The doula is not only an important advocate and support for the mother and her partner, but also a subtle choreographer for the birth experience. Her purpose is to empower the birthing couple by providing information so that they can make the best choices for the kind of experience they wish to have. She also uses active hands-on comfort throughout the birth process, and she follows up after the birth through the postpartum period, helping the mother, baby, and family have a positive transition into the newborn phase and beyond. Doulas make a valuable difference by providing emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental support during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
Women who perceive that they have control during and following their birth experience show evidence of higher self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. (Simkin, 2013) The doula plays a key role in showing the mother her very real ability to achieve this outcome. As she spends time getting acquainted with the mother and her partner during pre-natal visits, the doula becomes fully aware of their desires, hopes, and even fears or concerns for their birth experience. She is thus able to provide them with the tools and education necessary for them to play the most active role possible in their experience. When women are accurately informed of their options in birth, they will [usually] make good choices. (DeVries, 2005)
Typically, you can often see a competent doula praising the types of the support the partner naturally gives, and she is adept at suggesting ways for the partner to be an even stronger and more tender support for the mother throughout the whole pregnancy, birth, and postpartum process. This interactive dance creates an extremely supportive environment and perception of control, which leads to the goal of a whole and fulfilling experience.
Additionally, it is vital for the doula to have the skills and demeanor necessary for facilitating communication between the birthing family and medical personnel. While the doula does not make medical decisions, she does encourage the mother and her partner to become as informed as possible with each step along the way. She is assertive in helping them to ask the kinds of questions that will provide them with choices, and knowledge of the possible consequences of those choices. Since “the best way to ensure a safe and healthy birth is to not interfere in the natural process without a serious medical indication,” it is imperative for the doula to help the mother have a voice and say in what happens to her body and her baby. If this does not happen, a mother may feel violated physically, emotionally, or otherwise, and is often left with a less than positive memory of her birth experience, which can affect her in negative, or even traumatic, ways.
When choosing a doula, the mother and her partner should interview, research, and select someone who listens to their wishes and answers their questions. (Hanley, 2015) They should have a strong sense that the doula’s only agenda is to understand and facilitate the plans, hopes, and needs of the mother and her partner. The doula of their choice should be knowledgeable regarding how to assist them in preparing for birth and should be practiced in the best comfort measures. She should also be known for her ability to communicate in a diplomatic, kind, and yet assertive manner. There is an almost tangible ebb and flow as a doula uses her intuition and the mother’s intuition in this way.
The expecting parents should also inquire as to what types of postpartum care their doula offers; for this is as essential to the well- being of mother, partner, baby, and family as pregnancy as birth are. Postpartum care may include help breastfeeding, help with newborn care, light household chores, a few meals brought into the home, as well as informal assessment of the mother’s emotional well-being, (referring her to further resources as needed.) The service of a postpartum doula is a powerful and tender way to bring focus to what has just happened to the new mother, to remind the culture around her of the tremendous miracle and change that has taken place, and to set up a system of support that doesn’t leave the mother alone on the stage of motherhood to figure this transition out on her own. She knows that by protecting new moms in just enough of the spotlight, the precarious waltz of motherhood can be most powerful.
It is fascinating to note that regardless of the type of birth a mother has, whether she is able to follow her birth plan exactly or not, research demonstrates that “those who felt they had been well cared for… reported the highest satisfaction, even if their labors had been long or complicated.” (Simkin, 2013) This is sufficient evidence for considering having a doula by your side. This decision has the positive potential to make all the difference in your unique dance of birth and parenthood!
DeVries, J. L. (2005). The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hanley, J. (2015). Listening Visits in Perinatal Mental Health. London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Simkin, P. (2013). The Birth Partner-Revised Edition: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions. The Harvard Common Press.