What is a doula?

(An aside to begin: Apologies for the fairly mundane post title, in a fit of ridiculousness, I’ve put off writing this post for the last few weeks as I couldn’t think of a good snappy title! I didn’t want to be glib so was trying to find something fitting but eventually gave up tonight and kept it simple.)

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I am doing training to become a doula in March but never actually elaborated on what a doula is. I’ve found from telling people about the training in real life (as opposed to virtual!) that it isn’t necessarily a well known role so I thought I’d write a bit about what a doula is, what they do and why I want to become one.

A doula is someone who offers women practical and emotional support during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. It is not a medical role and does not replace a midwife or doctor. The word doula is a greek word meaning ‘women servant or caregiver’. For me, this sums up the role. It is one of serving a woman during one of the most turbulent and exciting times in her life. Most doula’s receive training of some sort (there is an organisation called Doula UK that acknowledges several courses and has a database of doula’s for people looking to hire one) and have a good knowledge of birth physiology and often breastfeeding as well.

My perspective is that doula’s are on the rise in the UK. I’m not sure I’d heard of them at all during my pregnancy with Sophia (nearly 5 years ago) but I definitely had while I was pregnant with Isaac. I think the rise is probably as a response to the shortage of midwives in the NHS at the moment and the lack of consistency during your pregnancy and birth. Hiring a doula ensures that you will have someone present at your birth who you have met and who you trust to support you and help you achieve (where possible) the birth you want. I think it probably also coincides with an increased awareness of the massive benefits of having a physiologically natural birth and the rising movement of mothers and birth professionals who are passionate about reclaiming birth as a natural process that doesn’t have to be feared and unnecessarily medically managed. A film called One World Birth which was released two years ago shares a quote from Sheila Kitzinger (a social anthropologist and author specialising in pregnancy, childbirth and the parenting of babies and young children) who exclaimed ‘Birth isn’t something we suffer, but something we actively do and exult in’.

Obviously I have not done my training yet and so cannot speak for the whole community but that is not to say that there is antipathy between doula’s and midwifes or the medical establishment. I think that midwives do an incredible job and can honestly say that all the midwives I encountered during both pregnacies and births in two different trusts were kind, supportive, empowering and just amazing. They all worked so so hard and were so busy and I am truly grateful for all that were involved in my care. Unfortunately though, there is a massive shortage so midwives are overworked and stretched thin on the ground. I think this may be a reason for the increase in mothers hiring doulas. Likewise, we are so lucky to have access to hospitals, doctors and various medical measures which can be needed during pregnancy and birth and I would never scorn or belittle that. However, I do feel that birth is becoming increasingly and unnecessarily medicalised and the main reason I can see for that is a loss of trust in letting the body do what it knows how to do in it’s own time.

Hiring a doula is an additional expense obviously not affordable for all families and this is part of the reason that I hesitated in booking my training. I didn’t want to embark on a ‘career’ that seemed elite or only available to a few. But I found out that Doula UK have an access fund to try and make it an affordable option for all and the price of hiring a doula really depends on how experienced they are and what each individual doula decides to charge.  A friend told me about a charity in America that paid for doula’s to attend women who couldn’t afford to hire them and I loved that idea so was happy to hear that Doula UK seem to be doing a similar thing.

I had to write a reflective piece on why I want to train as a doula as part of my pre course module so I thought rather than rehash it I’d share it here so you can see part of my motivation behind the training. In addition to what I’ve written, there is the added bonus that it fits in with home educating the children, will provide a little extra income for us and gives me an opportunity to pursue a passion separate from my day to day mothering. I’ll leave you with the piece I wrote and if you have any comments or questions plaese don’t hesitate to comment below.

I’ve been thinking about applying to do a doula training course for the last two years but have already been held back for one reason or another so am very glad to finally be doing it. My desire to serve women in this capacity can be traced back to the birth of my second child, Isaac. His birth was just incredible. I found it incredibly empowering and just plain enjoyable. In the months that followed I became passionate about physiologically normal birth and a woman’s right to birth the way she wants, free of unnecessary medical management.

Five months after Isaac was born one of my closest friends gave birth to her second child. Unfortunately, although she was aiming for a VBAC her daughter was breech and she opted for an elective section which resulted in several clots in her leg which left her bed bound and in severe pain for weeks. During this time I went round fairly regularly to try and help out and keep her and her older daughter company. It was whilst doing some cleaning for them one day while they all slept that I felt so happy that I had managed to help facilitate some rest for them all that I felt drawn to serving other woman in this turbulent but joyful period of their lives.

My work voluteering as a breastfeeding peer supporter further cemented this desire, I volunteered in the post natal ward supporting new mothers in their early feeding days and after Isaac was born moved to a community group as I needed to have him with me. The sense of accomplishment after leaving a mother knowing you’d given her correct information and the support and encouragement she needed to continue in her breatfeeding journey was not to be rivalled.

I wrote on my application form about the lack of community support in our current social climate. Although many people are blessed to have family and friends around to help, many more are left to struggle through pregnancy and birth by themselves. Although we cannot replicate a time gone by, I would love to play my part in supporting women during this time. For a while, I worried that I was too young and that potential parents would rather chose an older and more experienced doula but as time has gone by that concern has mostly faded. I feel that I am ready and able to serve women during their pregnancy and birth’s because I am passionate about empowering and enabling women to take charge of their birth and truly own it as theirs. 

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