It’s World Doula Week!!
As a birth photographer I am always looking to find birth education resources to expand my knowledge of the birth experience as a whole. Part of that comes from learning about what other birth workers do. I had the opportunity to meet with local doula Amy from She Shines Doula Services. In a cozy booth at Breezy Corners in Freelton, Ontario we had hot chocolate & coffee and a chat about what a doula does and about her experiences volunteering in Honduras.
What [in your words] is a doula?
I would say a doula is a birth coach or advocate. Like a Sherpa or trail guide... you can go down the trail and enjoy yourself but if you want to be fully involved and educated in your travel having a tour guide is a good way to get the full experience.
What made you want to become a doula?
My first birth experience was traumatic. I was young and didn’t know any better - it ended up with me being injured and sick after the birth and I had very little support. For my second baby I had a friend who was a doula who asked if she could be there and we agreed. The difference in experiences was indefinite so I used my time on maternity leave to become a doula.
What do you usually bring out to a birth and what are your favourite “tools” & techniques to use?
Hands. I could show up to any birth with all the tools but what I find is best is to use my hands. I have a backpack that I bring with essential oils, for calming back pain and for massage. I bring snacks for both mom and partner. I also bring a Rebozo which is a long piece of woven fabric. It’s wrapped around moms hips and belly and helps with pain management.
Are there labour positions you find to be most helpful?
Whatever’s most comfy for that person. They might want to be on their back or they might prefer to be up and moving. We go over different positions beforehand in prenatal appointments to prepare so that it’s not awkward in the moment and more natural. It’s important to be educated ahead of time.
What do you love most about being a doula?
I love walking away from a birth and family and hearing about what they loved about their birth experience. If I could give that gift to all my clients that would be great. For them to so feel educated and feel good about the whole experience.
What are some challenges you have personally faced or think that doulas face?
I’ve fallen into a niche market where I work with families with disabilities and mental health disorders. Obstetricians sometimes think I am there to disagree with them and to have the mom argue, but I’m there to educate her and have her best interest both mental and physical looked after. Care providers can also assume I’m there to butt heads with them. Sometimes it’s fine and we work well together but sometimes there are a lot of challenges.
Have you found hospital staff to be accommodating or rude to you?
There’s always the chance of a difference in opinions of myself and the care provider. There are always going to be disagreements in how things are handled and what the course of action should be. I try not to think of myself as a lesser important piece of the puzzle. Although I’m not a medical person I know the families quite well and know their goals. I just need to remind the care provider of what their goals are.
Do you find midwives and nurses different than each other to work with?
I have worked with both incredible and not so great for both midwives and nurses - it really just comes down to the person and their level of empathy.
What do your clients typically find the most helpful of your postpartum services?
Breastfeeding. I feel when I come into a new families home (meaning a client I did not attend the birth of) this is the most overwhelming issue in motherhood. It’s easy not to realize that there’s a lot you can do before having your baby to prepare, and what resources are available in the community.
How many of the births you’ve attended go pretty much according to plan?
Very few! Very few go the ideal plan route. When we create a birth plan it won’t look rigid. We create together an ideal situation and a back up. Plan A, plan B, plan C, and D. It can be to try pain management in this order... etc, if epidural is the last resort. The last is an emergency plan. For example, what does that look like if it turns into C - who will go with the baby to the NICU - so we can plan ahead of time and not under pressure.
How important do you think birth rights, choice & autonomy are and do you think the future of this will have a positive or negative impact on the way we birth?
I will say I am very pro choice, and as a Christian I would be heart broken to hear of someone’s decision [to choose that] but at the same time I think I’m empathetic enough to hurt for the person who has had to make that decision and wonder what was going on in their life to make that choice and try not to judge that. Ultimately it comes down to it’s their story not mine. I get to go home and not live with those decisions and the consequences. If I can help someone feel supported why wouldn’t I, no matter how difficult the situation was? Because I work with disabilities it comes down to high risks often times. So I can see both sides.
How are some ways we can educate people about the options they have available to them for birth other than the typical package media and our culture delivers? (Hospital, planned c-sec)
The first step is education. Some people are okay with going with the flow, with what their doctor says and that’s fine. We need to talk more about our own birth experiences, good and bad, what we liked and didn’t like, what we expected and didn’t expect. And to be accepting what anyone around you chooses. Making people feel judged will just make them do the opposite. We need to get rid of the culture of judgement.
Tell me about your time in Honduras! What are some big differences in the way we birth in our culture here and how they do things?
I was in Honduras for eleven or twelve days in October. It was challenging! I saw a lot of difficult things. The birth experiences are very different from what we deal with here. I worked with Dar A Luz Honduras, a non-profit organization founded by Sylvia Bahr that promotes respect in birth practices. Sylvia is really hands on with the hospitals. She takes volunteer birth workers to be present and be the support person for the women there. Girls and women are in shared labour and delivery rooms which makes bringing in extra support difficult. The shame with that is very hard to deal with and a doula’s presence can change them from feeling very scared to feeling like an actual person who is important and cared about. Most were under the age of 20, one was 15. They need more volunteers to come help and support these girls and women have a better birthing experience.
Is there any specific advice you would give to first time expectant parents who reach out to you?
The first step for setting yourself up for success is to have the right care provider for you whether it be a midwife or OB and really knowing what the difference is. Look into that even before you’re pregnant if you can! So many people do not know the differences. And then obviously hire a doula!
Happy World Doula Week!
You can contact Amy here!
Looking to have your birth experience documented? Please fill out a contact form and we can chat some more! As always home births receive a discount.