So, you’ve heard about a doula, and you’ve started to get a fair idea of what a doula can do for you during your pregnancy and birth. (If you still haven’t heard, then check out this article by BellyBelly). But beyond the statistics, the studies, and the ‘empowerment’, what can you really expect from doula support?
I’ve often seen it suggested that having a doula means a woman must have – or must desire – a natural birth. This is not true. There is also an idea that doulas might provide ‘protection’ in the birthing room – bringing to mind someone who speaks on a woman’s behalf, leaping between a labouring woman and a care-provider. This, also, is definitely not the case. (Although a doula might quietly pad from the room to make you a cup of tea.)
At its heart, doula support aims to provide what every woman and family wants: a feeling of emotional safety. To feel nurtured, comfortable, validated, and respected – and for birth to be as satisfying and positive as possible. And these things – safety, comfort, respect – don’t necessarily hinge upon how a woman gives birth, but in what emotional circumstances. If a woman approaches labour understanding the process, feeling confidently informed, and being supported and comfortable in making her own decisions – that is what can help foster a positive birth experience.
We could certainly say that it’s common that women who choose a doula are more likely to consider a physiological birth important. For instance, women with doulas do less frequently choose to utilise epidural anaesthesia. This is not, however, due to the presence of a doula, but as a result of the work a woman does with a doula. During pregnancy, a doula works with a woman to unpack her fears, identify her own unique needs, understand the latest evidence and information, and make ongoing decisions that support those needs. It could be said, then, that a woman who feels supported and informed is more confident about her body’s innate ability to provide the necessary hormones to cope with labour.
One of the first questions I ask a client is, What do you want? How would you like to birth? Because often, pregnant woman aren’t made to feel allowed to want anything. A doula provides a safe space for a woman and her family to consider this most important question: ‘What do I want? And what steps can I take to best align with that?’
Working together to identify a woman’s individual needs and wishes often means exploring what influences those needs. What fears are affecting your choices? What stories about childbirth, myths about the way a woman’s body works (or doesn’t!), or pressures are shaping your decisions? So often, women and their families believe many routine birthing procedures are necessary – even critical – despite much evidence (as well as many, many women birthing just fine without them) showing otherwise.
When learning about what you want, a doula can also help you consider how effective communication in pregnancy can help identify the right care-provider for you, and find a place of birth that is most in keeping with your needs.
This is the kind of experience on which a doula will walk with you.
A doula can help you understand how your decisions can impact birth. She will help you understand how choices can be made that may help, or hinder, your desires for your own labour and birth. For example, let’s consider a woman who, when asked, ‘What do you want?’ has realised she would like to avoid unnecessary induction. In this case, during pregnancy, this woman might gain confidence by learning about the natural variations in the true ‘length’ of pregnancy, providing her with less anxiety around ‘due dates’. She might enjoy learning about how spontaneous labour comes about, and how she can advocate for herself with well-meaning but impatient family or friends in the last days of pregnancy. She may also find it helpful to understand her birth place’s policies around induction, and how to chat with a care-provider about them.
This is just a small example of the kind of information and exploration a doula can guide you through. (And also, your doula can be the one safe space at the end of your pregnancy where you can lament how uncomfortable you are, how long it seems, that you may be pregnant forever, and receive warm words and no suggestion of needing to do anything.)
Every woman (and family) is different. Every woman has her own differing values, beliefs and needs. Helping you figure out what you want – and putting in place plans that most align with achieving that – is the basis of good doula support. A doula works with you, as your unconditional emotional support.
Through birth planning, contingency planning, and talking about what might be helpful if things don’t go to plan, women and their families are able to ‘hold the reins’ for themselves. They become knowledgeable, feel confident and safe, and this allows women – even in an event as unpredictable as birth – to feel reassured and more in control.
As a doula, my work with women is not about what I want or think. I am merely a vehicle for a woman’s own self-discovery. I guide and witness as she finds out what is important to her, as she discovers her own voice to advocate for herself and, often times, as she navigates a system that can be difficult to be heard in.
To feel assured, calm and listened to at this pivotal time in life is what all women deserve. It never fails to amaze me when I see the absolute strength of a well-supported woman as she prepares for her birth.
Click here to find out about support for your pregnancy and birth .