What is a doula?
"Working as a doula is truly wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting, stressful and magical work. We have the honor of seeing some of life's most miraculous and devastating moments on a day-to-day basis. We also have the responsibility and opportunity to help improve the support of birthing families, one birth at a time. What a privilege!"
-- Anna Hurty, certified child birth educator, certified doula (Doulas of North America -- DONA)
Director of Blossom Birth Services
Doula is a Greek word meaning "servant." In the world of labor and delivery, a doula is a part of the birth team who either supports the mother emotionally and physically during birth or helps the new mother adjust to her new role after the birth. Basically, there are two types of doulas: a birth doula and a postpartum doula.
A birth doula is a professional, non-medical labor assistant whose role is to comfort the mother and father during birth, act as a liaison between the hospital staff and the birthing family, and provide one-to-one care that the hospital staff, midwife or doctor may be unable to provide.
A postpartum doula cares for the mother and infant after the birth. She helps the new mother cope with her new role, performs light housekeeping, guides the parents in newborn care and runs errands.
A doula may work independently, alongside a midwife, or for a hospital or birth center. She may attend as many as four or five births per month or as few as one every other month. Doulas may be certified childbirth educators or volunteers. The different roles a doula plays will be explained in Chapter 7, "Getting Hired."
Being a doula is one of the most rewarding careers there is. In what other career do you have the opportunity to regularly witness the miracle of creation? How many people touch lives as deeply as doulas do? Many clients keep in touch with their doulas, sending them pictures of their children as they grow.
What do doulas make?
There is a wide range of fees for doula services, which we will talk about in Chapter 8. Few people become doulas intending to get rich financially -- attending births and empowering women feeds their souls. Many are avidly interested in birth, reading every book on the subject and watching any birth video that comes their way. A doula will be the first person to stand up for the rights of women and children. A doula does her work because that is her calling.
All different types of people become doulas, such as mothers, grandmothers, the childless, writers, nurses and stay-at-home mothers. Although the majority of doulas are women, some men choose this as a profession as well (we'll talk about male doulas in Section 9.5). The reasons people become doulas are just as varied as the individuals themselves.
"I started out as a social worker and always had a desire to work with women. When I discovered the work of doulas, I knew it was for me." -- Julie Keon, certified doula (DONA)
"I became a doula because I was called to it. I have been on a path to do this work my entire life." -- Lucky J. Tomaszek, certified doula (DONA)
"I love birth -- I love to try to ensure a safe passage for baby, as 'interventionless' as possible, and I love to help ensure that moms have the gentle birth experience that every woman deserves." -- Teresa Howard, certified doula (DONA) and childbirth educator
"I became a doula because I recognized what was missing from my own first birth-and birth in general: other women who are there for MOM." -- Candace Robinson, certified doula (DONA)
"[A benefit to being a doula is] the good feeling I get when I lay my head on a pillow-moms and babies that love me!" -- Teresa Howard, certified doula (DONA)
As I mentioned earlier, doula work is a calling for most men and women (yes, there are male doulas!) Their lives are enriched by their work, and they glow knowing that they have touched lives of new mothers in ways no one else has. Here are more benefits to becoming a doula.
Witnessing the miracle of life
Who else is involved with life on a daily basis? Doulas, whether birth or postpartum, work with new mothers and newborns on a daily basis. They are not doctors or nurses, whose contact with the mother and child may be minimal. Doulas are truly involved with the new family, helping them make informed decisions and strengthening their family ties.
Learning something new with every client
"[A benefit to being a doula is] being able to satisfy my need for learning about pregnancy and birth, because no matter how much you know, every birth is different." -- Jennifer Rush, certified doula (DONA)
Every birth and every mother is different. No matter how many births you attend, and no matter how many families you help, you'll never become bored. Doula work is never stagnant, and I have yet to meet a doula who has become numb to the tears of happiness shed by a new mother or father.
Being trusted and needed
During the birth, the mother depends on her doula more than anyone else in the room. The following words from Brandy DeLuca, a doula working on her certification, illustrate the trust mothers have in their doulas. "All of a sudden there were six nurses and the OB in the room.and they were racing to birth this baby. At this time, I was the only person that my client would listen to and it took everything that I had to keep her focused on the task at hand. Our eyes never lost each other. I don't know how many times that night I heard her sincere thanks for me being there."
Empowering women in birth and motherhood
Mothers have lost their voice in birth and motherhood. At one time, if a mother wondered how to raise her child, she'd ask other women or follow her instincts. Today, many women have stopped listening to their inner mothering voice, turning to parenting "experts" instead.
Doulas help the mother listen to that voice inside. A doula reassures the mother that she can birth this baby naturally, like billions of mothers before her, or for the mother that needs medical support; a doula is there to reassure her that her cesarean birth is just as precious as a vaginal birth. Doulas also help new mothers establish breastfeeding, a job that once belonged to grandmothers and community elders.
While doulas are on call almost 24 hours a day whenever they have clients, they can decide to not take any new clients for months if they wish. Doulas may serve five mothers every month, or only take on a client or two every other month. Postpartum doulas have even more flexibility, deciding how many clients and how many hours they have to commit to new mothers.
Some birth doulas take a year or more off in order to care for their own children, while others work out childcare arrangements so they can still take on new clients. Whatever your commitments may be, there exists a way to fit at least some doula work into your life.
These are just a few of the many benefits to becoming a doula. So, what do you think? Are you ready to begin a career that will change not just your life, but others' lives as well?
Up next: Real stories of doula life >>