What is a doula anyway?
This week (March 22-28) is what is known as world doula week. As a birth worker I have the pleasure of meeting so many other people who are also passionate about birth, doula’s are one of them. I reached out to one of my doula friends, Cara, and asked her to do an interview for me to share on the blog with you! If you’re considering hiring a doula, or on the fence, Cara provides some answers that may help you make the decision!
Tell us how you became a doula/how you got started:
I gave birth to my first two sons with the support of a wonderful doula. She was pivotal in both of their stories. In September 2013, a few months after my second was born, a friend called me during the early hours of her labor and asked me come over until her husband got off work. I sat with her while she waited and slipped out when he came home, but I knew I had been a part of something special. I had already experienced birth as a laboring woman, but it was incredible to now experience birth by supporting a laboring woman. Two weeks later, I found myself in a training workshop for doulas.
What is a doula? What kind of things do doulas do?
A birth doula is a trained support person for laboring women and their partners. Postpartum doulas are trained to support women and their families in the weeks and months following the birth of a baby. As a birth doula, I work with the clients during their pregnancy, throughout their labor and in the early weeks after their baby is born. I gather information for expectant parents, connecting them with professionals like pediatricians, chiropractors, etc., and ensuring they have access to research related to the many decisions they will face as new parents. During labor, this looks like massage, encouragement, assistance with position changes, communication between parents and hospital staff, consistent support for the mom’s partner, and much more. A doula also has a strong understanding of the mom’s vision and hopes for birth, and doing everything possible to protect that experience for her.
Can’t my husband/mom/sister/friend just do it?
A husband cannot replace a doula anymore than a doula can replace a husband. They both serve unique, specific needs. Women need their partners and support people for reasons that a doula cannot replicate. In that same breath, doulas are trained specifically to understand how to support mom as she labors. Additionally, while a doula is deeply invested in the story of each family, she also stands outside of the emotional intimacy that the partner and family will experience. She understands the physiology of labor, she has a wealth of knowledge regarding how to support her clients, and she has a history of previous births to pull from – each one having taught her lessons that can be applied to this birth and this couple.
When does a doula show up during labor?
Birth doulas arrive when moms decide they are ready for them. This may be at the hospital or it may be at her home, prior to moving to the hospital. She arrives when she is needed and stays throughout labor. When medical staff has a shift change, a doula stays and provides consistent support for the entirety of her labor.
Are doulas only for moms who aren’t getting an epidural?
Definitely not! Doulas are for all moms – moms planning to get a epidural, moms planning to have cesareans, and moms planning to have an undedicated birth. Every birth is sacred and every woman should be fully supported while bringing her child into the world. That’s what doulas are there for – to protect the experience these new parents and their baby will have.
How do I go about finding a doula?
In addition to asking your friends and care providers, you can look on doulamatch.net to find doulas in your area.
How do I know if they are the right fit for me?
With some exceptions, most doulas will offer similar services. The most important part of your decision is about a gut feeling. With whom are you comfortable sharing one of the most intimate experiences of your life? Let that lead you.
Why do you think birth photography is important? Do you think a dad, or other family member can capture the birth as a professional photographer would? As a birth professional, do you see any benefits from birth photography other than the obvious keepsake it creates?
Birth is a blur. There are so many moments we can’t see when we are in it, and as much as our husbands, friends and doulas would like to capture those moments, they simply cannot. Technical skills aside – which few of us truly have as novice photographers – a birth photographer is able to capture moments that a mom’s team simply cannot see, much less get on camera.
The pictures are more than a keepsake. They serve as an altar, a way of saying “This happened. We did this and it was beautiful.” As a doula, one of my favorite moments at a birth is watching women realize that they did it…watching them realize just how strong they are. It’s empowering and transformative. Birth photographers offer parents the gift of being able to look back, see what they couldn’t see, and stand proud. To capture and document the start of a family, or an addition to an existing family, is a special gift for parents.
I had a new baby last month. Earlier this week, when I was feeling particularly exhausted and beat down by the harder parts of postpartum life, I looked back over the pictures and reread his birth story. Every difficult part of the day was cast in renewed perspective by revisiting that altar.
Birth photography is a gift that every family deserves.
Cara Joyner is a Doula and Childbirth Educator in Richmond, VA (jasminebirthservices.com). She also works as a writer, often covering topics related to parenthood (carajoyner.com). Work aside, most of Cara’s time is spent with her husband and three boys.