Doulas. How much do you know about their work? What can they provide for a new or expanding family? Kayla, a doula who was firstly Norland trained, tells us all about what a doula does during their time with a family and why she is so passionate about her job.
It was no surprise that I qualified as a Norland Nursery Nurse back in 1978. At the ripe old age of 15 months I discovered when my little sister was born (followed quickly by my two brothers) that I adored babies. Once qualified I loved both my maternity work and to travel, so I combined the two; working all over the world from Oslo to Hong Kong, from Auckland to New York. Whilst supporting the new mums and caring for their newborns, I was fascinated listening to the mums talking about their different labours and births. So 25 years after having my son I was in a rather noisy pub with a friend who was trying to tell me her doula had let her down. I must have been looking bemused and then she said loudly ‘you know you really would make a wonderful doula’. I honestly had no idea what she was talking about but I returned home to Google the word and within months I was training as a birth doula.
A doula is a Greek word. It literally means servant woman and in fact has just made it into the English Oxford Dictionary! If you haven’t heard of doulas I am not surprised – rarely a week goes by when I am not explaining my profession. In short they are trained women (usually mothers) and their role is to support expecting couples through pregnancy, childbirth and the following days. They provide calm continuity along with emotional, physical, and educational support. In doing this it has been shown that women with a doula tend to go into spontaneous labour, have a quicker labour, are less likely to use so much pain relief, have a caesarean and are at a smaller risk of being dissatisfied with their birth. Have a look at the Cochrane review on doulas for the statistics.
So, how does this work you might be wondering – well personally I work in two ways. I am employed part time by the NHS at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in South West London working alongside the midwives – two night shifts a week. This hospital is the only one in the country to have the foresight to realise what a difference doulas make and so employ them. Then I (and the small team I work with) also take on private clients who receive a very personalised and professional package, depending on their needs throughout their pregnancy, labour and postnatal journey.
When couples meet me, I know they are looking for someone who can offer extensive and knowledgeable guidance in a non-judgemental, relaxed and friendly manner. They need to feel totally at ease with me and feel confident that I can guide them through the birth experience whether it is their first or third time and regardless if they are hoping for a totally natural birth or a planned caesarean. These sessions with the couples complement any other antenatal classes they might have attended and even more importantly let us build a real rapport with the clients.
Then when the pregnant woman very excitedly and slightly apprehensively thinks she might be in labour the first person she would ring is me. The call usually comes at around 3am so it’s useful that I am a night owl. Great discussions go on as to whether this is labour or intense Braxton Hicks or even just urine leakage! Once in labour and the client has baked a cake (very important to keep busy in early labour!) I will come to them. When the time is right we all travel into hospital together (this can be a stressful time for the partner) and then I stay with them as continuity of care, calmness and support is really important throughout. I have been known to be with a couple a few hours or a few days!!! Labour has its own plans and is difficult to predict. It is a real team effort between the partner and the doula and the amazing warrior woman.
Once the baby is born; be it in a pool, kneeling on a bed, being assisted with forceps or in theatre my aim is to protect your space as a new family, support you with feeding, take photos if you wish, grab sustenance for you all, help you find your strength again as you shower and then get you tucked up into bed. Women are so appreciative of this care after they have been so strong it is lovely to be mothered themselves.
The next challenge after the birth for the couple is walking into their home with a small baby in their arms and realising they have the daunting years ahead of caring and being responsible for this little bundle. Knowing I am at the end of a phone can make all the difference. I regularly receive photos of nipples, umbilical cords and baby poo! I also come and visit to de brief the birth in great detail. This is important as often there are questions which otherwise will never be answered relating to a woman’s birth.
So why do I love my job with such a passion? Firstly it is a huge privilege to be picked by a couple to travel on this very special voyage with them. When that email, text or call comes through it always makes me whoop inside. Secondly I love getting to know the couple – I enjoy people and their lives and I get to see so many different ones. Next, well that has to be the birth itself and watching the new mother’s absolute joy as she cradles her baby for the very first time (thrilled she has done it) with usually the partner in tears followed by amazement as her baby takes its first feed. Lastly the visit at home to see everything we learnt together coming to fruition as the new family – I often drive away thinking my work is done and onto the next one with a big smile. Until they contact me saying guess what – yes the next one is on the way and can they book me for 8 months time.
Remember ‘the moment the baby is born the mother is also born’.