Doula or the grandmother?

Proud dad Bhen with his daughters  Elizabeth (4) and newborn Alexandra. No doula needed!

Proud dad Bhen with his daughters Elizabeth (4) and newborn Alexandra. No doula needed!

A doula is ‘a woman who gives support, help, and advice to another woman during pregnancy, birth of the baby and afterwards’. The word comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘slave-girl’. In Australia, doula training is available online and in person. However,doulas aren’t licensed. They are not required to have any formal medical training.

A doula is paid to provide ’emotional and physical support’ to a woman and her family. A bit like a grandmother, really.

I first came across the concept of a doula two years ago when a relative of my husband was pregnant. I found the idea of a doula  slightly shocking. How sad that someone would need to resort to a paid doula.

As a midwife in the 1950s, I constantly marvelled at the miracle of new life I witnessed. But in those days, nurses and midwives were not encouraged to talk with their patients. Being with patients to comfort them was seen as being ‘too familiar’. My memories of being suitably occupied as a midwife in the labour ward include endlessly rolling cotton-wool balls by hand! Not for us the role of support person.

During the 1960s and 1970s, when my own children were born, women were often  relegated to darkened rooms in a hospital. There we laboured, mostly alone.  Fathers and grandmothers were banished. Midwives checked on us occasionally. The doctor was called when the woman was ready to deliver.

The whole process of childbirth was medicalised. Others made the decisions for the parents. No one questioned their rights. Childbirth seemed long and often scary. Partners were notified after our babies were born. By the time they got to see us, we were clean and fresh in a bed in a post-natal ward. They viewed their babies through the window of the ‘nursery’.

childbirth classes

Happily, customs changed. Fathers began to stay with their partners in labour. They went to pre-natal classes. They knew what was what was expected of them. They heard about massage and breathing, and put into practice what they learned.

The medicalisation of labour began to soften at the edges. Partners developed their own birthing plans.

Grandmothers, sisters and friends crept into delivery suites. Emboldened, they stayed to make a difference. Mothers and fathers were grateful for their presence.

Being a grandmother i(and great-grandmother) is my  most cherished role .

Being a grandmother i(and great-grandmother) is my most cherished role .

One of the most amazing privileges of my own life has been to be present at the births of some of my seventeen grandchildren. I’m deeply grateful to my children and their partners.

I even delivered one granddaughter. It happened quite by accident. Her father’s frantic attempts to attract the attention of a midwife had failed. The hospital was  busy. My wonderful experience!

Recently, paid birth-coaches  (doulas) have added another layer of birth-support  to the mix.

Some couples do not have acceptable family support. They can engage and pay a doula. A doula provides company, information and physical assistance. She has no clinical role in the delivery room. These women are strong advocates for the wishes of the parents, especially mothers. Their role is sometimes controversial especially when medical intervention may be necessary.

However, doulas claim they make the mother feel safe and comfortable. Much like a partner. Or a grandmother really.

Are doulas a good idea? I’d love to read your comments.

6 thoughts on “Doula or the grandmother?

  1. Great history, Maureen; and I think if a mother does not have appropriate or adequate family or neighbour/friend support, a trained doula is a great idea, though I doubt most of the women who most need one would be able to afford her.

    • Thanks, Christina. Yes, I agree that a doula would be a good option if a woman wasn’t absolutely sure her husband could support her adequately and there was no one else. I don’t know how much it costs to have a doula, but if you just think about the hours she might be needed, it would probably be quite expensive. I just checked the website! A trainee doula costs about $650 for the full package, whatever that means. A senior doula can charge around $2500 for the same package, and can be contracted for extra duties if required. I didn’t think about that when I was writing the post.

  2. I think a mother, sister or friend knows you and your partner and will be there for the baby for life – not a bad investment in a support person for your child:-) Doulas may be necessary if there is no one else who would be comfortable in a birthing room. J

    • Thanks for your comment, Jenny. As you already know, I think that being asked to act as a support person for someone you love or care about is one of the greatest honors a person can receive. And the quality of the relationship with the mother and baby (and father, as well) is on-going, rich and rewarding. I feel really blessed that I’ve had that role with some of the parents of my grandchildren.

  3. Lovely story and photo of you and John!!. Wonderful to have shared and I know you will continue to share with various family members this most important event in their lives and in yours.RosieXX

    • Rosie, I love your comments on my blog, thank you. Glad you like the story. The photo of John and me with one of the babies is a favourite.

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