A Different Birth Day
Pregnancy carries many joys, aches, dreams, fears and concerns. One way to help reduce the uncertainty is to hire a doula to assist in the birth preparation and to provide added support—in person—during labor and childbirth. Doula translates from Greek as “a woman who serves.”
But why would a mother-to-be want to add another person to the mix of support personnel in the delivery room, whether it is a hospital birthing suite, surgical room for a cesarean section or at home for an unmedicated birth?
Women who have hired birth doulas say they received extra care and attention. What’s more, the doula has experience: In addition to giving birth themselves, many doulas have attended dozens—or even hundreds—of births and received training and certification in the profession. The doula’s primary job is to help reinforce the mother or couple’s wishes in achieving certain goals—for example, avoiding medical interventions.
Jana Shalk of Syracuse used a doula to assist with all three of her children’s births, including Marcus’ in April 2012. Her doula was Christine Goldman, founder and owner of Doulas of Central New York. Doulas “are your voice when you are in pain and can’t speak for yourself,” Shalk says.
“I am basically inviting a stranger into a very personal experience,” Shalk says of the doula decision she and her husband, J.P., made during their first pregnancy. “We wanted to give me the best birth experience. And why not have someone very experienced vs. the two of us?”
During labor, Shalk recalls, she wanted her doula in the room at all times. “I felt empowered with her present. She gave me confidence to do it. (Afterward) I feel like I just climbed Mount Everest.”
When they learned of their second and third pregnancies, J.P. Shalk would say, “Call Chris!”
“Over the last 12 years I have seen the growth in the use of doulas,” says Goldman of Syracuse, “because people want to have that advocate with them during their birth (experience) and because families are so scattered now.”
During pregnancy the doula can help a couple go over their options. For instance, some mothers want to make sure the baby gets put on her chest as soon as the baby’s born; others want to have the partner help grab the baby at birth or cut the umbilical cord. Others are interested in being free to move during labor and find a comfortable position, sitting in a bathtub rather than lying on a bed. During labor doulas can help remind the medical staff of the mother’s wishes.
Women most often seek the support of a birth doula for one of the following reasons:
• They are anxious or nervous about labor and delivery.
• They don’t have any family or close friends nearby.
• The baby’s father may be squeamish, nervous or uncomfortable seeing blood or his partner in pain.
• They wish to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and want extra support during labor.
• They had a previous traumatic birth experience and want to improve the next one.
Since 2000, a doula from Doulas of CNY has assisted at more than 1,250 births, according to Goldman, a mother of five.
Dr. Cathy Berry, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Baldwinsville and Syracuse, supports doulas as part of the birthing team. “Doulas can make the experience very positive. You want an experience where you feel empowered and you feel that the people around you are there to help and support you.”
“I think everyone should have emotional support in labor and that’s totally different from the clinical support that I am giving them or even the midwife can,” Berry says. Like a doctor, even a midwife may have two to three patients in labor at one time.
“Basically, your doula is there just for you. Some people have enough family around them and some people have no one,” she adds, noting some partners are serving in the military.
“Some husbands are better than others at seeing their wives in pain,” Berry notes. “I think for people who have squeamish husbands, doulas are very good for them.”
Berry marvels at the empathy of doulas. “The really good ones, they get their patients up and walk with them and rub their back. Those are the things you wish someone would have done for us in labor.”
For women who are particularly anxious about labor and delivery, a doula can provide extra support. “I especially appreciate it when I have people who are trying to VBAC after surgery. In general, I have been more successful with the VBACs that have had doulas,” Berry says. “If they have to have the C-section, they feel OK,” and calm about the decision-making because the doula has been there to ensure the woman’s wishes were considered every step of the way and all efforts were made to attempt a vaginal delivery.
Rosmyn Squitieri, of Camillus, became a doula about six years ago. She learned about doulas when she was pregnant with her son two years earlier. “I didn’t necessarily want my own family supporting me because I wanted someone a little more objective and for my husband. I knew that him seeing blood may not be a good thing. I can’t have that happen when I need him,” Squitieri says. “I really did hire my doula for him as much for myself.”
Squitieri, 45, regrets that she didn’t know about doulas earlier in her life because she has always been intrigued with birth. “I grew up in a Charlotte’s Web environment” with her family’s dogs having puppies and so forth. She trained with a local doula for certification through DONA International, formerly Doulas of North America.
When a client is three weeks away from her due date, Squitieri goes on-call 24/7. A member of Central New York Doula Connection, Squitieri has been present for at least 40 births and has served as a postpartum doula for some families as well. Postpartum doulas help after the baby’s birth as families adjust to a new baby. Doulas provide breastfeeding guidance, help cooking, sleeping advice and whatever the family needs. Birth doulas also make at least one visit to the home after the birth of the child as part of their services. And plenty of phone calls. These days doulas and clients even text for more immediate support.
Doulas of Central New York started a meal plan program, which parents can purchase to help feed themselves at home with a new baby. In Central New York, the fee for a birth doula ranges from $450 to $700, according to several doulas and organization websites.
But doulas emphasize that money should not be an issue for women who need or want a birth doula. The DONA mission statement includes this goal: “A doula for every woman who
Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.
Photos above: Michael Davis