by Rhonda Gearing
I have been asked over the course of the last several years, “What is a doula?” Really, the answer can be summed up into three basic words: nurture, empower, and love. To nurture means to supply with nourishment, educate, and to further the development of; empower is to promote the self-actualization or influence; and love is warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.
The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.
I loved the time in my life when I was carrying our babies and anticipating each labor and birth. I had very positive birth experiences with a great support team, so it was very natural for me to want to continue to be involved in the world of pregnancy and birth. I had a purpose in my heart to offer that same opportunity to other women. It was after the arrival of my third baby that I was introduced to the term “doula,” and it has grown to be my passion…who I am.
After much research into the many programs available, I became a member of DONA International (Doulas of North America) and followed the guidelines to become a certified birth doula.
Here’s how my role usually plays out. I am generally contacted directly by the pregnant woman and/or her family sometime during the course of her pregnancy. As her doula, I provide prenatal visits, during which time we talk about her pregnancy and discuss previous prenatal visits, possible complications, and her feelings and needs as they pertain to this pregnancy. I also ask how she envisions her birth and what would make it a positive experience from her point of view. That sets the tone for how we will work together to achieve her goals. We talk about the natural stages of labor and birth along with what one might expect, for example, possible interventions, medication and natural remedies for pain relief, positions, and options along the way. I also offer assistance in creating a birth plan to express her preferences and desires, empowering her to make decisions for her and her baby.
In addition to our prenatal visits, I offer telephone and email support both during the pregnancy and in the postpartum period. At the time labor begins, I join the expectant mother at whatever point she requests, whether at her home or the hospital. My role as the birth doula remains the same whether the mother is planning a home birth or a hospital birth, including if the need arises where medical circumstances require hospital/traditional doctor care. I strive to keep the mother encouraged and empowered, reminding her that she is strong and able to maintain an active role in her care, nurturing her as she maneuvers through the journey of labor and birth.
I remain with her in labor until the baby has been born, providing continuous emotional support, reassurance, and comfort. In the immediate postpartum period, I also assist with the first feeding.
About a week after the birth of the baby, I make a home visit to talk about the birth experience and to answer any questions the new family may have, whether it pertains to the emotional or physical well being of the new mother or the baby. This is a perfect opportunity for me to provide a nurturing environment.
Studies have shown that when doulas attend births, labors are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier, and they breastfeed more easily. In my experience as well, I have seen this to be the case. If you’re interested in learning more about doulas or want to find one for yourself, visit www.dona.org.