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’.
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.
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.