What is the Role of a Doula? Unconditional Support

In a modern world that's disconnected from our roots, and dismissive of the ancient traditions of women helping women...what is the role of a doula?

In a culture where experts are sought after and deferred to, in a country where 99% of women give birth in hospitals, with highly trained obstetricians...where does a doula fit in?

The role of a doula is unique in that it is defined (at least partly) by the individual women we work with.

Some women need physical support, others need emotional support.  Some women hire a doula as a sort of insurance policy, just in case their birth doesn’t go as planned.  Others want a doula to help them avoid pain medication or unwanted interventions. No two births a doula attends will ever be the same.

It’s a paradox that while childbirth is a universal phenomenon, it’s also intimately, utterly subjective, personal, and specific to each woman, each baby, each labor, and delivery.  As long as humanity plods onward, babies will be born, and women will be transformed into mothers.

Our role as a doula is, in the most basic sense, to help women feel supported and at ease during their journey toward motherhood.

Doulas are becoming more common and sought after by pregnant women, which is wonderful news!  Statistics show that the single most effective thing you can do to have a shorter and less painful labor and minimize your risk of unnecessary interventions is to hire a doula!  

However, a doula is not a guarantee that you’ll have the birth of your dreams.

Ultimately, I feel that my role as a doula is to help a woman feel confident and at peace with her labor and birth, however it unfolds.  Things seldom unfold precisely as expected in birth - but in our structured society, being comfortable with not-knowing is almost a lost art.  

As doulas, we must go into each and every birth with the desire to help educate, inform, and inspire our clients - yet - we must accept without judgment that it is their birth, their choices, and their journey to traverse.

We can be a trail guide in unfamiliar territory, but we cannot carry someone every step of the way - and even if we could, we shouldn't.  It's simply not our path to tread.

The journey across the farthest reaches of labor-land and back again is a narrow bridge that each mother must ultimately cross alone, no matter how much support she has.  

Doulas are in many ways, sacred witnesses of the collective reality of birth in modern culture, where we've forgotten the folk wisdom and the traditional knowledge of the ages.  

We find ourselves laughing in triumph and crying bitter tears over births - sometimes with the women we serve, sometimes with other birthworkers, and nearly always, alone.  

We support unconditionally, we hold space for sacredness and peace within the outcomes that unfold, and we often find ourselves processing each birth from multiple perspectives, both the mother's and our own.  

Doula work entails deep, writhing, unrelenting emotional analysis of ourselves. It requires examination and reexamination of our perspective, our biases.  continual and conscious upgrading of our emotional intelligence, our empathy, our nuanced skill in both verbal and nonverbal communication.

In many ways, the role of a doula is an ongoing immersion study in unconditional love.   

Our attachment to our own beliefs about birth must be relinquished to pave the way for acceptance of what is going to work in this moment, for this client, under these unique, specific circumstances.   

A doula's most useful, necessary, and oft-used skills are also probably her most underestimated:

  • emotional intelligence

  • ability to listen and empathize without judgment

  • willingness to say things that need to be said, knowing when to say them

  • understanding how to speak and act with true caring, tact, and gentleness

Doulas are invited to participate in what is arguably the most momentous and sacred occasion of a woman's life, and yet, it's too often not treated with the accordant respect by a woman's primary care providers.

The little, delicate, nuanced things...like someone's tone of voice, the words chosen to deliver pointed news, their body language or facial expression--the patience in waiting for a reply...

These are the sorts of things remembered, even decades later.  

Often, we as doulas are granted the most simple yet profound opportunities to improve birth - and we must be intuitive, intimately aware, and connected so that these don't pass us by.

Awareness is everything.  Not just awareness of our clients’ needs, but of ourselves.  We must cultivate a continual, vulnerable, honest and deep awareness of our fears, assumptions, biases, and beliefs.  

We must be willing to look at ourselves with an objective eye, through the eyes of our clients, and even through other professionals that we may find ourselves working alongside.

As birth professionals, we've got to be willing to shine light into our own unswept corners, and continually challenge ourselves to see from the perspectives of others.  This will improve our relations with absolutely everyone whose lives we touch, not just the women we serve as birth professionals.