I trained as a Doula in the lockdown of 2020 with an American company for the simple reason that I wanted to have more knowledge of the Birth world that I had been entering since 2019. I wanted more physiological information and tips on how to help my clients when in their birthing space.
In 2021 I decided that actually I would like to be able to offer Doula services alongside my Birth photography and decided to train with Badass Doulas. Their message of inclusivity sung to me loud and clear, their ethics were bang on as was their positive and powerful messages. So, as part of my retraining I need to write about what a Doula is. Do you know?
I often mention the word Doula to people and the response back is 'what?!' Although within these last 12 months and with the rise of homebirths in lockdown I do feel as though the role of the Doula is becoming more of a widely used term for parents. Think back. Have you heard your grandma ever speak about her birth, which was most likely at home & with women, these women would have been the midwife (but not always) or their own mother, sister, aunty, friend, neighbour etc but the chances are they would have had a little team of women around them supporting them through the birth of one of your parents.
Any historical image of birth will show a team of women on hand ready to support. The word Doula in Greek actually means 'women who serve' and that's exactly what we are. It wasn't until the 1960's that the modern day role of the doula was born. I think there's a misconception that only 'rich' people hired Doula's, that it was something for the elite or upper class but being immersed in the birth world I have learnt that people are beginning to realise that this isn't the case. That a Doula is for everyone and that Birth is an investment, just like your Wedding is or was. How many people rock up on their wedding day and wing it? Just grab any old outfit out the wardrobe & crack on with getting married. You don't do you, it takes months, sometimes YEARS of planning - flowers, dress, venue, colour scheme, bridesmaids outfits, suits, transport, food, favours, rings - the same applies with your birth. Planning and investment is everything. Home birth or hospital birth? Hypnotherapy or yoga or both? A doula or a Birth Photographer or both? Lots of reading into the physiological side of birth and having a true understanding of what you can do, learning and gaining knowledge about your rights and that its ok to say no or to go back with an answer once you've done your research. Its all in the planning! Anyway, I digress!!
A Doula's role is to be there for her client AND her client's family during birth. Most often during pregnancy and in the post natal period but not always. We are non medical but professionally trained individuals with a love and passion for birth & people. Some families just hire a Doula for their post natal period as an extra pair of hands and for the advice and support they can bring or just for the birth. A Doula brings a quiet calm, they are there to support, to hold space, to watch and wait, to offer advice and information for informed choices, to advocate, to be listening ear and helping hand before, during and after birth. And with the midwifery system on its knees in its current climate there is no better time to have a Doula if you are pregnant. Choices are being made by parents based on limited facts & not always with the full of range on information needed to make educated choices. Anxiety levels in a post covid world (or as we stand currently present Covid world) are high & pregnant people are finding themselves naturally needing more support, reassurance & guidance.
One of the reasons that doulas are seen as effective is because according to Hofmeyr (1991). 'doulas are a form of pain relief in themselves' With continuous support from someone other than their partner, labouring people are less likely to request epidurals or pain medication. It is thought that there is fewer use of medications because birthing people feel less pain when a doula is present. An additional benefit to the avoidance of epidural anaesthesia is that women may avoid many medical interventions that often go along with an epidural (Caton, Corry et al. 2002).
The other & main reason is the “harsh environment” theory. In most Western countries since birth became medicalised by moving out the home & into the hospital, birthing people are frequently subjected to policies and red tape, high intervention rates, staff they don't know, lack of privacy, bright lighting, and needles (Hofmeyr, Nikodem et al. 1991).
Dealing with the above when you're at the most vulnerable & important stages of your life is tough. This environment has been known to slow down a person’s labour as well as their self-confidence. It is thought that a doula “buffers” this harsh environment by providing continuous support and companionship which promotes the mother’s self-esteem (Hofmeyr, Nikodem et al. 1991). It's this attachment between a doula and their client that can increase the rate of oxytocin which we all know in the birth world as the love hormone - the magic one. It's the hormone you want and need to be at its maximum to enable your cervix to open and let baby descend - but to have it you need darkness, quiet, space, privacy, a safe place with safe people.
So, that's a Doula! And by gawd does every family need one - if only for the sleepless nights afterwards! A Doula is one who serves you - always xxx