Monday, December 20, 2010

Off we go a-doula-ing

Doula (pronounced doo-luh): a woman wise in the ways of childbirth, who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a labouring woman and her partner.

Although that is not a textbook definition, it is my understanding of what a doula does. But having never attended a birth as a doula, my definition or understanding may change significantly in the weeks to come! My very first client is due any day now, and I have several to follow in the new year.

My decision to begin my doula training started with the birth of my daughter, and the positive experience we had with our doula. Some of you may have heard of the Pain Medications Preference Scale (PMPS) - this is a scale that allows you to explore and clarify your feelings about pain medications in childbirth. My own PMPS score was a -7, which means that I really wanted to have a natural birth for the health of my baby, along with personal gratification, and that I would be disappointed if I used pain medications. Given that I had such strong feelings about pain medications, I needed to find ways to ensure my satisfaction with the birthing experience.

One of the ways to increase your chances for a natural birth is to hire a doula - introducing a doula into the labour room not only improves the bond between mother and infant, but also seems to decrease the incidence of complications and interventions (an intervention is anything that "intervenes" with the normal process of birth). And so we found our doula and went about preparing ourselves for the birth of our first child.

People always ask me "what does a doula do?" My first answer is usually "nothing medical!" There is a misconception that a doula is somehow like a midwife - however, we have no medical training (although women can have medical training outside of their roles and responsibilities as a doula). We never provide medical advice, or try to advocate on a woman's behalf. We are there to support a woman and partner in their health decisions, by providing information and a non-judgemental shoulder to lean on.

Some of the things my doula did:

- helped time my contractions when we weren't sure if I was in active labour
- suggested a walk around the block, which really got things moving!!
- held my hands as I gripped onto them with all my strength
- massaged my back
- applied cool and/or warm compresses; wiped the sweat from my brow
- held the bucket while I vomited my red electrolyte drink (water is really best)
- suggested different positions
- supported my back as I pushed

There are probably many more things I have missed or can't remember, but the doula was a very important part of the process.

Another question people ask is "doesn't a doula replace the father or partner?" My answer is "no!" If that is happening, then the doula is not doing a good job. A doula's role should complement the role of the partner, not replace. We work together to support Mom in her efforts with each contraction. We can also provide each other with breaks to grab a coffee, go to the bathroom, or in the case of a really long labour, take a short nap. This means the labouring mother is never alone (unless she wants to be, of course).

Although I will not be changing this blog to become a "Doula Blog," I'm certain that my new experiences will be expressed in my writings and my choice of music. To honour the confidentiality of my clients, I will not be posting any specific information about mothers, fathers or their births. I will speak generally about the role of a doula, and the things that I learn on my journey.

Feel free to share an experience you had with a doula...

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