Connection through birth is an amazing reality. In this most incredible passage of life, we as doulas have an opportunity to connect with the journey itself. The journey of life into being. The journey of a woman into motherhood. The journey of a couple into a family. What an awesome responsibility! This connection is made when we reach out one woman to another and attempt to weave supportive threads into the fabric of the journey. The threads themselves are the very tools we rely on – education, physical comfort, emotional support, encouragement. Using these tools ever so gently and efficiently, we have the privilege of helping those with whom we work to connect with not only the product, if you will, but the joy and discovery of the process.
As a doula looks in her tool bag, one of the first tools she must draw upon is the role of education. In most situations, the initial contact between a woman, her chosen birth partner, and a doula is in the final months before her birth. It is at this crucial time that doulas actively educate and help to facilitate the process of knowledgeable decision making by the parents. Perhaps a birth plan has been developed… the doula may review this with her clients and use it as a point of reference for discussions about what decisions have been or may be made and how those may impact the outcome of the birthing and immediate post partum process. It is also important that during this time, the doula uses this opportunity to listen – hearing what is most important to her clients and what the primary aspects of the birth plan are is a key to a positive experience for a woman/couple. This is an invaluable learning process for both sides of the team.
After a doula has been called to a birth and a woman is in early or active labor, other tools such as physical comfort, emotional support, and encouragement will take a front row as the doula provides continuous labor support for her client. Whether in a home or hospital setting, a doula’s role is the same – we are present to support. Physical comfort measures may take on the role of addressing positioning for contractions, suggesting showers or baths for pain moderation, administering massage to mom or to dad during times of exhaustion, or breathing through contractions together to show patterning as well as empathy. Emotional support and encouragement are key during these minutes and hours as we support through our presence, never denying the impact of the woman to woman bond that is present in the room, but also never overstepping the role of the birth partner or the medical staff in this process. Laboring is a difficult job, and as the body wears thin so often does the spirit. It is our role to emotionally bear the task together, stepping through one contraction, one decision, one step at a time. Doulas can emotionally support and encourage through our body language, through our voices, through our hands.
When an infant is born, the birth doula has the privilege of carrying her duties into the first few hours and days of post partum. It is key to help establish breastfeeding, if desired, immediately after the baby is born, as well as to set up a post partum visit. Post partum, our job also stretches to encompass helping to capture the birth memory – ensuring that mom and family have a positive view of their birth and an innate trust in the journey.
The value of having a doula present at births has been grounded in research as well as in personal experience. It has been proven that obstetrical outcomes have been improved with the presence of a doula, including a reduction in the need for cesarean section, shortened length of labors, a decrease in pain medication required, and an enhancement in bonding and breastfeeding (The Doula Book, 2002). Beyond research, personal experience as a doula will tell you that most clients have a much greater rate of satisfaction with the birth process when a doula is present. When a doula’s job is complete, the woman and family with which she has worked has been more peaceful throughout the process, more informed in decision making, more empowered to advocate for themselves, more relaxed in the environment, hopefully more comfortable in labor, and expectantly more satisfied with the experience overall.
It is a doula’s job, and joy, to use the tools that we have been given in order to help ensure a more positive and healthy birth experience as the woman defines it. We have the unique privilege of connecting with others at this most intimate and tender of moments – the moment when a family is born and the world is graced by another beautiful presence.