If you had asked me that question (or told me you were getting one) 20 years ago, my answer would have been “What’s a doula?” Some sort of kitchen utensil? An exotic Italian sports car?
Simply defined, a doula is a woman trained to assist other women during childbirth and who may also provide support to the family after the baby is born.
Doulas have been around forever. (At least “unofficially.”) In the early days, when most babies were born at home, you called a neighbor in your village that had helped your mother and your aunt and your sister. Everyone in the village knew her name and knew to call her as soon as labor began. She would sit bedside, quietly place wet towels on the laboring mom-to-be and gently move her to create the most comfortable position for delivery.
As life became more sophisticated and healthcare became more readily available in both urban and rural communities, many women started going directly to a medical center at the first sign of labor. For those of us who did, we know the perils of arriving too early: You’re put into a room to wait impatiently for labor pains to get closer and closer together – while your partner looks at you for hours and hours wondering why it isn’t going faster and your doctor repeatedly checks in to tell you he’ll be back when you’re “farther along.”
Of course, times have changed. We’re now a more fluid, mobile society and women having children find themselves living farther away from their support systems (mothers, in-laws, sisters) due to career choices or company relocations. Women are also taking over the reins and making choices on how they want to experience labor and the birth of their children.
Which begs the question “Do you need a doula?”
A doula is usually interviewed in the early part of a pregnancy and signs a contract to be available for both labor and delivery. Most doulas know they can only handle two-three deliveries per month because women can be in labor for more than 24 hours and the doula needs to be alert and available during that full period.
Doulas are normally hired to come to the home at the first sign of labor or meet the pregnant mother at the medical center upon arrival to guide her through admissions and get her settled into the labor room. They’re also hired for the most challenging time in a new mom’s life: the first few weeks after the birth of their child. They’ll help the new mother breast feed, will prepare protein-rich meals, keep well-wishing visitors to a minimum and assist with managing siblings.
In summary, a well-trained doula is focused entirely on her two clients: Mother and newborn.
I was fortunate to attend and graduate from courses at Cornerstone Doulas last January and met some of the most interesting, intuitive, compassionate women in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But, now that I’ve laid out many of the reasons you might want to hire a doula, let me share one reason you might not. It can be expensive; especially if you contract with an experienced doula with extensive expertise gleaned from a variety of births under her belt.
One alternative is to hire a recent graduate of a doula program who still needs hours and births on the record in order to earn her doula certification. This is the least expensive route and it’s far better than being without someone at your side in the medical center. (Please see my Emergency Room blog for more on this topic).
So, do you need a doula? Like the answers to many of life’s other questions, it’s a personal choice. For me, the answer is a resounding “yes.” I find the more people that are there on my side in any healthcare situation, the better.
If you’re looking for a doula or just want to learn more about what one can do for you, Dona International and San Francisco Doula Group are great resources. And if you’re interested in becoming a doula yourself, the leader in doula education for the Bay Area is Cornerstone Doula Trainings.
You’ll find links to all three of these organizations in the Health + Wellness Resources of our site.