How a Doula Positively Impacts the Birth Space
Written by Bethany Meakin (www.bellybeans.com.au)
I have been fortunate enough to support women to labour and birth at home, in hospital, support siblings during home birth, prepare couples for Caesarean Section and draw upon my personal experience of birthing my 2 daughters. I’ve supported 1st time mums and those preparing for their 3rd birth experiences, I do not label myself as an expert doula – nor do I have the most births under my belt but I can honestly say each birth, labour, baby and couple I have supported are different. As each and every birthing woman’s needs, personalities, fears, bodies, minds, beliefs, emotions, family dynamic’s and journey from preconception through to motherhood are different!
It’s actually quite difficult to articulate the specifics of what doula’s do, how we positively impact the space for one mum will be different to the next but it is this ability to connect with each individual and support her in the way she needs to be supported in that exact moment that is the ‘art form’. Does she need hands off and utter silence for the next 4 hours or does she require your voice and touch at the exact moment throughout the rollercoaster ride can be labour and birth? How do you put into words ‘holding the space?’ or describe the intense feelings you have when you’re supported in such a deeply connected way?
Well let me try…. If you’re not familiar with the role of a Doula, simply put we’re a trained support person you hire privately to emotionally prepare yourself and your partner(s) for your pregnancy, labour and birth journey
As a Doula
We work in harmony with your midwives and other health professionals. We and do not offer any medical advice nor are we responsible for the any medical processes.
We’re wholeheartedly there for your emotional support and wellbeing and will advocate your birth choices.
We help you navigate your way through the hospital system (if choosing a hospital birth) We offer and arm you and your partner with a plethora of non-medical pain relief techniques
We offer emotional support, encouragement, options and personal reflection when things don't go according to plan.
We can also be a great sounding board prior to, during and post birth
Time to focus….Meeting with your Doula is dedicated time that you and your partner set aside to actively prepare yourselves for the birth you want ( a perfect time for you to have each other’s absolute attention and focus)
A doula is your constant. She arrives when you need her and remains with you until the birth of your baby
So you’re pregnant…and perhaps you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the choices that lay ahead hospital or home birth, what books to read, what classes to take, what workshops to attend… the list goes on...Maybe you’re nervous about the labour itself or your partner is nervous about how he or she will effectively support you on the day. Do you worry about the pain of giving birth? Is your partner confident about providing effective comfort and support in labour? Do you trust in your partner’s ability to support you? Are you unsure about how to go about making an informed choice about your health? Do you know what you’d do if your birth wasn’t progressing as you thought it would? Have you hear horror stories and just cannot get them out of your mind? Or perhaps you’re feeling great, but have a little niggling sense of self-doubt in your abilities. Or maybe you really do have a great confidence in yourself, and simply want to have someone you know support you on the day – a familiar trusted face. Perhaps a Doula can help!?
A Doula offers one to one continuous care to you and your partner during your pregnancy and helps to prepare you for your labour and birth with a focus on a gentle and supported transition into parenthood. Most doula’s will work with you (and your partner) in your home leading up to the birth and work through a plethora of natural pain relief techniques, including breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, labour positions etc., She will have the ability to answer your many questions that you have perhaps forgotten to ask during your appointments with your other care providers. And always remind you of when a question is best asked by a medical professional remaining within the scope of the role of a Doula.
She will explore your birthing preferences and advocate these for you, and she will sit with you and your partner and listen to your needs, desires, fears and concerns. She will understand the smallest of details with previous births. She will help you navigate your way through the birth journey with an in-depth knowledge of you, your partner and all of the specific little stories you have shared together. She will remain with you for the entire length of your labour and birth. She will keep eye contact with you when the rest of the room perhaps leaves your eyes to focus on the crowning baby. “I held a woman forehead to forehead as she roared out her baby it was where she needed me to be. I also locked eyes with my Doula during my second labour as the rapid birth had taken me by surprise and I was not in the position I had imagined for myself, yet her familiar eyes was all I needed to trust that I could do this exactly where I was”.
Taking the time to get to know you:
She will perhaps know about how you met or a favourite holiday and be able use these happy times as a source of distraction or re-focus during labour. She takes the time to really understand you as a person and does her best to support all of your needs during labour and birth. Simply put she holds the space, she keeps the tempo up when needed or reminds new arrivals into the birthing space that this is a time for quiet and not a time for weekend catch ups, in the most direct yet polite and respectful way. ”Oh what a skill this is at times”! She holds the space during the transition from home to hospital – placing a tea light candle on the back parcel shelf for you to connect with or remembering to place a drop sheet in the car so you can focus on labouring and not be concerned with bodily fluids.
She sits awkwardly in the car with you and maintains a level of calm and focus that is needed for one of the most stressful times for mums and partners. In many cases the birthing woman’s partner needs just as much emotional support during labour as the woman herself and a familiar face for the partner to check in with throughout times of stress or uncertainty is incredibly valuable. I call it eyeballing. The dad’s or partners will often remain silent but constantly eyeball me to check in that the situation is ok, under control or ‘normal’.
And the more a doula gets to know your partner the more comfortable he/she will feel. As sadly all too commonly our busy lives get in the way of really preparing for one of the most important days in your life – the birth of your baby, the birth of you as a mother. It’s vitally important to involve your partner in as many of the sessions as possible with your doula. You’ll go shopping for a stroller together, choose the cot together, so why not take the time to prepare for the birth together?
When the doula relationship is built with the partner as strongly as the mother magic happens, partners have the confidence and comfort levels needed to feel their babies head crowning (if they want) – to be the first one to touch their babies naked head to feel the little hairs upon the head – oh what a moment! To be intimate, kiss, cuddle, touch, hold each other remembering that babies are made during intimacy and love and should and can be born in intimacy and love.
