Today's Top Three: what is a doula, anyway?
You've likely heard the term 'doula' before, but the true definition might be a little fuzzy for you. That's okay, you're not alone! In fact, in a completely non-scientific, totally-random study that I am making up solely based on conversations I've personally had over the last year, almost 85% of people*, when asked about their knowledge of "what a doula is and does", had no idea or were unsure of the role of the doula today, in 2020. So let's clear a few things up!
*again - totally making this up, but you get the point!
Number One: doulas are old-school, although they do seem to be getting more attention lately and are becoming pretty *trendy*.
From what I've gathered, nobody really knows when the doula first appeared, but what we do know is that birth has been happening since the beginning of time, and it's likely that some form of what we now know as the modern-day doula has existed for just as long. Historically, in many cultures around the world, birth has been viewed as a "woman's task"; being monitored and guided by women (medicine women and traditionally trained midwives), attended to by women (cultural birthkeepers and doulas), and cared for by women (grandmothers, mothers, sisters and aunties, as well as other mentors and community members).
Eventually, because of colonization, industrialization, and technological advances in medicine, birth became a big business! Traditional ways of practicing and caring for pregnant people were pushed aside for hospital stays, beeping machines, and medications. Flash-forward to the 1960's and 70's, and we begin to see a resurgence of "natural", home-based birthing, supported once again by midwives and birthkeepers, and other support people like doulas! We also begin to see a rise during this time of birthers who didn't identify themselves as female, which greatly increased the need for support and even protection for birthers from non-judgemental allies, such as trained doulas.
Since that era, doulas have been portrayed in very narrow and weird ways - I challenge you to find a movie or television episode featuring a doula that doesn't make a them out to be a soft-spoken angelic airhead or a witchy vegan with dreadlocks spraying patchouli oil around the room. But today, in 2020, doulas truly come in all forms. With unique specialties, backgrounds, cultural practices and experience, doulas serve families just as unique as they are themselves!
Number Two: doulas are doulas, not medical professionals.
Your midwife, OB, or family doctor is in charge of diagnosing, prescribing, and answering any medical questions you have through your pregnancy and postpartum, but your doula will be able to help you clarify anything that your care provider might have glazed over, or help you explore your alternative medical options if you feel like you need a better fit.
Because doulas are not medical professionals, they do not administer medication, or do any physical examinations of your body, pre-or-postnatal (in fact, if your doula is offering this, consider it a red-flag). Doulas do not give medical advice, and should always encourage and empower you to reach out to your care provider when you have a medical concern. Well-trained and experienced doulas will have a lot of valuable knowledge to share with you regarding the medical conditions, concerns and procedures that are relevant to your pregnancy, but your medical provider (with your informed consent) is the expert and decision-maker when it comes to your care.
Think about your pregnancy like this, it's the perfect way to remember the difference between your family & friends, your care provider and your doula:
Think of yourself as a synchronized swimmer; you, your partner, your family and friends are the team - you work together and follow your cues, swimming smoothly (hopefully) through your choreography/pregnancy.
Your doula is your swim coach - giving you pointers along the way, recognizing where you may be having some challenges and providing encouragement to you AND your team.
Your care provider is the lifeguard at the pool - quietly monitoring everything that is going on, checking in every now and then to make sure everyone is still floating, and there when the waters break.
Number Three: doulas are there for YOU, in aaaall the ways.
As I reached out my hand to take the vomit-filled bowl away from my last birthing client, she looked at me between her contractions and said "are you sure?!"
Yes, of course I'm sure. I am literally here for the purpose of rinsing out your barf-bucket.
Doulas don't usually get into this work by accident, they get into it because they are genuinely prepared to do whatever it takes to see you through your pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum as smoothly and as supported and nourished as possible. Sometimes that looks really sweet and lovely and includes back rubs and baby snuggles and calming, warm home-cooked meals. But I think more often than not, it looks like uncomfortable, sweaty hours of rocking back and forth with you, grunting along with your contractions, and rinsing out your barf-bucket. Again...and again. Birth is a messy process, but your doula will be right there through it all, directly in the splash zone (of your amniotic fluid, your placenta, your blood, etc) with extra warm blankets and a cold cloth to help you cope. Believe me when I say, doulas do all the things, nothing is too gross or too minimal, if you need it, and sometimes even when you don't know you need it, we've got you.