A Doula? What do you actually do?
Now, since my recent career change has been put into action, I've been asked this question a lot, "what does a Doula do?". It's a perfectly valid question with tonnes of answers, some that I'm sure I'll forget to write in this post, and some that may differ, depending on other Doula's values, passions and working boundaries, so I'll do my best to answer, and those who want to add, please do.
First of all, I am committed, in every sense, to each and every family, and what they feel they need from me, as are all Doulas that I have contact with. Like many, I see this as a calling (as hippy drippy as that sounds!). There is no specific situation, type of birth, place of birth or type of client that requires a Doula, some see it as a luxury, some a necessity, some access us through funding and charities due to lack of a budget or vulnerability, some parents choose to pay for mentored, recognised or independent Doulas. All are often employed for their personalities, compatibility with the parent/s and passion for the field of pregnancy, birth and postnatal period, rather than their experience and background skillset.
A Doula works within professional boundaries, these will always be discussed alongside contractual information and payment (it's a livelihood, after all) at the interview stage of hiring a Doula. This is where we get to know know one another, what makes each one of us tick, what inspires us, our passions and beliefs, and allows you to get a feel for how this woman can assist you in your journey.
Antenatally, there may be one or two visits, these can assist with feeding preferences, provide signposting for further support with any issues you may feel you have, you may want to know about intervention and pain relief during birth, the fourth trimester, informed choice and rights, home, MLU or hospital birth or you may just want to chat and enjoy the company of your Doula, whilst talking about birth and the postnatal period from time to time. Personally, I'm fine with all of the above and much more, it's your birth, your baby and I'm here to help.
Doulas are sometimes contacted by women in crisis, who may feel they have no choice to give birth in a certain place or in a certain way, those who've suffered birth trauma in the past, who are desperately seeking confidence in birth, sometimes young mums to be looking for guidance, a surrogate mum looking for an empowered birth experience before she passes the baby onto his/her parent/s, some women may have been planning to have a Doula from the start of the pregnancy (or even before!), there are mums to be that are from minority groups who feel they would benefit from the emotional and practical support that we can offer and everyone in between.
During birth, a Doula can be an advocate, give emotional support, hold the space, deal with practicalities, some may entertain younger children, she may apply skills that she has trained in aside from or alongside her birth work (such as aromatherapy, reflexology, hypnobirthing, rebozo etc), the list goes on....whichever hat you want a Birth Doula to wear, discuss it with her, essentially your wishes are paramount and having her there can make all the difference when extra support is needed,. Doulas cry with their clients when there are complications, they celebrate when the families they are supporting feel that they have had an empowered birth, no matter how it happens. Sometimes the parent/s find that they feel safe and supported enough to birth without their Doula, this is perfectly acceptable, and a Doula will never judge or question a new or growing family's decision. We will be there from the start of your labour if you want, go home if you want and rush to you when you need. Many Doulas will support through a loss and some specialise in this, giving time and space for parents to grieve a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, providing information, assistance and an element of counselling to families who have suffered a tragedy.
Birth Doulas also support during the immediate postnatal period, usually to assist with getting breastfeeding off to a good start, allow the parent/s to debrief about the experience and provide signposting and support wherever needed.
If required, a Postnatal Doula will be employed by a family for a number of reasons; as a help around the house, to hold the baby of a night while mum sleeps, as a listening ear to reassure, assist with families affected by PND/PNA/PNP, she may be an extra pair of hands for single parent with multiples that feels that he or she needs extra support..the list is endless in this case, and an hourly/weekly/monthly agreement will be arranged at the time of booking. Postnatal Doulas are sometimes with a family for a month, sometimes for years!
This all sounds very business-like, and really, when written down, the particulars do sound rather 'tick list'. As a Doula, it's hard to put into words the investment into people's Birth and Postnatal experiences you have a strong need to make, As mentioned earlier, I'd certainly class it as a calling, not a *just* a job. As a collective (our plural is a 'cuddle of Doulas'), we want to make a difference to maternity care, even if it's a case of a mum feeling loved and supported in her choices and experience, in a fear based society where defensive practice can become stifling.
My aim is to be WITH the parent/s, give a part of energy to the new or growing family, allow them to find the power that they possess to grow, give birth to and parent their children whilst providing evidence based education, information, practical, emotional and personal support in whichever way the family feels they need.
I'm proud to be a Doula and part of an organisation and sisterhood that supports me through mentoring, recognition and beyond.
So yeah, that's what I do!
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