Helping Women Birth Babies!

Want to help other women birth their babies? Why not consider becoming a doula? Pregnancy & Baby's own Rachel Gurevich talks about the craft.
Rachel Gurevich

Want to help other women birth their babies? Why not consider becoming a doula? Pregnancy & Baby's own Rachel Gurevich talks about the craft in this excerpt from her book the FabJob Guide to Become a Doula. What is a doula?
"Working as a doula is truly wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting, stressful and magical work. We have the honor of seeing some of life's most miraculous and devastating moments on a day-to-day basis. We also have the responsibility and opportunity to help improve the support of birthing families, one birth at a time. What a privilege!"
-- Anna Hurty, certified child birth educator, certified doula (Doulas of North America -- DONA)
Director of Blossom Birth Services

Doula is a Greek word meaning "servant." In the world of labor and delivery, a doula is a part of the birth team who either supports the mother emotionally and physically during birth or helps the new mother adjust to her new role after the birth. Basically, there are two types of doulas: a birth doula and a postpartum doula.

A birth doula is a professional, non-medical labor assistant whose role is to comfort the mother and father during birth, act as a liaison between the hospital staff and the birthing family, and provide one-to-one care that the hospital staff, midwife or doctor may be unable to provide.

A postpartum doula cares for the mother and infant after the birth. She helps the new mother cope with her new role, performs light housekeeping, guides the parents in newborn care and runs errands.

A doula may work independently, alongside a midwife, or for a hospital or birth center. She may attend as many as four or five births per month or as few as one every other month. Doulas may be certified childbirth educators or volunteers. The different roles a doula plays will be explained in Chapter 7, "Getting Hired."

Being a doula is one of the most rewarding careers there is. In what other career do you have the opportunity to regularly witness the miracle of creation? How many people touch lives as deeply as doulas do? Many clients keep in touch with their doulas, sending them pictures of their children as they grow.

What do doulas make?
There is a wide range of fees for doula services, which we will talk about in Chapter 8. Few people become doulas intending to get rich financially -- attending births and empowering women feeds their souls. Many are avidly interested in birth, reading every book on the subject and watching any birth video that comes their way. A doula will be the first person to stand up for the rights of women and children. A doula does her work because that is her calling.

All different types of people become doulas, such as mothers, grandmothers, the childless, writers, nurses and stay-at-home mothers. Although the majority of doulas are women, some men choose this as a profession as well (we'll talk about male doulas in Section 9.5). The reasons people become doulas are just as varied as the individuals themselves.

"I started out as a social worker and always had a desire to work with women. When I discovered the work of doulas, I knew it was for me."
-- Julie Keon, certified doula (DONA)

"I became a doula because I was called to it. I have been on a path to do this work my entire life."
-- Lucky J. Tomaszek, certified doula (DONA)

"I love birth -- I love to try to ensure a safe passage for baby, as 'interventionless' as possible, and I love to help ensure that moms have the gentle birth experience that every woman deserves."
-- Teresa Howard, certified doula (DONA) and childbirth educator

"I became a doula because I recognized what was missing from my own first birth-and birth in general: other women who are there for MOM."
-- Candace Robinson, certified doula (DONA)


"[A benefit to being a doula is] the good feeling I get when I lay my head on a pillow-moms and babies that love me!"
-- Teresa Howard, certified doula (DONA)

As I mentioned earlier, doula work is a calling for most men and women (yes, there are male doulas!) Their lives are enriched by their work, and they glow knowing that they have touched lives of new mothers in ways no one else has. Here are more benefits to becoming a doula.

Witnessing the miracle of life
Who else is involved with life on a daily basis? Doulas, whether birth or postpartum, work with new mothers and newborns on a daily basis. They are not doctors or nurses, whose contact with the mother and child may be minimal. Doulas are truly involved with the new family, helping them make informed decisions and strengthening their family ties.

Learning something new with every client

"[A benefit to being a doula is] being able to satisfy my need for learning about pregnancy and birth, because no matter how much you know, every birth is different."
-- Jennifer Rush, certified doula (DONA)

Every birth and every mother is different. No matter how many births you attend, and no matter how many families you help, you'll never become bored. Doula work is never stagnant, and I have yet to meet a doula who has become numb to the tears of happiness shed by a new mother or father.

Being trusted and needed
During the birth, the mother depends on her doula more than anyone else in the room. The following words from Brandy DeLuca, a doula working on her certification, illustrate the trust mothers have in their doulas. "All of a sudden there were six nurses and the OB in the room.and they were racing to birth this baby. At this time, I was the only person that my client would listen to and it took everything that I had to keep her focused on the task at hand. Our eyes never lost each other. I don't know how many times that night I heard her sincere thanks for me being there."

Empowering women in birth and motherhood
Mothers have lost their voice in birth and motherhood. At one time, if a mother wondered how to raise her child, she'd ask other women or follow her instincts. Today, many women have stopped listening to their inner mothering voice, turning to parenting "experts" instead.

Doulas help the mother listen to that voice inside. A doula reassures the mother that she can birth this baby naturally, like billions of mothers before her, or for the mother that needs medical support; a doula is there to reassure her that her cesarean birth is just as precious as a vaginal birth. Doulas also help new mothers establish breastfeeding, a job that once belonged to grandmothers and community elders.

While doulas are on call almost 24 hours a day whenever they have clients, they can decide to not take any new clients for months if they wish. Doulas may serve five mothers every month, or only take on a client or two every other month. Postpartum doulas have even more flexibility, deciding how many clients and how many hours they have to commit to new mothers.

Some birth doulas take a year or more off in order to care for their own children, while others work out childcare arrangements so they can still take on new clients. Whatever your commitments may be, there exists a way to fit at least some doula work into your life.

