The Underrated Role Of Doulas
A Tribute To Women Empowering Women & Men
I had heard about doulas once or twice. To be honest, I was picturing hippies x witches practicing wizardry as to alleviate the pain of a pregnant woman. Like lighting candles, painting on bumps while singing ‘oms’ in a dark room. My mind really was stuck in a very narrow? rational? stupid? uninformed? state: every piece of help that wasn’t medical wasn’t worth a try. Oh my. How things changed throughout pregnancy.
An obsession for questioning everything. A random encounter of a high-school friend pitching me the beautiful, positive book she was reading at the time*. A call with an old friend detailing me her difficult yet respected childbirth. Then Sara.
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I met Sara, randomly, at a prenatal yoga class. I was 7-month pregnant of my first child. She was pregnant too. I had kicked myself in the butt to join this class of pregnant women on their weekly stretching exercises, without knowing three of them would become my friends, and that our future kiddos would - still four years down the road - be besties. How cool is that, seriously.
So here I am, stretching my upper back in child pose, without knowing the lady next to me was one of them. During our post-class chitchat, while laboriously bending over, trying to lace our shoes, she told me she was a doula. I was due in three months, and while most ladies were into room colors or newborn gear, I still had no idea where to give birth, what were my options, not even sure we had a social security in place just yet, barely speaking ten words of Portuguese. I could definitely use a chat.
Kev and I sat down with her the following day to hear about this curious occupation of hers. We loved her energy, her tenderness, her fierceness too, when it came to women rights. We didn’t overthink it. She was all we needed: someone to guide us through a world of unknown - pregnancy, birth and postpartum - and very important at that time, a Portuguese translator too. Someone who wasn’t your mom nor your doctor. An emotional, intimate support, 24/7.
So what exactly is a doula?
Here’s the definition Sara uses:
The word “doula” comes from the Greek and literally translated means “Woman Server or Helper Woman”.
Since ancient times women have always supported each other during childbirth. Currently doulas are trained professionals offering practical and emotional support during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. A doula is not a midwife or doctor, and her work does not interfere in any way with that of the health professionals, but may complement their role.
I noticed that often, doulas start introducing themselves with what they are NOT: they do not perform any medical checks or exams, they are very clear about that. Meanwhile:
Women who have had the support of a doula during pregnancy and childbirth also report more satisfaction with the experience. Being a Doula for me is above all supporting the woman in what she needs. Providing her with information so that she can make informed decisions. And encouraging her to believe what she feels like the right choice. It is to adapt to the needs of the couple, setting aside judgments and preconceived ideas. What is a perfect birth for one woman may not be to another. What I would or would not do in such a situation does not matter. I am there to support that woman, with a history, conditions, needs and dreams that are hers alone.
Here is what we signed up for: five sessions of two hours before birth, just the three of us, to ask as many stupid questions as we could; her presence during labor and birth (yep, that can be quite some time!) and two sessions of two hours, post-partum. Such service ain’t free nor subsidized, at least in Portugal in 2019 and 2021. We were not exactly rolling in money at that time, but this investment in ourselves was the best thing we did these years. Investing in our emotional wellness while we were about to live a radical transformation was the least we could do.
I have been preaching for doulas ever since, to my expecting friends and the ones going through tough, miscarriage times.
I owe Sara a lot. It is funny how someone I knew so little at the time, was about to take the front seat of two of the most magical moments of our lives.
What she brought to our W.I.P. family
I had two beautiful childbirths, not because they went according to the plans (they did not), not because they were easy (eas..?!), but because I felt human, and respected. And Sara played a major role.
First, she made us feel like we were in charge, EMPOWERED, with 9 capital letters. And I think this is what a great doula is all about. Helping you feel resolute to trust your body, to design a birth plan, to question advice and status quo, to say no - when need be. No more “I am going to deliver this baby, madame”. WTF, I am!
Second, she created a safe, inclusive preparation for myself, but for Kev too. Going through pregnancy, birth and postpartum does not have to be a mom thing. I am grateful he stepped in and got the same level of empowerment, knowledge and excitement as I did. It made us closer to each other than ever. Before, during, after birth. Twice.
I have documented both pregnancies in a journal week over week, and while I will spare you the details of my moods and discomforts, I wanted to share some key moments with her so you can picture the kind of relationship we were in.
Sara stood with us for better or worse, holding my hand, drinking tea, showing us pretty crude pictures of birth during breakfast (she did), video chatting, massaging me, messaging me, laughing with us, comforting me, introducing us to home-birth midwives, getting second medical checks from doctor friends before we’d take any decisions, organizing backdoor hospital tour, taking a stand for me at a time I clearly could not, sneaking into the Urgencias during covid restrictions, fixing breastfeeding positions, holding baby, anytime we needed. She was my island of Let-Go in an ocean of I-Don’t-Need-Help-I-Ain’t-Sick years. I rarely felt stressed or anxious because of her presence. She soothed it all.
You can’t control what you can’t control. But you can be in charge. That changes everything. Become the master commander. Make your partner and doula your seconds.
I will forever be grateful of this encounter that made the births of our two boys so special.
There is so much trash about pregnancy, birth and postpartum, in books and on the internet, for women, let alone men. One started like that: “Ready to see her trade thongs for shape-wear panties?” The following pages were just as smart.
Whether you feel like hiring a doula or not, here are some great content that will help you chase the dream to live the childbirth you deserve ✨
🇬🇧 The Positive Birth Book, by Milli Hill
Title says it all. This topic doesn’t need to be heavy. A warm and funny preparation book that’s all about giving you confidence.
And the Positive Birth Movement information center.
🇬🇧 Men, Love and Birth, by Mark Harris
Kev read it, I didn’t. His words: “It gives you confidence that you can play an active role, that you’re not doomed to be a burden or just useless, that you can live the moment with your wife.”
🇫🇷 *J’accouche Bientôt, Que Faire De La Douleur?, de Maïtie Trélaün
Nature knows her shit. Birth testimonials from parents, that make you feel “gosh, I can do this!”, even “I look forward to it!”
🇫🇷 Vivre Sa Grossesse Et Son Accouchement, Une Naissance Heureuse, de Isabelle Brabant
One to read during last trimester ; before it’s too early.
🇫🇷 Attendre Bébé Autrement,
Finally a week-after-week preparation book that doesn’t look down on you.
🇫🇷 Le Choeur Des Femmes, de Martin Winckler
Obstetrical violence, fictionalized.
🇵🇹🇫🇷🇬🇧 … and of course, if you ever happen to give birth in Lisbon - who knows🤷🏻♀️, the best doula in town💐 who co-founded the Positive Birth Movement over there.
MERCIs 💕 Thank you mom for being so present during my pregnancies, sister for offering me so many great books that I gladly shared with many of my pregnant friends, Alice for openly talk me into giving birth differently, Claire for introducing me that book, Kasia and Marie for sharing the joys and tears of becoming moms far away from our families - during lockdown even.
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