If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you’ve probably heard of a doula. But do you know what a doula actually is? In the range of professionals dedicated to maternal health, the doula is probably the least understood of all.
Deriving from a Greek word meaning “female slave”, a doula is a non-medically trained support person that helps during pregnancy, birth and after birth. A doula provides emotional and physical support without completing any clinical tasks. Given the highly medical approach we often take to pregnancy and birth, it’s not strange to wonder what role a doula can play in your pregnancy. Why involve someone who can’t actually deliver your baby or do check-ups?
Depending on where you give birth, you might only meet with your doctor, midwife or medical caregiver monthly. For many of us, these short meetings, even with wonderful caregivers, can leave us feeling quite alone during the rest of our pregnancy. For a variety of reasons (money, time, policy) we might not be able to access our caregiver as much as we’d like.
At the actual birth, you might find yourself dealing with someone you’ve never met before, likely in a hospital setting with protocols that may or may not conflict with the type of birth you’ve always imagined yourself having. You might be a bit worried about having your birth plan considered and followed (as much as is possible) during your birth without having to be the only one remembering it. Your birth partner might also be a bit concerned about their ability to support you during birth and is feeling stressed about remembering all the details from your birth course.
After the big event of giving birth is over, many of us feel lonely and unsure of ourselves, despite all the hype about motherly instincts. We may not vibe with our paediatrician as much as we’d hope to and for those of us in rural areas, parent meet-ups can be few and far between.
In all of these situations, a doula can be a great option for parents. Generally, a doula has a great deal of experience with pregnancy, birth and motherhood from their personal and professional lives. While not medically trained, doulas are specifically trained in providing support during pregnancy and parenthood. This includes not only the wonderful, magical moments of pregnancy and birth but also the lesser-heard moments of loss, trauma and depression when many of us can be left feeling alone and forgotten. You can find a doula that is trained in the specific stage you’re looking for (birth, post-partum, loss, etc).
A doula is a trained professional who provides non-judgmental support for your choices. They can help you to make informed choices with the sufficient time it takes to make those decisions and find the right caregiver for your needs. Many of us have friends or family members who could also do this but a doula is someone who leaves her opinions (not her skills) at the door and supports you in your decision making process. This support can be quite different from a well-intentioned friend who doesn’t understand exactly why you’d want to do something specific during your pregnancy that might contrast with their personal opinion.
Just like with any relationship, the best way to find the best doula for you is to meet one (or two or three). Meeting the doula in person or on the phone even can help you get a feel for her style and approach and helps you to figure out if she’s the doula for you. There’s no reason to be worried about offending the doula! A trained doula will know that in order to be the best support person for you during birth, the relationship has to work for both the doula and the parent.
To find a trained doula in your area, check out associations such as DONA and CBI. Both training schools provide a list of certified doulas globally and hold doulas trained under their program to the highest of standards.