by Trish Wilkinson
Now that I’ve gotten more stable “writing legs”, I have been wrestling with the direction I would like to go regarding this column. I think I would like to keep it light and fun in regards to birth, but also take a more informative direction in regards to doulas and what we do. Doulas are still a fledgling profession, but definitely becoming more popular. When I began 10 years ago — almost anytime I told someone what I did — I received a blank stare, and a “you’re a what?”
When I took my training, each participant had to come up with an “elevator speech” … a statement explaining what doulas are that can be encompassed in 30 seconds or less. That was difficult — how do you encapsulate everything a doula can do in such a small space of time? I don’t really even remember exactly what my statement consisted of, except for the phrase “physical and emotional touchstone.” To me, that phrase meant that the doula is a helper to laboring women and their support systems in a profound way … the doula is the bridge between the mind and the body that is in labor. She helps maintain the connection, the flow, the “labor zone” between the working mother and her support.
A doula acts as an advocate and facilitator for her client(s), without speaking for her/them. She helps her client(s) “find their voices”, especially when interacting with their care providers, without imposing her agenda. Doulas try to make the birth space a “safe zone”, so laboring mothers can do their work in comfort and with confidence. We also help support systems engage in the labor and birth process at a level acceptable to them and the mother. Partners can often feel helpless and ineffective as they see this person they love do this incredibly intense work … a doula can go a long way toward aiding them to participate in the birth in a productive and satisfying way.
The doula stays with her clients from the time she joins them in the labor until after the baby is born. She is a constant, stable presence during one of the most intimate, monumental, and life-changing events that can happen to a person. She assists in helping meet the laboring woman’s needs, and facilitates the execution of the client’s birth wishes. When changes occur in the process of labor, the doula is there to give support and encourage communication between care providers and the client. She is never there as a medical expert … rather, she is looked as contributing on a different level … again an emotional and physical “touchstone.”
The profession has come a long way since I began 10 years ago. We still have a distance to go toward full acceptance. But those of us committed to the beauty and wonder of pregnancy, labor, and birth will continue to promote the benefits of doulas, and uphold our standards — to the best of our ability, helping women and their support create positive birth memories.
Trish Wilkinson has been married for 24 years and is the mother of two boys ages 18 and 14 (first born by unplanned cesarean; the second was a VBAC). A child and family therapist for 15 years before becoming a doula in 2001, she started Tree of Life Doula Services and Birth Resources in 2005 and has attended more than 250 births, including cesareans. She is a certified doula through Doulas of North America, as well as licensed clinical social worker for the state of Illinois.