20 March 2013

Bree-Ann on Being a Doula

1 – Tell me three things about yourself aside from being a doula.

I have a beautiful almost-two-year-old daughter, Aida and a fantastic husband, Curran and a very hilarious dog named Goblin and I love them more than everything else.

I have been with my husband since I was 14 years old and continue to fall more in love with him all the time. Is that even possible? Geeze.

I really want to own a hobby farm one day and become more self-sufficient.

2 – What exactly is a doula?

She is so many things! Very generally though, a doula is a continuous support person for a mother and her partner before, during and following birth. She is a source for information, emotional and physical support during labour and an advocate for the family-to-be.

3 – In your opinion, what makes a good doula?

I think that it is something that has to come pretty naturally to someone. You can take all the training in the world but if you are not compassionate, empathetic person with an innate ability to read peoples’ needs and feelings you are not going to be a successful doula. Keeping the environment calm is a huge role of the doula so she must also have a confident, calming presence. Obviously an extreme interest in pregnancy/childbirth/parenthood is also essential. Something else I think is crucial, although there are some doulas out there that would not agree, is an entire lack of an agenda. It is so important that every woman have the right to strive for whatever birth she wants. A doula should be there to support the family in any decision they make without judgment. Most people know if the carrier is a right fit and if they will be good at it within the first couple births they attend. 

4 – What does it take to become one?

Foremost: the desire to be a doula. Really, any one who assists a mother during birth is playing the role. How to become a certified doula though depends on the association that you want to be certified with. Usually certification requires you to take a few training courses which come with long list of required reading and the like. You are also required to attend a certain number of births and receive evaluations from the mother, nurse and doctor or midwife. This is usually the most difficult part of becoming certified since a lot of doctors don’t care enough to take two seconds to fill out your evaluation. It’s bananas to me that a doctor’s evaluation is required at all. The doctor (not midwife) almost always shows up just as the baby is crowning so they haven’t seen you do much (if they notice you at all). It can be very disheartening to put all your time and effort into a birth and if the doctor doesn’t want to circle a few numbers on a piece of paper for you, you cannot use that birth for certification. It’s just crazy! Just one of the many reasons why it is so awesome to attend a birth with a midwife!

5 – Are doulas a new thing, or an old thing?

They have been around as long as we have.

6 – How is a doula different than having, say a sister, mom or friend as a support during birth?

Aside from all the training and knowledge a doula has concerning pregnancy, labour, birth, breastfeeding, baby care, postpartum care for mom and family, a mother is allowed to be exactly who she is with a doula. She isn’t concerned with offending or feeling like she needs to please her doula in the same way she may with someone she is close with. As much as a doula grows to love her clients, it is not the same as someone close to the mother and therefore her opinions and advice don’t come with the same biases as say the mothers or sisters would. She is the third party support whose sole concerns are for the mom, baby and partner. 

7 – Probably an obvious question, but what are the major differences between a doula and a midwife?

You would be surprised how often people ask me this question. I guess it is not that obvious but they are two entirely different things. A doula doesn’t perform any medical tasks or exams of any sort. A midwife cares for the mother throughout pregnancy and assists her in birthing her baby. The midwife performs all the medical exams and is present to ensure the safety of both mom and baby. The doula is there to support mom and partner through the labour and initial postpartum period.

8 – How were you introduced to the doula world?

I had never actually heard of a doula until I was pregnant. I very much wanted a midwife but when I couldn’t get one a friend of mine suggested we get a doula. It turned out to be a life-changing piece of advice. 

9 – You have a young daughter. Did you have a doula for her birth? What was that like?

Yes. It was pretty incredible. At first I was extremely unsure about it and to be honest a bit weirded out by the idea of a stranger being involved in the most intimate event in my life, but it was very much the opposite. Curran was actually the one who pushed to have a doula. I think he was (understandably) feeling a bit overwhelmed and nervous about being my sole support person through labour. He was very aware that in the hospital we would mostly be left to labour on our own while the nurses would be in and out and changing shifts throughout. I finally agreed and we met with our doula a few times before my due date. After our second visit I began to feel like we were connecting more and more. When she met us at the hospital I felt like I had known her forever. She made me feel comfortable and confident. I spent most of my labour in my own world and often had no idea what was going on around me but what I could feel for sure was that both she and Curran were calm and relaxed. And although I was not mentally present for a large part of my labour, when I would experience a different sensation or begin to feel like I couldn’t handle anymore, I would come back to the present and just look at her and with one simple question and a nod of my head she knew exactly where I was in my labour or exactly what to say to keep me going and confident that I could do it.

