According to the Oxford English dictionary a doula is
A woman who gives assistance and advice to a new or expectant mother, either informally or professionally; esp. a woman (typically without formal obstetric training) employed to provide guidance and continuous support during labour.
It’s fab that we’re in the dictionary but that definition is, well, useless. Accurate, yes. But not much help if you don’t know much about doulas. So before a whole heap of posts about the work doulas really do, let’s debunk a few myths:
- Doulas are lentil-eating, sandal-wearing, new-age hippies. There are as many different doulas as there are women. Like their clients, doulas have had all sorts of birth and parenting experiences. Some don’t have children of their own. They all, however, have an empathy and drive to support couples through the amazing adventure that is having a baby.
- Doulas are natural childbirth freaks. Nope. All we care about is that women and their partners are supported in their choices, respected along the way and that they look back positively on the birth. I have supported a whole range of women birthing in about as many ways as you can imagine – without judgement and with completely unconditional positive regard for their choices.
- Doulas replace the father, or get in the way. A good one shouldn’t! We are there to enhance the partners confidence to support the mother. We are there to support him/her too, not to replace or impinge on the relationship between the parents. Another pair of hands about the place can mean the parents can get on and really enjoy the experience togther, without worrying about the practicalities. A doula is there to enable the partner to support the mother at the level of his/her comfort. Just as with the mother, we will not judge.
- A doula is only called when a woman goes into labour. That would be HARD. I really admire midwives who have to build relationships with women in labour, from scratch, every day. Doulas don’t do that – they have known the woman/couple for quite some time, sometimes months before the baby is born. We have found out about her personality; what makes her tick, her likes and dislikes and has become familiar with her ideals for this birth.
- Doulas are just birth companions. Nope. There are as many postnatal doulas as birth doulas. Many of us provide both kinds of support. After the baby is born, we can support by listening to the birth story, listening to the parents’ goals and how they feel things are going with the baby. We support the mother in her feeding/parenting choices, support the father/partner and the extended family, help care for older siblings and cook, clean and feed the family.
- Only the posh & rich have doulas. Not true either. No doula does this for the money. We are pulled to this work by an unseen force that for most of us is all-encompassing. When we meet parents who really need and want us, we all find a way. Yes, we need to feed our families but beyond that doulas will go the extra mile to make it work, whatever the cicumstances. For example, Doula UK has a Access fund for parents who can’t really afford a doula (By the way – contact me for an economical ‘online doula’ alternative).
- Doulas are wanna-be midwives. Well, some doulas have gone on to train as midwives and some doulas are ex-midwives but the differences are clear. Doulas don’t perform clinical tasks, we don’t give medical advice – for that we will always refer parents to their midwife or doctor. We provide emotional, practical and informational support only – never advice. Here are some words from a client:
..[.she] provided information which helped me make… choices for the birth. She gave me support when I had difficult times during pregnancy. She gave me breastfeeding information and a practical demo! By giving me support, both physical and emotional during the birth she made me feel safe and allowed me to follow my instinct…
Is there anything you’d like to add to this, or any questions you’d like to ask? – Add a comment below.