From the moment I found out I was pregnant, it seemed like one of the biggest topics on pregnancy boards was labor and delivery. With the biggest question being, “Are you going to go natural or have an epidural?”. I’m a big believer of whatever will be, will be and I didn’t think it was worth stressing out over to have a concrete birth plan in place. Lucky for me, because stubborn Ms. Blaire was breached and that birth plan wouldn’t have mattered one bit!
I wasn’t familiar with doulas until my first birthing class, which was taught by a doula. With the huge push for natural childbirth, it’s no wonder doulas are becoming more and more popular. There is nothing scarier than the thought of childbirth! It’s uncertain (even if you’ve done it 10 times), it’s intense, it’s overwhelming, it’s intimidating… but it’s also amazing and beautiful! To me, having a doula seemed like the perfect way to focus on the beauty of labor, instead of the scary, uncertain parts. Knowing that you would have someone there with you for the whole process, who will coach you through it, is amazing to me. Who wouldn’t want a doula? Heck, I wanted one to coach me through my C Section (Just kidding! Not really, because that is actually a thing that I didn’t even know about until writing this blog post.)
Anyways, given my slight obsession with doulas, I was so excited when I met a friend of a friend, who just happens to be a doula! Her name is Heather James. She’s a mama to Hadley, who’s a sassy almost-two-year-old. I jumped at the chance to be able to pick her brain.
Heather actually hadn’t heard of doulas until after her daughter was born and now she is a strong believer in the education of women when it comes to their birth choices. “I think it’s so important to make sure they have a wonderful support system throughout their journey. Pregnancy can have many twists and turns so it is important to have someone you can go to that will give you unbiased, evidence based research that will help you make informed decisions that are best for you and your family.”
What exactly is a doula?
A doula is a trained professional that provides informational, emotional and physical support to a mother during pregnancy, birth and those early newborn days. We assist the mother in making informed choices regarding her birth so that when the big day comes she knows exactly what she wants to achieve. Although birth is unpredictable, we are able to help guide the woman down the path she would like to take by providing continuous emotional support and by keeping the mother calm and connected with her partner. We also suggest positions that will help progress labor, massage and other forms of physical support to help ease some of the pain that mom’s experience during labor. It has been proven that births with a doula in attendance reduce the use of epidurals, pitocin and greatly reduce cesarean sections and other medical interventions.
What inspired you to become a doula?
I was inspired to become a doula after the birth of my daughter. I quickly realized that as much as I attempted to prepare and educate myself for what my birth experience was going to be like, I was completely unprepared and didn’t feel like I was in control of my own experience. There were so many things after the birth of my daughter that I would say “I wish I had known that before, I wish I would have been prepared for this, I wish I would have known I could have refused this or that and just labored naturally and that I had choices.” After my experience I realized that I was passionate about helping other women prepare for their upcoming births and it took me a long time before I realized there was a term for what I loved doing.
How do you become a doula?
I can best describe the process for becoming a doula as an intense, overwhelming and empowering journey. There are many different organizations that you can certify with and all have different requirements. I am studying with Childbirth International which is a comprehensive syllabus of studying, writing papers and attending a certain amount of births in order to certify. I am also studying with Pro Doula which includes an intense 20 hour hands on work shop. I think it is important to continue your studying and training in order to ensure you are providing mothers with the best possible care. This entire process can take anywhere from about 6 months up to several years depending on your level of commitment.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
There are so many rewarding aspects of birth work that it is hard to pick just one. However, I have to say that watching women transform from being scared, confused and not sure how to process what they want out of their birth to being confident, empowered and completely in control of their birth and the choices that they make during that time is such an amazing feeling. Women are so strong and I am so amazed on a daily basis by what they can accomplish.
What is your favorite part about the beautiful/crazy/amazing process of labor and delivery?
My favorite part about the entire process has to be when the mother is finally united with her little one(s). She has worked so hard growing a life and going through the process of labor and delivery, it truly is amazing seeing all of her hard work pay off. It is surreal being able to witness the first time a mother holds her baby. I am beyond blessed to be able to witness such an intimate time in a mother’s life, and it is one that she will never forget.
Me again… Like I mentioned before, my birthing class was taught by a doula. When she explained what it was she did, I could see the eyes of (most of) the dads light up. I can only imagine they were thinking that if they hired a doula, then they could kick back and relax instead of having to remember all of the massage techniques and labor positions our instructor had just talked about for three hours. Our instructor definitely made sure to give all of the mamas (and daddys) in the class the understanding that the doula isn’t there to replace your partner. They are there to help you both. So, of course I had to ask Heather how she ensures the process is still a bonding time for mom and dad.
How do you make sure mom and dad stay connected through the labor process since you’re there?
I often get asked whether as a doula I am replacing the father (or other birth partner) during labor and delivery. Of course not! Only the partner has that special, unique, strong bond with the laboring mother and I could never replace that. Just the presence of the partner in the room whether it be the father of the child, best friend, sister or her own mother has a very calming effect to the mother. The laboring mother knows that person is there and that they are surrounded by their love.
As a doula I often see partners (father’s especially) become a bit disconnected, nervous and unsure how to help the laboring mother. I am there to assure them that birth is an entirely natural process and what is happening is normal. I find ways to reconnect them with the laboring mother by showing them how to help her with different positions, help her focus on breathing or just simply by holding her hand.
Mother Teresa once said “You can do things I cannot, I can do things you cannot, together we can do great things.” This really exemplifies the relationship between the doula and the partner. I spend a considerable amount of time before a mother goes into labor working with the mother and the partner so we are comfortable with one another and all share a wonderful connection.
Do you have questions about doulas or childbirth? You can leave them in the comments below, or you can reach out to Heather directly. You can find out more about Heather and her journey as a doula on her website. You can email Heather at HeatherJamesDoula@gmail.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.