She knew what I needed when I needed it without my having to say it. I was kept hydrated without having to think “I should probably drink something”, a straw would simply show up at my lips every so often. I was reminded to pee – something that may not sound important but is actually very crucial and often not thought about by a labouring mom. I was massaged and touched when I needed to be and left alone when I couldn’t handle it. Curran was an amazing labour partner but if it hadn’t been for our doula he would not have been calm throughout the process which would have changed my labour entirely. As much as she reassured me she also helped Curran understand what was normal and in doing so allowed him to relax and just help me labour. We both felt secure having another constant presence there to looking out for our needs.  

10 – What difference would a/ did a doula make for you during your pregnancy and birth of Aida?

All the difference. It is very hard to put into words but anyone who has ever had a doula present at their birth will know exactly what I mean.

11 – How does doula philosophy fit in with western medicine’s take on pregnancy and childbirth?

I see the doula philosophy as giving the power of labour and birth back to the mother and I often feel that western medicine is built in such a way that this power and choice is often taken away. I in no way believe that western medicine has no place in birth, it has most certainly performed miracles beyond mother nature’s powers, but I do believe it is way over used.

12 – How welcoming are hospitals to doulas?

Most are pretty good. Nurses generally love working with doulas because it makes their job a little easier. As long as the doula works well with the staff and is polite and courteous they are a welcomed addition to the birthing team.

13 – From your perspective, why are doulas increasing in popularity these days?

I think more and more people are beginning to learn what a doula is and exactly what she does. There is so much research out there now showing the positive effects that doulas have on labour and birth. People are beginning to realize that the doula can be an essential tool to a labouring woman. There is a famous quote by Dr. John Kennell, one of the founders of DONA international, that says “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it”. I love this quote because it really outlines how much of a difference a doula can make to someone’s labour.

14 – Was becoming a doula always a dream of yours?


15 – How did it become so important to you?

When I had a doula for my labour I realized how much of a difference one can make. I completed my training and was attending my first births before my daughter was even six months old. I think that pregnancy and birth can become a passion very quickly with some women, especially once they have experienced it themselves. Bringing another life into the world really opened my heart and soul on a new level and stirred up an instinctual desire to assist and guide other women through their labour journey.   

16 – Have you been to births as a doula yet? How was it/were they?

Yes, quite a few actually. Each one has been completely amazing in its own way. They have all been so different and each has taught me something new. I think the unpredictability is one of the things I like so much about being a doula. Every mother is unique and therefore each birth is a very different experience. It’s awesome!

17 – What’s the secret to staying calm during such an intense time (birth)?

Hmmm, I’m not sure there is any big secret. Being trained and acquiring as much knowledge about the process and its variations/interventions and the like definitely allows a doula to stay calm during the birth. I also believe that much of the calming presence of a doula is something that just comes naturally to some people. 

18 – What do you love most about being a doula? And what do you find the most difficult?

Every day I go to work I either get to be chatting it up with moms (and dads)-to-be (or new parents) or witnessing the birth of a new life! How many people get to say that? It’s awesome!

The hardest aspect of being a doula for me is the unpredictable client volume. There is a large (and growing) demand for doulas in Winnipeg but if you’re not part of a company or collective, as in my case, than acquiring clients can be very difficult. Actually, being a doula as a career is very difficult in general. For many people (including myself before I had my daughter) it is difficult to justify paying a labour companion when you haven’t yet experienced their value. I can completely understand this since spending more money than you have to before having a new baby is about the last thing that anyone wants to do. Unless the person comes to you with a complete understanding of your value as a doula or they have money to throw at anything they want, it is more difficult than selling insurance.

19– Is western medicine moving forward or backward in terms of women’s birthing experience?

This is difficult to answer. Most of the time I really think it is but every once in a while I experience something (or hear of an experience) that really makes me feel the opposite. I think generally it is but may be difficult to notice since it seems to move in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back motion.

20 – How has being a doula impacted you/ your life the most?

To be honest, it has actually changed most everything about my life. It is a completely new career for me, one totally different from my last. Being a part of such an intimate event in other people’s lives can really enrich your own. I love my family a little more and squeeze them a little harder every time I return home from a birth.   

Check out Bree's blog at www.aprairiedoula.blogspot.com

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