Is There a Doula In The House? – pt.2

For the first part of “Is There A Doula In The House”, see last week’s issue of The Voice [January 28, 2004 – v12 i04].

I know you consider yourself a feminist. How does being a doula fit into or complement those beliefs?

Being a doula is all about empowering women to reclaim the birth environment experience, and to be in control of what they want through the pregnancy, and through the birth into motherhood. It’s giving the power back to them, so they can be the ones making the decisions and doing the work themselves. That’s why I don’t think that c-sections are a great option when they’re optional because it makes you passive. You lay back, you get gassed, and they take the baby out of you. You’re not a part of the process. You don’t do it yourself.

It’s happening to you.

It’s happening to you. You become a patient and a thing. You’re not an active participant.

Plus, it becomes more medical too. It becomes surgery.

Absolutely, and there’s huge risks and complications with any kind of major surgery like that.

It seems as though lately that there has been a resurgence of women wanting to give birth more naturally and, even more so, wanting to have home births. Even Pamela Anderson has been quoted as saying she gave birth naturally to both of her children at home. It’s almost as though it’s become chic again. Why do you think that is?

Well, I don’t know about the famous people and celebrities and that crap, but…

That’s just an example to show how if someone like Miss I’m-Silicone is wanting to have a home natural birth that it’s become so much more mainstream.

I think it’s because of what doulas do, helping to support that natural birth environment. It’s not because a doula’s gonna do some magic and all of a sudden you’re going to have this perfect birth. It’s about being supported and feeling prepared and being comforted and reassured and told you know what you’re doing. You’re making the decisions yourself. It’s having someone to talk to about it.

And that it’s normal.

Yeah, normalizing the process. You’re more likely to be able to get through it on your own without drugs or complications. Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want the empowering experience of completing the process yourself and being able to reclaim it?

Do you think that some sort of cultural shift has happened recently that has contributed to more expectant mothers choosing to have more natural births, or is it simply more in the media than it has ever been before?

Doulas are getting much more well-known now. There’s only been education and a support network of doulas for five-to-ten years. It’s growing a lot, and doulas are working really hard to get the word “doula” out into the public conversation, and to become more well known amongst medical staff, so that when you arrive at a hospital the doctor knows what you’re there to do and what your role is. As far as a cultural shift, no, not so much. I don’t think so. It seems little is still known about doulas and natural delivery. And you know, TV shows like “The Baby Story”…

I was just going to ask you that.

They don’t do much for the promotion of natural childbirth.

Although, there was an episode with a doula on it.

Yeah. Okay, one.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about birth, that shows like “The Baby Story” seem to promote?

That’s a huge question. It’s like the whole approach to birth in the Western world. Right now, the medical model of birth is that pregnancy is treated like an illness, an illness that should be managed by “expert” medical staff. It’s not that they have misinformation, that they’re necessarily wrong about the processes of birth, but there’s a major lack of trust of the woman in control, major lack of trust for a woman’s body to give birth to a baby naturally.

In general, there seems to be a fear surrounding it for a lot of people.

Huge fear.

In terms of the pain.

I guess it’s the mistrust that a woman can’t birth a baby without some kind of assistance, without someone telling her what to do, or some sort of intervention or medical equipment and things to make it happen for her. There’s misinformation out there, and mistrust. Science has done a good job of medicalizing the whole process. People who have never been at a birth, or experienced birth, their conception about birth… conceptions… ha ha ha… their concepts of what birth is like is what you see on “The Baby Story.”

It seems people have generalized and simplified the process down to one type of experience, that all births are the same. They’re going to be very painful. Is that what you mean? The medical community also, how they’re trying to encapsulate it into one common experience?

And it’s wrong. You could write a whole doctorate on that question.

Is there one thing you would tell a woman planning to conceive about the birthing process?

I would tell her to read a lot, get as informed as she can, to trust herself, and trust her body. I mean you can’t trust something if you don’t understand it, right? Just putting blind trust into something is frightening. That’s why people don’t generally trust the birthing process because they don’t know about it. Get as educated as you can, talk to other pregnant women, read a lot, watch videos, and do on-line research about different approaches to birth. The more informed you are, the more you can make a solid decision and stick to it, and feel confident about it because you’ve done your homework. That’s what I would tell her.

How has being a doula affected your own feelings about having children?

Well, I don’t know if it’s affected them that much, except that before I’d even been at a birth people would tell me, “wait until you’ve been at a birth, you’re not going to want to have kids anymore. It’s going to scare the crap out of you.” But when I see a woman giving birth, when I experience that with her, it makes me want to do it. I see her in pain and in fear, and triumphing and birthing her baby, and I think, “yeah, I wanna do it.”

Again, it’s that misconception coming up about the fear and the pain, and everyone likening it to a terrible experience just to get over with, and now I have the baby.

Which, in the end, is the outcome, right. I don’t think it’s necessarily made me want to or not to have kids anymore than I’d been thinking before being a doula, but it definitely doesn’t discourage me from it.

I think we’ve covered it all. Is there anything you want to add?

There’s one point I forgot to say. Back to the first question of what is a doula, what you do and what’s your role. A whole part I forgot to even mention is the postpartum part. Some doulas are strictly birth doulas. You can also be a postpartum doula, which I also am, as well as being a birth doula, but some women are just postpartum doulas, not birth doulas. A postpartum doula goes to the home, works with the mom and dad, or other mom, whatever, in their home to help them out, usually just for the first few weeks or months. Helps them with things like learning about baby care, help with breast-feeding, help with minor housework, accompanying them to doctors appointments, things like that when they need a bit of extra help. It’s like having an extra helper around the house, but one who happens to have a lot of knowledge about newborns, healing after birth, postpartum depression, and stuff like that.

So, it doesn’t just end.

That’s right, yeah. I like the fact that I can work with the mom all the way through. I can be her birth doula and keep working with her at home. When I get to work with the moms all the way through, I know them better, they know me better, they trust me. We already have a relationship. I know exactly what happened at the birth because I was there. The whole birth process and experience really affects the mom and baby’s well-being in the first few weeks, for example, breast-feeding. Complications that arise with breast-feeding are often related to the birth experience. It’s really helpful if I’ve been there and know what happened. I’m not having to guess or rely solely on what she tells me. Postpartum care is another huge part of it. It’s equally important as the birth part.

So, that it is a holistic experience and not just an ends to a means, like something you have to suffer through to get this baby.

That’s right. A means to an end?

Yeah. That’s what I meant.

It honours that birth is a major, major event in life and it’s very sacred. It’s not a process that happens to you, but something that you are a part of. I just love to witness and honour it, and support women to do it with dignity.

Doulas of North America (DONA)
Midwives Association of BC
vaginal birth after caesarian
Association for improvement of maternity services in BC
Gloria Lemay- midwife and doula educator