These are just a few of the many benefits to becoming a doula. So, what do you think? Are you ready to begin a career that will change not just your life, but others' lives as well?

Stories of doula life
The best way to decide if doula work is for you is to go out there and try it! The second best way is to ask doulas to share their stories about doula life.

"I had a VBAC [Vaginal Birth After Cesarean] mom who had worked very hard to prepare for her labor and delivery. She was [a] super-star! She claimed that with doula support it never even occurred to her to request pain [medication]. She labored all day and pushed for well over an hour in a squat! As the baby was crowning, we helped her back into a semi-sit so she could pull the baby out herself. She pulled the baby up onto her chest and said, "Oh Baby! It was so worth it!" And covered the baby with kisses."
-- Lucky Tomaszek, certified doula (DONA)

"My most exciting experience as a doula was the time I had a client who was in labor and went to the hospital to get checked; she was about 2 cm dilated. The doctor told her to go home because it would be awhile. We labored at home for an hour and she wanted to get into the tub. Once she got in, she felt like she had to push and me and her husband had to try to get her out of the tub and into the car -- not an easy task by any means. She thought there was no way she could be that far along in dilation, so she panicked and thought something was wrong. We spent the whole ride doing HEE-HEE breathing. [We] got to the hospital and she was 8 cm [dilated]!!! We were all shocked -- she delivered a healthy 9 pound girl 30 minutes later."
-- Jennifer Rush, certified doula (DONA)

"I had a mother recently who wanted a home birth, but she was an insulin-dependent diabetic. She saw a "high-risk" OB team during pregnancy, and we knew that the deck seemed stacked against her. Two of the [three] doctors felt she might be better off with an induction and/or cesarean at 37-38 weeks. She wanted a very natural birth with no intervention. Thank goodness the other doctor was flexible and felt that as long as certain bases were covered, she could do whatever she wanted. I helped her to decide when to compromise and get what she wanted in the long run. At 38 1/2 weeks, she went into labor naturally and had a "natural," drug-free labor and birthed in an upright, squatting position. I think the staff was shocked. It was my most challenging doula case so far, but definitely very fulfilling!"
-- Candace Robinson, certified doula (DONA)

"I had [a] single mom once who had chosen to be supported by several other women while she labored. She listened to her body, moving from rocker to ball to shower. She was amazing at pushing and we rounded up the rest of [the] women she wanted present at the time of the birth. As the baby was born, this mom was in a semi-sit on the bed, with her mom, the doula (me), her massage therapist, two friends from school, a lifelong friend, the midwife, and the L & D nurse in a circle around her. We broke into applause when the baby was born and served birthday cake!"
-- Lucky J. Tomaszek, certified doula (DONA)

The following birth story was written by a doula who is currently seeking certification through ALACE, The Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators. Her story has a lesson for all doulas, new and old. The lesson is so important, I feel that every person considering entering the doula profession should read and ponder its message.

"Tuesday evening I arrived at the hospital just after the pitocin [a medication used to speed labor] was started. My client was in bed and surrounded by her husband, sister and a good friend. I thought to myself, "Great, a room full of people, what the heck am I going to do? Why am I here?" She started complaining of painful contractions, but nothing was registering on the [external fetal monitor]. The nurse even felt her abdomen during contractions, and there was no hardening. I believed that she was having them, and worked through them with her. We were up every twenty minutes to use the bathroom, and she was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and asking for some narcotic pain relief. She was so petrified of how much worse the contractions would get, so it took a lot to get her focused on dealing with one contraction at a time. My hands didn't leave her body once during this time and she stared intently into my eyes like a helpless little girl.

After about an hour the doctor checked her and said she was 3-4 cm and could have her epidural if she wished. Being that it was her plan all along, this news made her very happy. She really had done a beautiful job so far and had underestimated herself tremendously. The nurse however, didn't call the anesthesiologist for about a half-hour and it was another half-hour after that before he arrived. The dad decided to step out of the room and I was left alone to support my client during the placement of the epidural. She buried her head in my chest and I stroked her hair while I talked about her new baby that would be arriving.

Things progressed fairly quickly from there and the entire time I was by her side. I didn't open my birth bag one single time. I knew that I was there for other reasons. Although she had by this time, four friends, her sister and her husband, she never took her focus off of me. The epidural was patchy and she didn't receive full pain relief until about an hour after the placement. About six hours after the [induction] was started, she was complete, but not quite ready to push. They decided to give the baby some time to rotate and descend first. She was an expert pusher, taking the baby down a station with each set of pushes. Unfortunately, the baby wasn't tolerating the pushing and the fetal heart tones were not recovering.. All of a sudden there were six nurses and the [doctor] in the room (And we didn't know until later, but they were also all set up for a crash C-section.) and they were racing to birth this baby. At this time, I was the only person that my client would listen to and it took everything that I had to keep her focused on the task at hand. Our eyes never lost each other. Baby was vacuum extracted and was pink and crying in no time at all. [Baby] latched on [to breastfeed] with no help too!

I don't know how many times that night I heard her sincere thanks for me being there. I realized after this birth that this is exactly what being a doula is all about. I did more emotional support on this birth than the other six [certifying natural births] put together. I truly think she needed me more than any of my other clients [did]. I learned that I can have a completely different philosophy about birth, but that doesn't mean that I am any less needed. I learned that my desire to birth naturally at home is not shared by everyone, and their desires and choices are just as important and as valid as mine. I learned that everyone handles things in their own way, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I learned that I shouldn't judge a situation before I'm actually in it. Although just twelve hours prior I was dreading this birth, I walked away with more lessons in my pocket than I could have asked for. During this birth, I was truly mothering the mother."

-- Brandy DeLuca

Tags: born coach

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