If you didn’t already know it, yup, women are absolute badasses. We can multitask like there’s no tomorrow, grow actual human beings inside our bodies, feed them and, eventually, raise them. And, as someone who has given birth twice, nothing feels more empowering than giving birth. Sure, going through the process was scary and messy (don’t even get me started on the pain), but all that was forgotten once I held my babies in my arms. Looking back, I probably would have done better with the help of a doula – someone to guide me, encourage me and show me how to work through the pain of feeling less-than-awesome during the whole process.
If you’ve been looking for that extra bit of support, why not consider a doula? We recently had a chat with Belgian-trained midwife and certified doula Athina of Caring Hands to find out how doulas could make all the difference in our pregnancy journey. Here’s what she had to say:
What exactly is a doula?
The word ‘doula’ is an ancient Greek word that can be translated as ‘woman’s servant’. A doula is a birth companion who will accompany a woman in labour and offer support and guidance. She is not a medical doctor, and will not diagnose or examine a pregnant woman. Ideally, you would have met your doula before you go into labour, so you can discuss your birth preferences and build a relationship of trust. When you go into labour, she will stay with you and help you through the process and stay on until the baby is born. Knowing that you have someone you can trust around at all times will definitely help.
Why do you love being a doula?
I became a doula after having my daughter through an amazing home birth. After spending months bonding with her at home, I went out to discover how I could continue working with pregnant and labouring couples, but focus more on natural childbirth. I absolutely love seeing couples grow through the experience of our private classes and labour. When a woman starts out with the idea she will need an epidural because she is convinced she won’t be able to cope with the pain, I love digging deep and finding out what they are actually afraid of. Being able to turn that fear into trust and motivation, and feeling that burst of pride and rush of joy when they bring their baby into the world, is just priceless. All that oxytocin (the love hormone) flows through the room and it is contagious! Whenever a woman feels empowered when she births her baby, it is the most beautiful experience for everybody present; it resonates through you.
How important is it for women to feel supported during childbirth?
Childbirth and becoming a parent are important milestones in many women’s lives. When the child is born, so is the mother. When she is in labour, she feels very vulnerable so she needs to feel supported and protected just as much as the unborn or newborn baby. A woman going through labour will experience a sensation of withdrawal and will want to turn inwards, only focusing on her contractions and delivering her baby. When she is surrounded by trustworthy people who support her, she is able to do just that.
What is the responsibility of the doula during childbirth?
Every doula works differently, but all focus on the same things. I support my clients on a physical, mental, educational and empowering level. For the physical aspect, I will suggest different labouring positions, show pressure points for massage, suggest using the ball or birthing stool to make you more comfortable and to help baby descend, or even show your partner how he or she can massage your back to ease your aches and pains.
For the mental aspect, I help with coping strategies through the contractions by holding space: this means offering you my entire presence, and gently guiding you back to the right path when you need some extra support. I do this through breathing techniques, calming words, affirmations and gentle encouragement. I also help explain in layman’s terms what the doctor says and teach couples about normal and abnormal labour, when to go to the hospital, how baby descends down through the pelvis and how we can optimise that process. Finally, I try and empower couples to stand up for themselves and achieve the feeling of being in control by helping them ask for some time to think about procedures, saying no if they feel uncomfortable, and ask for alternatives if they want them.
Why should women get a doula? Is it really necessary, even in a hospital with doctors?
Both doctors and nurses are more occupied with the medical part of labour and birth, monitoring the health of both you and your baby, assessing labour. Your doula is employed by you and only you; she has the time and capacity to fully focus on you and offer support, both mentally and emotionally. Most doctors will try to visit you at some point during labour to assess the situation. Oftentimes your doctor will only be present during the pushing phase, when baby gets born. Nurses are often very busy as well, as they have an entire labour ward to look after. Some births are more complicated and need much assistance. Their workload is big and it is difficult for them to offer continuous support. This means they are often very grateful for the presence of a doula.
Why is it important for women to be in charge of their birth process? What are the benefits?
Research has shown that a lack of feeling of control during labour can have a big impact on a woman’s mental health. Many women with postpartum depression have indicated they experienced a loss of control at a certain point during labour, or had an unpleasant birth experience altogether. Labour is only one day in the life of a woman, but it will stay with her for the rest of her life. Ask your mother, your grandmother, your aunt – most likely they will still be able to tell you in detail what their birth process was like. Where for men the transition to parenthood happens more gradually in the first months after birth, to a woman it is usually that key determining moment of birth where they transform from being a woman to being a mother. Your birth story stays with you forever!
What does having an empowered birth experience mean?
When a person learns to live in the power they have, they start feeling a shift from just ‘coping or managing’ life towards ‘creating and living’ the life they actually want. Even in the rare cases of events going haywire during labour, a woman will feel empowered if she was informed, given the time to process, and possibly make a choice for herself when she feels comfortable. It is a sensation of literal power; feeling in complete control and acceptance; being the own director of what happens around you.
Thank you, Athina!
This post is sponsored by Caring Hands Doulas