births or seeking out birth centers, you hear more and more about “alternative” birth practices and birth-related terms. Home births, water births, unassisted births, midwives, doulas, placenta encapsulation, placenta smoothies….these are all terms that are now quite common. Well, at least you’ve probably heard the terms before, even if you don’t know exactly what they all mean. And quite possibly, if you’re not pregnant (or planning to become pregnant….or if you’re a male) you might not want to know what some of these terms mean.
But…..for me, if I had a dollar for every time I still heard “You’re a doo- whaaaat?” when I say I’m a doula…..well, let’s just say I’d be typing this blog post from aboard my yacht as I sip on a tropical cocktail by the pool, while the cabana boy who bears a striking resemblance to Chris Hemsworth rubs sunscreen on my body (please note, I’m not on-call in this fantasy). Because, well, let’s face it, the reality is many people don’t really know what exactly a doula is (although they might think they do, or they don’t want to admit that they don’t). Heck, I work closely with two home-birth midwives that have had clients who have already hired them and aren’t sure what the difference between a doula and a midwife is. Not to mention the misconception that if you hire a doula, it must mean you are planning to birth at home in flower-petal filled water, singing “Kumbaya” wearing nothing but a wreath on your head, while burning sage and chanting mantras in ancient dialects. And while I think that sounds AMAZING and I’d love to attend that birth, that’s just not the case. Most of the time, the women who most benefit from having a doula are those birthing in a hospital setting, with a traditional OB as their care provider. Because birth can be “complicated” within that setting, with many opposing forces coming into play along the way.
The word doula is of Greek origin and means “woman who serves”. But please, allow me to break it down for you further. Here it is, in language everyone can understand- what a doula is and what a doula is not. Or rather, what a doula does and doesn’t /shouldn’t do.
…provides physical, informational, and emotional support.
That means we help you identify what comfort measures work best for you to alleviate the physical discomforts associated with pregnancy and birth. That could mean massage, hot/cold packs, different positions for laboring women to move into to get the baby in the best position for birth, music, affirmations, visualizations, meditations, etc. We are there to help you navigate throughout your birth using all of these and more, silently recognizing when something that was working great is no longer effective, and we gracefully guide you to a new suggestion.
It means we help you get whatever evidence-based information you need in order to help you make the best decisions for your family and your birth. Whether it is helping you to communicate effectively with your care provider what your wishes & hopes are; helping you to listen to their responses and to determine if you feel heard, understood and respected; giving you links to information on a procedure or intervention that is being recommended; giving you community resources for other types of practitioners throughout your pregnancy , birth and postpartum that may be helpful; taking your phone calls at 2 am when you are wondering “Is this normal?” when you are wide awake at night because you are worried, and tired, and haven’t been able to find a comfortable sleeping position in MONTHS, and just want to ask that question but you don’t want to call your care provider and seem silly or overcautious.
It means emotionally, we are present and there for you at all times, without judgement or an agenda. When your family members are questioning your decisions and your choices. When your fears leading up to birth become overwhelming. When the time FINALLY comes and you are in the thick of it and you get to the point where you don’t think you can do it anymore. We are there to hold your hand, wipe your brow, look you in the eye and remind you that you CAN do this, you will do this, you are doing this.
A doula does not:
- perform ANY clinical tasks such as taking your blood pressure, performing vaginal exams, checking fetal heart tones, etc.
- make any decisions for you. We help you to get the information necessary to make informed decisions, both during pregnancy as well as during your labor and delivery. We also remind you if there is a departure from your original birth preferences.
- speak to the staff or care providers on your behalf. We will discuss your concerns with you and suggest options, and tactfully help you & your partner speak to the staff directly and feel empowered to make decisions regarding your birth.
As doulas, we are simply there for you. We hold space. We are your ally, your partner, your sister, your mother, your coach and your friend all rolled up into one during that magical time of pregnancy and birth. And we are grateful and honored to be able to serve you and be a witness to your miracle.
Please feel free to share this with anyone who might benefit from better understanding what a doula is. If you would like any more information specifically about the services I provide, please contact me at martha@zenmamalove, or visit my webpage, www.zenmamalove.com.