Midwives, doctors, loved ones? Who else would you have sharing one of the biggest events of your life: the birth of your baby? Yoga instructor and new mother Cheryl Parsons hired a doula to be with her on delivery day. She reveals more about this growing trend in alternative birthing support…
I can hear your first question already. What on earth is a doula and what were they doing at one of the most intimate days of my life? Somewhat unfortunately named, the word ‘doula’ derives from the Greek word for a female servant. Now while that might conjure up images of someone feeding me grapes and fanning me down during contractions, I can assure you this wasn’t the case. A doula is a non-medical birthing support partner who is there to assist a woman before, during and after childbirth. Above all, they aim to create a positive birthing experience. In my case, my doula was a huge support throughout 22 hours of labour for the birth of my first baby, Molly.
COUNTDOWN TO SHOW TIME
My husband and I where just getting into bed last July when, five days past my due date, I felt those all important twinges signaling it was show time.
If you are a first-timer like I was, you will ask yourself questions such as: ‘how will I know this is actually happening’ and ‘what on earth I am supposed to do next?’ All that and more buzzed through my mind as I picked up the phone to call my doula, Carol Unterhorst, who we had both met with several times in the lead up to ‘D’ day.
I had first heard about doulas during my pre-natal yoga teacher training and was intrigued about the thought of bringing someone with me, in addition to the medical team. While healthcare in Dubai is for the most part excellent, I wanted someone extra to help advocate my plan for a natural birth wherever possible, especially given my distance as an expatriate from my core family support. I went along to a monthly meeting of some of Dubai’s doulas and instantly felt this was something that would help me feel empowered during my birth.
As well as guiding me through the unchartered territory of my first birth, I knew a doula would also give my slightly nervous husband some additional support as to what role he could play. Plus, despite feeling well prepared by my continuous yoga practice, fear was still a major factor.
“To me, the natural birthing process is a miraculous spiritual experience and it is the reason why I decided to become a doula,” explains Carol, who is certified through the Nurturing Birth, an organisation that provides extensive training in the UK and the UAE. “Being a doula means I can share and support women to help them achieve a positive birth. Fear is such a big thing in childbirth and it is often manifested through a lack of knowledge, so a key part of being a doula is to ensure the best educational materials are shared with parents to be. As an expat I also truly understand the need for a solid support structure around you especially at one of the most important events of your life.”
PLEASURE, PAIN AND PUSHING
Prenatal vinyasa yoga instructor Jennifer (Wolfe) More also became a doula after the birth of her daughter 14 years ago. She now trains doulas worldwide through her organisation, the Dolphin Yoga and Doula Center. “I remember expecting that labour was going to be much easier for me than all of the stories I’d heard,” Jennifer says. “After all I was a yoga instructor and a hypnotherapist.
Ten days after my due date, I found myself in the hospital, hooked up to an IV and being pumped full of medication that was supposed to start my labour.
“That first night in the hospital a nurse came and asked me if I’d like a massage and a warm bath,” Jennifer says. “Those two things, in that moment, were the most pleasurable things I had ever experienced. They kept me going through my 33 hours of labour and three hours of pushing. I’ll never forget sitting in a rocking chair after 30 hours and thinking to myself, ‘I know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’m going to help people get through this very moment.’ I’ve spent the last 13 years doing just that.”
A doula’s role in childbirth is certainly not to replace or take away from that of a midwife or doctor. Indeed, while doulas are meticulously trained in childbirth, they do not have the authority to take medical action or make medical decisions. Their key services are to give educational, psychological and emotional support both before and during the birthing process.
“Being a doula has to be one of the most gratifying jobs in the world. As a doula we witness not only the birth of a new life into the world, which is magical and beautiful but we also get to walk with women through the journey of becoming a mother,” says Jennifer.
EMPOWER AND UPLIFT
Having this extra core support and help to make informed decisions at such a highly emotional and physical time is one of the main reasons why women turn to doulas. Mother of two Jane Caen also chose Carol as her doula for her second birth: “I felt that I was pushed into a totally unnecessary Cesarean Section (CS) with my previous pregnancy by being ‘advised’ that this was ‘the next step’ and that it was ‘best for the baby,” she said.
“I also fell pregnant only three months after my son was born and was determined to have a natural and drug free birth. I saw several OBs but only one was prepared to let me have a natural birth so close to my c-sec operation. I wanted to have someone with me with experience of labour to ensure I would not be railroaded back down the CS route by baffling and frightening warnings of how dangerous it was for the baby,” Jane said.
“It took the stress and pressure off. Just knowing Carol was there helped my labour flow from one stage to the next more naturally. Her presence took away my worry that this could all end in a CS again.”
While doulas help to advocate a natural, medication-free birth, they are respectful and supporting of every woman’s right to have the birth she wants, be that with or without medication. With my own birthing experience clocking in at 22 hours, I credit my strength to the support of my husband and Carol, as well as my wonderful OBGYN, Dr. Rajalakshmi at the American Hospital. (You can read full details of Molly’s birth on my blog http://thepeacelily.com/yoga/the- tale-of-molly-jean/)
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT FROM A DOULA:
- Childbirth education (stages of labour etc)
- Anatomy of pregnancy and labour
- Help with preparing a birth plan
- Optimal foetal positioning
- Emotional and physical support to you and your partner
- Access to information to help you make informed decisions during labour
- Some are skilled in alternative forms of support such as hypnosis, massage, yoga or acupressureDoulas have been known to:
- Reduce Caesarean Section rates by as much as 50 per cent
- Decrease the length of labour
- Reduce the need for epidurals and other interventions
CHERYL PARSONS is a 500 hour + Yoga Alliance certified instructor and has been teaching Vinyasa and Hatha Flow at Zen Yoga for nearly five years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.thepeacelily.com, where she writes a regular blog on yoga and her experiences.
CAROL UNTERHORST is a Dubai-based doula, with a degree in Psychological Counselling and skills in acupressure. Contact her through her website, Dune Doula: http://ca-doula.blogspot.ae
JENNIFER (WOLFE) MORE is a Prenatal and Vinyasa Yoga instructor and trainer (RYT-500), Doula Trainer, clinical and medical Master Hypnotherapist, childbirth educator, and Reiki master. For more details, go to www.prenatalvinyasayoga.com For information on monthly doula meet-ups, check out http://be-empowered.jimdo.com