What’s a Doula? Do I Need One?
By Erin Fisher Pizzorno
Remember the saying “It takes a village to raise a child,” there once was a time that our societies as a whole created a community, a village, to not only support the birthing woman but the whole family throughout gestation, birth and the postpartum period. At some point our culture made a turn to leaving the woman to fend for herself and figure it out on her own and that village of support soon dissipated. A doula may be what re-creates your village.
What is a doula? The word doula essentially means, “a woman who serves.” A doula is an educator, that gives emotional, physical and informational support encourages the parents to care for themselves so they can in return best care for their children. A birth doula may educate you through your pregnancy, be present with you through your labor and birth and provide valuable care and resources during the postpartum period, assisting you in having the best birth for your body and baby and supporting your transition into a family. A postpartum doula may teach you about feeding your baby, nourishing yourself, make a light meal, and teach you techniques for baby care and more. A doula is NOT a midwife, nurse or doctor. Doula’s do not perform medical procedures or make a diagnosis and they do not make any decisions for you.
Do you need a doula? Although I believe that women and their bodies are very capable of birthing their babies and do not NEED a doula, I also believe that a doula should be available for every family and for every birth.
What are the benefits of a doula? Some benefits may be; reduced anxiety and postpartum depression, less likely to have medical inductions and pain medication, lower surgical birth rates, increased success of breastfeeding and more.
I DON’T NEED A DOULA BECAUSE (common statements):
I am having a hospital birth: Hospital births are very common and a first choice for many. A doula will support you no matter where you have chosen to give birth, be it at home, in a birth center or at your local hospital.
I can’t afford it: Although most often doulas are privately hired, the fees vary. Doulas remind me of teachers (maybe because I have been both), most are in it with their whole heart and not because they plan to get rich. I believe there are doulas for everyone, some work on a sliding scale, offer military discounts, barter and trade services and on occasion some volunteer their services for the greater good of a healthy family.
I love my Dr./Midwife: This is great news, you should definitely trust and feel comfortable with the people supporting you in your birth and giving you medical advice. Did you know that your Dr. or Midwife may only be present when the birth is imminent, or they may not be present at all as you may be with whoever was actually on call or available during your birth.
There are great nurses: Thank goodness for great nurses! Did you know that nurses change shifts and you never know who you are going to get and just when you feel like you bonded with one and she knew all your answers the shift changes and a new nurse comes in. Nurses often are assigned to multiple patients. A doula is a consistent support person with you from the time you need support until after your birth.
I trust whoever delivers my baby: The only person delivering anything is you. You are birthing your baby and the rest of us are supporting you in this, if anything the Dr. or Midwife is catching or receiving your baby but nobody is delivering for you.
I have a great partner: Partners are fabulous and doulas love supporting your relationship by assisting your partner in ways to best support you as well as educating your partner on what is going on around you and through the process. There is nothing like getting a loving partner to support a birthing mama through a slow dance or a cuddle to get all the oxytocin flowing! We also look out for the partner, making sure they are hydrated, as rested as possible, educating them of procedures (because they tend to worry) and even letting them know that if mama gets mean it is normal and only shows progress.
My mother or sister will be with me too: It is amazing to have a large support team, again creating the village we should have had all along. They are great for comforting. Doulas can support the birthing woman and her whole team. The difference is that a doula is educated on the birth process, updated on the medical terminology and the options available as well as techniques and comfort measures to help you achieve the birth you are striving for.
I am having an epidural or medicated birth: Labor is often a long process and there may be time where you are seeking relief from your discomfort either at home or at the hospital. From the time you ask for your relief it could be another 45 minutes or more until there is a change. As doulas, we support you in your birth choices and decisions and we offer education to be sure you are kept informed. There is still so much we can do for you even after you get medication, especially once you become bed bound.
I have a scheduled c-section: Did you know there are many options around your surgical birth even though you have it planned, however they may not be told to you as standard procedures occur unless you have requested otherwise verbally or with a birth plan. Do you have a support person staying in the nursery with the baby and someone with you in recovery advocating for both of you until you can be reunited? If planning to breastfeed, a surgical birth can bring forth challenged in establishing a breastfeeding relationship. A doula will inform you of all of your choices so that you can get off on a great start.
About becoming and being a doula
I guess you can say I was a doula long before knowing what a doula was. I attended my first birth fresh out of high school, supporting my best friend. Although I do not remember much more than crying, the fact that she asked me to be with her and I got to witness that miracle was more than I had ever imagined. A few years passed and another friend asked me again, this birth was in a different setting, completely natural with a doula present and a midwife catching the baby. I saw a whole other world to birth, of what was possible and how women had options. Fast forward to 2010, I got accepted into a Community Based Doula program, an intensive training that lasted over a year where I offered voluntary doula services weekly to teen and at risk mothers. I loved this experience so much I decided to change my path and make it my career.
As a birth doula and a postpartum doula, supporting families through the miracle of birth and the transition of becoming a family has by far been the most amazing work I have ever done. I know I am very fortunate to be a part of a great certifying organization as well as the Doula Association of Southern California. Having doula sisters as a support network is a huge part of the success of a doula. Each experience has been an absolute blessing but the time it truly hit me and it plays in my head often, is when a mama after her completely natural hospital birth introduced me to her visiting relatives by saying “this is Erin my doula, she saved my life.” I will never ever forget that moment because until that point I had never truly recognized my own worth or that my families were actually getting as much from my support as I was getting from the experience. The appreciation and gratitude was always there from other families it just took me time to realize it. I have so much to be thankful for, I think I said it best the other day that being a doula is like a great dream I never have to wake up from.
Erin Fisher holds a degree in Child and Adolescent Development and is a CAPPA trained birth and postpartum doula serving the Los Angeles area. She is a member of DASC (the Doula Association of Southern California), a member of Doulas of the South Bay, a member of Doulas for Surrogacy and she is currently developing a program to teach pregnancy and childbirth education to pregnant teens in the Los Angeles Juvenile Detention Center. You can follow Erin on her Doula Facebook page or if you have any questions about finding a doula or becoming a doula she welcomes you to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Erin also enjoys snapping Maternity photographs, contact her for more information.