by Karen Herriot and Angie Evans
Remember when you were pregnant with your first baby and had so many questions and worries about the choices facing you? Do lots of women share their fears with you? Would you love to help others avoid the pitfalls and disappointments you experienced—to help them navigate the birth experience and feel more supported? You should consider becoming a doula!
What is a Doula?
Doulas are a quickly expanding field of trained professionals who provide physical, emotional, and informational support during and after significant transitions such as birth, postpartum, and death. In most cultures, including ours until the past century, communities used to come together to support women and families as they underwent such transitions. These days women often find themselves alone and isolated—and doulas are there to help! If you are pregnant and wanting a doula, there are associations in Regina and Saskatoon and many doulas working in smaller centres and rural communities as well, so search those out! If you are wanting to become a doula, there are weekend trainings. It is easier than you think.
What Kinds of Doulas are There?
A birth doula supports women through their pregnancy, labour and birth, helping to create a safe space for the woman to discuss her hopes and fears as she prepares for the birth. The doula attends the birth, representing faith in the process and reflecting the woman’s strength back to her when she might be struggling. A doula eases the transition into the hospital environment, serving as a wise advocate and presence, giving the mother and her partner info and support, offering suggestions for positions and comfort measures.
A doula stays. She offers reassurance, suggestions, non-judgmental witnessing. She observes and supports the woman’s rhythms and helps establish helpful rituals and techniques for relaxation. She offers informational support and frees the partner from trying to remember all the stuff from prenatal class—letting them be emotionally present, find their voice, and make informed choices.
A birth doula may do some of these things:
- Listen to the woman’s fears about the birth
- Recognize that birth is a major, life-changing experience and that she can do it
- Help her with a birth plan
- Offer relaxation, visualization, and breathing tools
- Involve her partner and children
- Help the woman incorporate aspects of spiritual or cultural importance
- Show her postures to help the baby into the optimal position for birth
- Stay with her for her labour
- Remind her to write her birth story, and more.
Postpartum doulas help new families navigate the early days and weeks of parenthood, through a variety of hands-on practical skills, support, compassionate presence, and education. Postpartum doulas assist the new mother and family in the hospital or at home—with presence, breastfeeding support, as well as care of the mother and newborn, family, and household. The postpartum doula mothers the mother and the family by creating a safe container of support and non-judgement, information, and assistance in the first days and months after the birth so the mother can mother her infant. Like the other doulas, this is an evolving field and every doula provides her own style of support. She will let you know her services when you are interviewing her.
A postpartum doula may do some or all of these things:
- Help the woman with a postpartum plan while she is pregnant
- Provide daytime or overnight doula support
- Listen and offer tissues or hugs
- Encourage the mother with feeding
- Provide information on expectations of the newborn and sleep pattern
- Provide special help and advice for care of multiples, preemies, and after surgery
- Prepare meals or meal plans
- Perform light domestic duties
- Listen to her birth story and help her to begin to process the experience
- Recognize postpartum mood disorders and provide resources and practical support, and more.
Also known as End of Life Doulas, this new field focuses on companioning the dying person and their family—providing compassionate presence, options, support, and education on their choices, resources, and much more. Like other doulas, these doulas are comfortable with the process of dying and able to be with its intensity, challenges, and joys, providing a variety of assistance from comfort to facilitating the end-of-life plan, family involvement, document organization, legacy writing, and more.
Typically all doulas, but particularly birth and postpartum doulas, meet with the client prior to the birth to get acquainted and to learn about their wishes and fears. They will listen to the woman’s experience of the current pregnancy, help to clarify needs and preferences, explore options, offer referrals, and provide information and resources. All doulas work with the other members of the health care team—they are not midwives, doctors, or nurses, but are hired by the client and skilled in working collaboratively with staff.
You do not have to have given birth to be a birth or postpartum doula, and it is easier than you think to hire a doula or to become one. Organizations like Birthways International (see bio below) have comprehensive weekend trainings that are open to anyone drawn to doing this valuable work. After the weekend training, you are ready to accept clients. So contact us for more information if you feel drawn to working with women in the childbearing years.
Karen Herriot and Angie Evans are veteran doulas and doula trainers who have attended over 400 births. They train birth and postpartum doulas through their company www.birthwaysinternational.ca. These weekend intensives are open to anyone interested in working with childbearing women. The next birth doula training: June 14–16 in Saskatoon; the next postpartum training: Oct 18–20 in Regina. In their shared practice, Karen and Angie are honoured to work with couples prenatally to support their process of active preparation for birth as they bring to light their wishes and worries, process them, and pack their physical and psychological birth bags. Services include prenatal classes, placenta encapsulation, and doula support, listed at www.AngieEvans.ca. Also see the display ad on page 12 of the 25.1 May/June issue of the WHOLifE Journal.