I became a doula after realizing I was not happy or fulfilled working in an office job.
My journey started while I was shadowing midwives at a Bay Area hospital. I was surprised to see at least a quarter of the patients were Arab and Muslim. Some of these mothers-to-be spoke very little English and relied on their husbands to translate between Arabic and English. It was heartwarming to see how they would light up when they noticed my Allah necklace and knew there was another Muslim in the room. That was when I realized how important it was for me to find a way to create a Muslim presence in women’s health for my community. So, I started working towards becoming a birth doula.
Most people have a vague understanding of what a doula does. A doula is typically a woman who supports another woman during her pregnancy, labor and delivery, and after the birth of her child. A doula may seem like a new age construct, but the term doulaoriginates from ancient Greece for a woman who supported other women in childbirth. Women have been helping other women give birth for as long as we have had a written history and likely before that. The art of childbirth was passed down from generation to generation and, even though I am not a mother myself, when I witnessed my very first childbirth, I felt like I was inducted into this exclusive club of motherhood.
Studies have shown that having a birth doula significantly improves the outcome for both mother and child.
There are a number of different types of doulas, but if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, you may be considering having a birth doula supporting you during labor and delivery. A birth doula is essentially a labor and delivery coach that provides physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother. Unlike hospital staff, a birth doula stays continuously at the laboring mother’s side through labor, delivery, and for a few hours after birth. Many first time mothers may have the misconception that her nurse will be able to be with her throughout her labor, however, this is not typically the case. A doula is trained to primarily support the mother’s comfort and well being.
Studies have shown that having a birth doula significantly improves the outcome for both mother and child. Mothers were more likely to go into spontaneous labor, and they were less likely to need pain medication or a Cesarean. Having a doula can shorten labor and fend off negative feelings about the birth. Even the babies seem to benefit from the doula support by having higher birth scores than those who could not receive continuous support.
I realized how important it was for me to find a way to create a Muslim presence in women’s health for my community.
A doula’s role can be broken down into three types of support: physical, emotional, andinformational.
Physical support can include a massage, counter pressures, using a rebozo scarf, supporting holds, and positioning the mother for comfort, fanning, sponging, and just good old fashioned hand holding when needed. Being a doula is a physically demanding role, I often leave a birth utterly exhausted and unable to lift the bag I carried in.
Emotional support occurs after every contraction. The mother receives positive feedback, reassurance on how everything is progressing, and the support to keep going. There is a point in every labor when the mother looks at everyone in the room and declares, “I can’t do this!” or “Just cut it out!” A doula reassures the mother that, yes, she can absolutely do this.
Informational support can be the most valuable to both the mother and father in the delivery room. A doula makes a conscious effort to point out all the things that are normal in a labor and birth and to explain what and why a doctor or a nurse is doing what they are doing.
When I have done a good job, it is always nice to hear my client say, “We couldn’t have done it without you.” Although I know that is not true – these mothers are amazing and could do it by themselves if they had to, it is nice to hear that they were able to have the supported birth that they wanted.
If you want to learn more about the scientific benefits associated with having a birth doula, check out this wonderful article on Evidence Based Birth.