After a caesarean with my second daughter, Cecily, due to complete placenta previa, I knew that a VBAC would be a challenge with my next baby. Especially here in Nova Scotia where midwives are basically unavailable. I asked Lola to attend my birth for several reasons; 1) she is a good friend, 2) We share much the same view on labour, birth, and well, much of life in general, only Lola is far more knowledgeable than I on pregnancy and birth. 3) I knew that I would need a strong support if I was going to have a VBAC. Lola was a perfect mix of what I needed as she provided physical support during a long labor, helped me keep my sense of humor, and most importantly, helped advocate and offer her knowledge as I made birthing decisions. I am so glad to be able to share some of her thoughts on being a doula with you today.
I’ve been a Doula for seven years now. When Marissa asked me to write about my experience as a Doula and my views on birth I was really excited. And then I panicked. I’m not your typical Doula and I have some very strong opinions on how birth could and should be handled better in North America. I’ll share a bit about it all and try to keep it brief.
What is a Doula?
DONA International defines a Doula with the following…
The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily.
That seems to be a pretty accurate description. I also take photographs or video tape births if that’s what the parents want.
Why, Where and When did I become a Doula?
I need to say right at the beginning that I find the idea of hiring a Doula strange. In other cultures, birth attendants have always been close friends or family members such as sisters, mothers, aunts or grandmothers. Unfortunately, in our society we have lost vital understanding of the process and we no longer approach birth with a feeling of confidence but rather with fear and trepidation. Many women do not even know how the actual growing and birthing of a baby happens and that negatively effects the way we can offer each other support and assistance. It’s sad that we have to hire someone to fill in for the roles that used to be had by close family or friends but I do think that with the current state of things, Doula’s can be incredibly beneficial for an expecting mother.
With that said, I’ll explain why I decided to enter the profession almost 8 years ago. I’ve always loved pregnancy and birth. When I was newly married, I longed to somehow be a part of the birth process but I wasn’t sure how so I researched different ways I could help women to have a wonderful birth experience. A doula fit the bill perfectly. I was trained by CAPPA Canada and found three lovely women who agreed to let me attend their births as a part of my certification process. Looking back now, I realize what a novice I was. I’ve learned so much since then and have gained a very deep respect for the birth process. My views are more realistic but I still see birth as a natural and beautiful event.
At the time of my training I lived in a small town in Alberta that had a small hospital where all of the low risk deliveries took place. I had my first baby there and attended many families during my time spent in Alberta. It was in that delivery room I gained my confidence as a Doula. I massaged and photographed and massaged and ran for water and… did I say massaged? As wonderful as it was to gain so much experience, It’s also where I started to see major flaws in the way birth is managed. We’ve moved many times since then and I’ve been able to work with many different women and a variety of care providers. Over the years, I’ve discovered my specific gifts and also my weaknesses. We can’t be all things to all people and I’ve learned to embrace that and be up front with my prospective clients so they can know ahead of time if I’m what they will need. I’m a very knowledgeable Doula who serves well under pressure. I have a healthy bank of information stored in my head that I can access when needed. I am encouraging and affirming. But I am not good at making birth a moody or dramatic event. Some women really need and want that. There are some Doulas who are wonderful at making birth ceremonial and emotional but that is not my specific gifting and I gladly refer women to others who can better suit their needs if that’s necessary.
We live in Nova Scotia now and I have three (almost four) beautiful young children so I don’t advertise as a Doula currently but I will always attend births. It’s just something that I love. Lately, I definitely feel more drawn to the possibility of becoming a childbirth educator for the area and I’d love to focus on helping underprivileged, single or very young mothers confidently birth their babies.
The female body works in amazing ways. Pregnancy and birth provide a unique time for women and their families to understand this and to become confident in making decisions about what, where, when and how they will bring their children into the world.
We have the unique privilege of living in a society of plenty. We have food, water, information and medical help available for most people in Canada and that is such a blessing. But somehow, in the last sixty or so years, we have handed over our rights of carrying and birthing babies to a system that has shown itself to be less than ideal, mostly by the embarrassingly high infant and maternal mortality rates and the soaring Caesarean sections being performed. There are legitimate reasons for medical interventions but the excessive and unwarranted use of them can cause serious harm to young vulnerable newborns and mothers. It’s only when we are confident and informed that we can say yes or no to the options laid out before us. Doula’s can help with this sometimes drastic learning curve.
As women, we have also become out of touch with how our bodies function. Things like assessing our own cervical dilation, fundal height, foetal position, and fertility awareness are all things we should be knowledgeable about and comfortable with. Trained health care providers are a service we are privileged to have access to in Canada but that doesn’t excuse us of the responsibility of understanding the process ourselves. We routinely force babies out before they are ready, clamp them and lay them in plastic containers to be blinded by lights, foot thumps and cold instruments before they have shown any sign of needing to be taken away from their mothers. One of the saddest things I see as a Doula is a women lovingly and longingly looking over at her baby on the warming bed while he or she is weighed, measured and dressed before being handed back to be fed, sometimes an hour later. Babies belong to mothers and fathers and we must remember that. We can gladly accept medical help but ultimately the decisions we make, or refuse to make fall on our own shoulders. It can be a frightening realization but also a very empowering and freeing one. I love what I do. I’m blessed to be able to be a part of such a life changing time for so many families but I want to encourage women to know and understand what’s happening. Take charge of it. Own it. And whether you have a home birth, hospital birth or caesarean birth you can know that you were able to make the best decision for your baby and yourself.
Have you had a Doula and if so, how did affect your birth experience? How has your birth experience affected you?
My name is Lola and I’m a pretty ordinary woman, wife, and mama who also happens to be a Doula and novice homesteader. I live in Nova Scotia with my family and live for sunny days at the beach and deep conversation with friends. I am wildly blessed and am learning to not become sidetracked from the truly beautiful and meaningful things in life. www.nearerstillnearer.squarespace.com