Doulas Make A Difference
Health and Fitness
Art: Jane Mjolsness
Art: Jane Mjolsness
Soon-to-be mom, soon-to-be dad, a nine-month pregnant belly and a truckload of emotion are on the highway to childbirth. With all of this excitement, who do you call for back-up?
For Parkites “in the family way,” increasingly that go-to person is a doula. Part Mary Poppins, part secret weapon — a doula acts primarily as physical and emotional support for a couple or individual during labor and birth. She helps with mom’s comfort (as well as dad’s) and assists clients to achieve whatever goals they’ve set for their birthing experience. Some parents refer to their doulas as advocates, others as liaisons, coaches, or trusted teammates.
Park City-based certified nurse-midwife Danielle Demeter estimates that 60 to 70 percent of her patients enlist the help of a doula. (She quickly points out that this large number is, in part, due to her own advocacy of doulas, particularly for patients who wish to have an un-medicated delivery.) With hospital nurses unable to focus all of their time on one patient, and the primary provider focused on mom and baby, having an additional team member who is well-versed in the laboring mother’s wishes and needs is a great asset, Demeter says.
“This is what women have done for millennia. Before there were institutions and facilities where you could go away from your home to have a baby, you had help from women in your town, city or village — and that’s still occurring around the world today,” says Demeter. “Support from woman to woman makes [childbirth] so much easier.”
Claire Stanley, a doula, registered nurse, certified hypnotherapist and educator, has provided labor support during more than 2,000 births over the past 34 years. The term for what she does has changed over the years, from “labor support specialist,” to “monitrice” (a Mexican term) and finally, to “doula” (from the Greek meaning, “woman’s servant”), but her role of “being with” remains at the core of her job. What that “being with” means changes with each individual and each situation.
A doula wears many hats, bringing a variety of experience to the role. Her job could be to educate — explaining, for example, a hospital procedure in detail — or to help mom relax and focus. She may suggest new positions for the laboring mother to help move the process along, or remind dad to eat a meal. She may even run interference, minimizing traffic through the hospital room. A gifted doula chooses her words carefully and honestly. Rarely will she intervene with a medical procedure, though Stanley says she has asked a doctor to consider a woman’s desire not to have an episiotomy, or to conduct an exam with a client lying on her side for comfort’s sake.
For parents, particularly first-time parents, a doula also takes some of the uncertainty, fear and discomfort out of the miraculous, but often challenging event of childbirth. “It was like she was able to read my mind. She knew what I needed more than I did,” recalls Haley Kelly, who enlisted Stanley’s help for both of her sons’ births. Aside from using her doula as a resource both before and during labor, she refers to Stanley as a “calming presence,” who helped coach her through breathing, explained the ins and outs of procedures and, without Kelly’s prompting, arrived at just the right moment with a cool facecloth.
“I think it’s critical that women have the space so that they can birth their way,” explains Stanley. “My mantra is: Your Baby. Your Body. Your Birth.” Stanley makes it a priority to find out how her clients learn best (through visual, auditory or kinesthetic means, taste or smell) and therefore, how they can best focus and relax. After an extensive first interview with clients, she meets with them twice for practice sessions, during which they create a birth plan and methods to reach a state of relaxation during labor. She asks her clients to attend a birthing class and to practice the techniques. She also requests to be kept in the loop on everything from blood pressure readings to any concerns the primary provider may have as the pregnancy progresses.
Once Stanley is called to her client’s side (she has her doula bag packed and ready to go), she’s in it for the long haul, which may mean six hours or 72 hours. Insurance is unlikely to cover the expense of a doula, but most charge modest fees. Stanley’s fees range from a total of $400 to $750. “We hired a doula to help accomplish the birth experience we wanted, which was non-medicated, minimal intervention and for me, especially, I didn’t want to have to deal with hospital staff and procedures. In my world, less was more,” explains Christine Phillips. Her doula therefore acted as a liaison and essentially kept people out of the birthing room, unless their presence was absolutely necessary.
Both Kelly and Phillips say that having a doula took the pressure off their husbands, which, in turn, alleviated their own worries. “For us, Claire’s biggest asset was that she kind of kept an eye out for me,” explains Mark Maziarz. He and his wife Mary Beth also appreciated having someone on board who understood and could navigate the hospital system. Though nurses usually bid their farewells with a shift change, Stanley was able to help coordinate with the staff so that one nurse stayed with the Maziarz clan throughout their entire labor.
So, does a doula really make a difference? For the “no epidural, please” crowd, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. And for providers like Demeter, the proof is in the pudding. “I have to say that all of the fabulous, lovely births I’ve witnessed have included a doula,” says Demeter. “And I think they were that way because of a doula.”
Jane Gendron is a Park City-based freelance writer who is mightily impressed with any woman who would want to stay up into the wee hours assisting with another’s childbirth.