A doula is a non-medical support person who acts a little bit like an amazing assistant that provides information, encouragement and support during your pregnancy and birth. Our goal is to reduce the fear you feel during labour, help you cope the way you feel best, and empower you to recognize your own strength.
While it is never too later to hire a doula (Some even call in early labour!), I do recommend hiring a doula as early on in your pregnancy as you are able. Having someone to go to for guidance on all pregnancy issues is a huge benefit, and your doula will be there any time you need a recommendation or just an open ear. I also have handouts and information links that I send out throughout your pregnancy— and you don’t want to miss those!
I am a huge fan of midwives, but the truth is that your midwife is not a doula. During quiet moments, most midwives love to provide support to their clients. But their primary focus will always be (and should be) the health and safety of birther and baby. This means that sometimes when things get hairy- you need someone to look to for reassurance and explanation, and your midwife may be focused on other things. Your doula is always there in those moments, watching for questions, ready to hold your hand and explain things when you need. Your midwife takes care of your body, your doula takes care of your mind (which sometimes means taking care of your body too, in non medical ways).
It goes further though- our midwives are amazing supports, but they’re often not going to be the people you call and text in early labour when you need some encouragement or suggestions. More and more in fact, our midwives are telling their clients not to call them until contractions are well established. This makes sense- they’re busy people! But it can also leave you feeling a little lost when you just need some guidance. This is where your doula steps in.
I aim to come join once after you are in active labour. This allows you to rest as much as possible during early labour, and hopefully encourages you to keep focusing on life, rather than each labour pain. In the meantime, I’m available by phone or text for any questions or encouragement you may need. Typically active labour will be considered contractions every 4 minutes apart or less, lasting one minute long. But we also pay attention to intensity, and if at any point you feel like you’re needing in person support, that’s ok. We watch you, not the clock.
The short answer is, no. I’m a firm believer that speaking for you in the birthing room is taking your power away just the same as if part of the medical staff made decisions without consulting you. Instead what I will do, is talk with you during pregnancy to find out what things are important to you, and we’ll ensure you feel comfortable and confident in your decisions so you are able to use your voice during labour. We’ll also encourage your partner to speak up when needed (not everyone can be vocal during labour), and I will watch for moments when you need reminders of things that were important to you. And if things are confusing or the plan needs to change, we’ll work together to get the information needed for you to make the decision that is best for you.
One of the most important questions (in my opinion) to ask your doula is what plans they have in place for backups. A good doula will *always* have solid backup options who will provide the same care you have come to expect during your pregnancy. I personally work primarily with one really amazing doula and birth photographer for almost all my clients, as well as having a network of other colleagues. Anytime her or I have a client near or in labour, or one of us will be otherwise unavailable to attend a birth, we’re sure to keep the other updated. This means that if I was unable to attend your birth due to illness, accident, or if I’m already with another client, you still have a doula who is familiar with your history and desires.
Knock on wood, I haven’t had to use a backup yet!
One of the things I actually hear most from families after their birth is that they didn’t realize how amazing a doula would be for their partner. While our primary focus is on the birther, we also keep our eyes on your support person as well, staying on top of their needs, or lending assistance when they need it. As your doula I will *never* step in and take the place of your partner if they are comfortable and rocking your care. But what I can do, is help them when they’re in need of a new technique, ensure they feel safe taking breaks when they need, remind both of you how awesome you’re doing, and offer fresh suggestions when you both start getting weary. Doulas and partners are a wonderful team!
Epidurals can be an amazing pain relief technique. I have no preference for how my clients cope with pain— you tell me what you want, and we will rock that together! If you want to have an unmedicated birth, we’ll work through coping skills together and I’ll show you some things that worked for me. If you plan on an epidural, we’ll talk about techniques to help your labour progress so you’re prepared and you have the best experience. Not sure about your options or what you want to try? We’ll talk together during your pregnancy, and then again during labour about the benefits and risks and which option sounds the best to you. And most importantly, if at any point during your labour you change your mind, that is your choice, and your choice alone— and I’m there to support you in it.
Depending on the reasons for your cesarean, doulas are being welcomed into the operating room more and more these days. While it is your responsibility to advocate for your doula coming into the room with you, I am always willing to be there when allowed. If your cesarean birth is planned, then I will typically meet you at the hospital when you go, and be there for your settling in process.
If I am not allowed into the operating room with you, what typically happens is that I will walk you through the process and what to expect. I will follow you until you are ready to enter the birthing room, and then sit with your partner until staff is ready for them. This time can often be very overwhelming and scary for the partner left behind, and I find it makes a big difference to have someone there with them at that time to answer questions and provide reassurance. After the birth, I am typically able to meet you in the recovery room immediately after you return, and will be able to assist with early breastfeeding, answer questions and help you both as you welcome your new little one.
When allowed into the room with you, I will do all of the above, as well as be present as your baby is being born. I can hold your hand, rub your head or arm, explain things or distract you if you prefer, assist with mom holding baby afterwards and help make the whole experience less intimidating.
I typically take on 1-3 births in a calendar month. I find this number allows me to be completely present for each of my clients. I never take on any clients without a solid backup in place.
I always love this question! So much that I wrote a blog about it here: What's In My Doula Bag? A few things in my bag have changed, but overall I don’t find I bring much in my bag for clients. One of my favourite birth related books is called “heart and hands” and I really do think those are the most important things I bring. You can pick up tennis balls and heat packs and led candles at the dollar store. But the expertise and reassurance I bring is more important than any tool in my bag! A couple things I do use frequently at births? Massage oil, a roller ball massager and my spinning babies book.
While many people would say the moment of birth, I actually find it’s often in deep labour that I feel the luckiest. When things are tough, but mama has found a groove and you can see on her face the strength she feels. Being a doula really isn’t about -me-, it’s about watching that family find their path in the way that works for them. Seeing a family really open up to and lean into each other makes my heart sing.