Recently in a facebook group that I admin someone advised that they feel that doulas are “airy fairy and wanky”. Wow. As insults go that’s a new one for me (and I’ve been called a lot of names!) and I went through a range of emotions before responding. My first emotion was anger – mostly because I thought my group was a bit above insulting people like that. Then I felt frustrated and sad that there are people out there who may be missing out on the benefits of doula because of this misconception. I also developed a bit of a complex – do people really think *I’m* “airy fairy and wanky”? I ended up taking this as meaning the commenter doesn’t know what a doula does but feels they may be “new age, hippy nonsense” and if one person feels like that then there are bound to be others.
I always seem to be getting asked “what do you do?” (as if raising 2 children isn’t enough…) and I respond by saying that I’m studying to be a doula. The response to that is mostly “huh? What’s a doo-la?” I explain succinctly that a doula is a professional pregnancy and birth support person. “Oh”, people say “Really? That’s a thing?” My GP asked “do people really pay you for that?!” (well…they don’t yet…but they will!). Some people want to know if that means that I think all women should homebirth (nope), or if I judge women who have epidurals (nope – had 2 myself so that would be a tad hypocritical!), or if I can do VE’s and monitor the baby’s heartrate (nope again). So just what does a doula do?
“According to DONA International, a doula is a professional who is trained in childbirth and provides continuous support to a mother before, during, and just after birth. Doula comes from a Greek word that means “a woman who serves” or “handmaiden.” (referenced from Evidence Based Birth: http://evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/)
Doulas “mother the mother”. She is our focus. And what we do for her will vary depending on what she wants and needs at the time. Some women want a doula to help with comfort measures such as relaxation, massage and positioning; some want a doula to help them source evidence based information; some want a “sounding board”, someone to talk through their goals, hopes and fears for their birth; some want help establishing what their choices are and writing their birth plan; some want someone who will remind them of their goals and encourage them to keep striving for them; some want someone who will remember to put up the inspirational posters, turn on the music and get the oil burner going. Most women want a combination of some or all of these things. The key here is that the mother decides what she wants from her doula and the doula provides that service (or refers to someone who can). Childbirth International’s (doula training provider) philosophy is that “You are unable to be specific about your role, since you are not the one who defines it”.
And just what does all this accomplish? Do any of these things provide concrete benefits to mums and babies? Well, yes. You can find the references in the linked article from Evidence Based Birth but it was found that:
“When continuous labor support was provided, women experienced a:
• 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin*
• 28% decrease in the risk of C-section*
• 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth*
• 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
• 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
• 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience”
So having continuous support from a doula has been shown to increase good outcomes for mums and bubs. Airy fairy and wanky? Or a sensible investment in your birth?
On a personal note, what will *I* do as your doula? I had someone ask me if I would be trying to convince them not to have an epidural and my response is this: “My role is not to “convince” you of anything other than the fact that you are a strong, powerful and amazing mumma who is more than capable of making well informed decisions about what is best for you and your baby”. If someone is trying to convince you of something it means that they are not supporting the choice you have made. And my role is to 100% support the choices of my clients. At the end of the day I can’t very well criticize OBs, midwives and mothers in law who try to convince you to birth a certain way and then do the same myself. I will always encourage you to use the BRAIN decision making tool (benefits, risks, alternatives, intuition, nothing) and once you feel that you have explored all your options and made your decision I will do everything I can to support that decision and help you to make your plans a reality. It’s important to me that women enter motherhood feeling strong and capable, so I will continue to reassure them that they are.
Realistically doulas are going to be viewed as new age and hippy because, as a society, we don’t place value on birth and the birth experience. Birth is simply seen as a way to get a baby out rather than a huge transformational process that can have a far reaching impact on mums and bubs and women who want a positive and empowering experience are seen as “selfish” (see my previous post “Mums matter too” for more about birth trauma). If you insist that birth is spiritual then that is “new age hippy nonsense”. And doulas have no distinct job description, no governing body, no registering organization. A lot of women couldn’t necessarily put into words what precisely their doula did that made their birth a positive experience.
So, “airy fairy and wanky” – does it still bother me? After having a few days to think about this I’ve decided that it doesn’t. In future I’ll simply use such comments to fuel a conversation about just how having a doula can benefit mums and bubs.
Do you feel that doulas are “airy fairy and wanky” or “new age hippy nonsense”? Did you have a doula? Did it benefit you?
This is the article that the two quotes came from. http://evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/