Interview with a doula!
I’m assuming if you’re reading my blogs you already know what a doula is, but, not even I know the full extent of what they do so I have reached out to a fellow birth nerd and beautiful doula to give us all the low down.
If you’ve ever considered hiring a doula or wonder why people do, this is the blog for you.
Virginia is the owner and healing hands behind Sydney based Natural Beginnings – Holistic Health, Doula and Placenta services.
Let’s start with the basics! What is your interpretation of a ‘doula’ and how do you shape your services to fit what you believe a good doula should be?
My interpretation of a doula is someone who holds the space for women to navigate the rite of passage from maiden to mother, using multiple resources from both ancient and modern knowledge, to hands on support.
I shape my services to fit the role of a good doula by encompassing a complete holistic approach, from our first prenatal appointment, to birth and postnatally. I have done extensive training so that I can provide as many services as I can so that women can get all that they feel they need to birth their babies with confidence, without using multiple practitioners. I use information from my natural intuition as well as from unbiased, scientific evidence, I use my hands to comfort women if and when they need it in the intensity of labour, and I use the non-medical resources that nature provides to assist when the situation demands it.
(Side note: do you know what "holding space" is? Blog post to come on this but a quick google will help you understand in the interim.)
I think there is a common misconception that if a birthing person has a good supportive birth partner (husband, mother etc.) that there is no need for a doula… Can you explain why this is not the case?
I believe that not every woman necessarily needs a doula, as it really depends on the relationship with your birth partner, their prior experiences and beliefs about birth, the health care provider on the day, the model of care and place of birth they have chosen, and how easily the birth unfolds – which of course even the most experienced birth worker can never predict ahead of time. But every woman deserves the selfless service that a doula brings!
Unlike a husband, mother or friend, doulas are professionals who devote their lives to supporting women during this vitally important time in their life and they have lots of knowledge about different birth options. Doulas bring with them the experience of seeing a wide array of different birth outcomes so they are flexible, rather than rigid, in their expectations. They do not bring into the birth room any fear of birth, or their own personal history with the birthing woman which may impact on her birth.
Having an objective extra support person will also free up the husband or co-parent to keep an unbroken connection with the mother, while having someone there for guidance and extra assistance when needed, which reduces the pressure on them so they can be fully present for when their baby is born. Many people are surprised to learn that their hospital midwife or Ob will not be there to give hands on support throughout the entire labour, as they can be attending to other women or paperwork, and if they are in for a considerable time, there is a good chance they will have different care providers attend them during that time who could have vastly different birth philosophies and bedside manner.
So having a doula there will give the continuity of care that they won’t routinely get in hospital.
"A calm, watchful, loving presence protects the fragile harmony of birth...
frantic coaching has never been part of nature's plan." - Pam England
Most of my readers know that loss is a huge part of my life and every birth worker will come across this in their work. What part can doulas play in helping families navigate the treacherous road of pregnancy and infant loss?
I’m so sorry about your loss Sarah. Life can be so unfair!
Part of my doula training in 2006 covered loss, and that component of my course was taught by someone in the funeral industry. I feel very fortunate that in my years of doula work since then, I have not had any doula clients be touched by pregnancy or infant loss - It is something that I anticipate may happen in my working life at some time in the future the longer I do this work. Like all doulas, it is dreaded because I know it will deeply affect me, as it would any human being with a big heart. I have some friends who have sadly experienced such loss who I have given emotional support to, and had placenta encapsulation clients who have also. (In fact I was called this morning by a woman who had a stillbirth a few days ago and wants me to create a dried cord dream catcher and placenta print to honour her baby!)
Doulas tend to be empaths who have the natural ability to resonate with the emotions of others, so I think doulas can play a very important role in providing the support, compassion and space to allow the grief that needs expression to begin the healing process. Fortunately there are some fantastic ‘death doula’ training courses, I hope to undertake that training and deepen my understanding in future.
Throughout your journey as a doula, are there any experiences that you’ve been through that came unexpectedly to you and had profound impacts on your life and work as a doula?
Birth is so individual – from one woman and one birth to the next, and it has the potential to teach you many things. I have learnt about strength, endurance, patience, joy, and the small and big miracles of life. But it is the long and difficult births which have impacted me the most. I have been at a couple of births which I have given almost continuous support for over 30 hours due to the baby stuck in a difficult position, and it amazes me how strong women can be and what they can endure. But it is the desire for my clients (and I!) to avoid these long and arduous births that brought me to learn the Spinning Babies techniques and undertake workshops to learn them.
Spinning Babies helps to create space in the mother’s pelvis to allow the baby to get into an optimal position so it can move through the pelvis and have an easier exit. Since knowing these techniques I have been able to facilitate speeding up the birth process to a number of women who may have likely ended in unwanted caesareans. I have since been privileged to host a number of these courses which I believe every single birth worker needs to do as it gives the most practical techniques to really make a positive impact on birth.
If there is one piece of advice you could give to birthing families what would it be?
Know your options, face your fears, trust your intuition and find your voice. And don’t birth without a doula, especially in the hospital – you need someone to hold the space and be in your corner! (Sorry that was way more advice than 1 piece!)
What is your favourite part about being a doula?
I love watching couples change from being hesitant and fearful to bold and empowered. I love seeing women make a smooth and amazing transition from maiden to mother, and the look of admiration and pride on the dad’s face when he witnesses the power that his partner has within her. Seeing new life emerge is the icing on the cake!
The work of a doula does not begin or end with birth support either; some doulas are trained in the art of belly mapping and have skills and techniques that enable them to guide babies, in utero, into the best position possible to facilitate a healthy birth! A very good friend of mine recently visited Virginia with the intention of facilitating the turning of her transverse/breech baby....at 38 weeks. Anyone proficient in 'birth talk' will know that ideally, babies would all be head down by 36 weeks... my friend met with Virginia and was able to get treatment to help her baby turn, and it worked!
If you're unsure about whether hiring a doula is right for you, do some research. Call and meet with some doulas in your area. Speak to other who have hired a doula. I persoanlly believe that hiring a doula is a very personal thing, you need to be comfortable with anyone you invite into your birth space - so get to know the doulas in your area and find the one who works with your birth plan and philosophy the most.
Doulas are adaptive, as are birth photographers, but you need to be comfortable in your decision to hire one. Research your options and get informed.