Since my eldest daughter was born over 20 years ago (gulp!) I have loved hearing other women’s birth stories: the dramatic ones, the scary ones, the fast ones, the marathon ones… I will never get bored hearing about all the variation in duration, pain relief, positions and coping strategies. There are no ‘ordinary’ births; every one is special and unique. What I began to notice though, in too many, of the birth stories was the sense of lack of control that many women experience during childbirth, and the lack of help afterwards. What often stayed with me is the feeling that so many women feel abandoned, ignored or dismissed by medical professionals during their labour and perinatal period.
It is an unfortunate truth that maternity services in today’s NHS are underfunded. When a woman arrives at hospital for the birth of her baby, she is often taken to the labour ward and left there. She may have her partner for company, but they may not see a midwife for several hours. I have friends who felt abandoned during this time and began to feel stressed and worried. During the course of the birth of her child a woman may see 3-4 different midwives, some of whom she has never met before, and after the baby is born she may see several others before she is sent home with her new baby to get used to her new life. When a couple arrive home they are normally visited a few times in the first week and then, if all is ‘normal’ her care will be handed over to the Health Visitor team who will visit her and her baby with decreasing frequency. Many women find the first few days, as they try to acclimatise to their new priorities and family configuration, exhausting, scary and frustrating.
We all know that doctors, midwives and nurses have extensive training and experience and that they have overseen tens, hundreds or thousands of pregnancies, birth and babies. We also know that the NHS is overstretched and understaffed. Each mother is likely to only have a few pregnancies and births, so her experience is special, and I feel that many women (and their partners) need more care, attention and help.
I was not aware of the concept of doulas until after the birth of my second child, though I knew that in past generations families would more commonly live closer together than we do nowadays. This extended family arrangement will have allowed pregnant and birthing mothers much closer and continuous contact with more experienced and knowledgeable mothers who could offer support.
When a doula visited the bump and baby group that I attended with my daughter and explained her role it was a lightbulb moment for me. Here was the perfect solution to a modern circumstance! The knowledge kept knocking around inside my brain and returned to me several years later when I was researching a career change from teaching. In 2013 I attended a one day workshop with the lovely Doula UK doula Bridget Baker regarding the role and practicalities of becoming a doula which confirmed my interest but also planted seeds of doubt about the logistics of ‘making it work’ when my children were so young. It was not until 2017 when my children were that bit older that I felt that I could finally make the career change and complete the training with Nurturing Birth. I learned that one does not truly ‘train’ to become a doula, one simply is a doula! I have experience of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and caring for babies that I want to use to help other women to have a more positive experience.
I already was a doula! I am so proud and happy to have officially completed my training; it was fascinating to learn more about the physiology of childbirth, the language that is more helpful to a labouring woman and to consider the ways in which I could make myself useful in a woman’s birth team. As a doula I want to be able to make women feel more in control, happier and more able to make informed choices about their labour, how they feed their baby and how to settle happily into their new family configuration.