So, just recently I was with a couple in their home running through my bag of pain relief techniques, we walked around their home looking at places and ways to adopt positions of comfort during their labour while at home, we looked at areas in the home that would give relaxation, or inspiration. We practised many different labour positons and walked the length of the hall way, lent on bench spaces, gazed out of windows and shared stories together. Stories of holidays that could be drawn upon as a method of visualisation during labour and we simply talked to each other building our relationship and building trust. Both Mum and Dad were building a positive picture of what their labour and birth day would look like and with many hours together their trust in their own abilities and knowledge of what they do and don’t want to happen when the time comes is becoming clearer to them – I am sure that all of the preparation they are doing together as a couple will enable them to have the birth they desire and be calm and prepared for if an event changes course...As your Doula gets to know you in pregnancy she will have a good understanding of your emotional stability and be in a good position to seek out alternative specialised help for you postatnally if needed. Either she will be there to support you with breastfeeding or know when it is time to seek out the support of a lactation consultant for example.
My experience of having a Doula
As a mum I enlisted the support of a Doula (Kahmen Ceh www.natureofbirth.com.au) both my husband and I believe it was one of the best decisions we made in the quest for our daughters natural births. I had little understanding during the first labour of what our doula was doing as I was so deeply zoned out – (or zoned in!) and upon reflection I put this deep zoning out down to the preparation with my doula during our sessions together, we got to know each other, she knew me and my husband and I trusted that she would look out for me during labour. She would protect my birth space and she would adhere to our birth plan.
During my second labour I absolutely knew what she was doing, I had a very quick labour and was taken somewhat by surprise compared to my first experience and she held me though this intense time. She also supported my husband as all eyes were off him on me so he had his someone to lock eyes with when the intensity peeked. Stories of how a Doula can helpI have spoken with some other women recently on how they felt a Doula impacted their birthing space and these are some of their words; Words from a new mum “As first time parents the thought of entering this ‘unknown territory’ of birth can easily rattle the strongest intentions; however our doula’s confidence and support every step of the way was so special and integral in building our own confidence too.Her tireless support of us both as my labour progressed was simply amazing – even better than I had imagined! We truly believe that we would have been in the hospital much sooner and quite possibly finding ourselves following a path of interventions we were hoping to avoid had it just been the two of us. During my labour we both agreed that it felt like we were 3 best friends working together in our own little bubble and I was comforted knowing that my husband felt like he could really help me and was also able to rest when he needed to.Being a doula would have to be one of the most personal positions someone could ever hold, and our Doula had just the right blend of familiarity and professionalism that this delicate role requires. We are so thankful that we found our Doula”.
Another new mum shares 7 key points
As we were booked in at a public hospital under team maternity care, I was not able to see the same midwife for each pre natal appointment. Having our Doula to talk to each week allowed my husband and I to maintain consistency. She knew our history, helped us understand our birth presences, and knowing she'd be in the room with us on the day gave my husband and I peace of mind.
UNDERSTANDING BIRTH PREFERENCES
As our Doula, my husband and I had discussed our birth preferences; she was able to act on these on our behalf on the day. We were not bothered by midwifes asking us countless questions which was a blessing.
She helped to create an environment that promoted calm. Although our birth was too short to be able to use the tools our Doula had shared with us: i.e. birth visualisation and hypnobirthing music, we had them ready to go. My doula was the key to my positive attitude about birth, and I firmly believe that without her my husband and I would've been a lot more unsettled.
STATE OF MIND
Our Doula focused on my face and my state of mind. Knowing the tools I had available to use during birth, allowed the midwife to focus solely on my physical state. A midwife has such a large task of calming down the mum & dad, plus working through all the physical aspects of birth- they were very thankful (as was I) to have our Doula there to keep me calm!
She was able to apply physical pressure where it was needed, mainly on the drive to the hospital, which my husband was very thankful for as we nearly had the baby in the car!! Our Doula also directed my husband of how and where to massage, which meant he felt he was applying the best technique for pain management. He didn't feel lost or unsure how to help me as our doula was there to guide us. My husband was able to focus on looking into my eyes, and on the baby. This was a special moment for us that may not have been possible without a doula. My husband was very thankful to have a Doula in the room with us.
WORKING WITH THE MIDWIFE
Our Doula and the midwife worked so well together, it was like a well oiled machine! We felt very lucky to have the medical and physical support needed for a safe arrival of our baby.We had a few complications with the placenta, and My Doula explained everything that was happening. The midwife was focussing on her role, and did not have to attend to our emotional needs that a first time mum & dad go through post birth.
GETTING THE WORD OUT THERE
We were originally unaware of what a Doula was, but are very thankful our friend made the suggestion. Now that we know who they are and what they're about, we want to shout out how wonderful they are from the rooftops! A special type of person has the skills to be a doula. Their job is to enter the most personal of spaces with, and to make them feel comfortable enough to experience the wonder of childbirth. Feeling reassured and 'calm' through the birth is not something first time mum & dad's would usually associate with birth (especially the first one) but that's exactly what we had and we have our Doula to thank for that. We are pretty relaxed people, and were not fearful of the birth before we chose our Doula, but she gave us the tools and the reassurance that we were going to have a calm birth and a happy healthy, relaxed baby- all naturally! I couldn't think of a more positive situation for my husband and I. Knowing we would see our doula postnatally made our whole experience so much more positive. Our doula will be at our next birth and will be friend of my husband, myself and our baby/babies for life”I encourage you to enlist the support of a Doula, talk to your midwives and your medical professionals about how they feel about working with Doulas too And I hope that you all experience a positive and empowering birth and have a beautiful birth story to share with your friends family and the next generation.