What a doula really does.
One of the major casualties of the pandemic has been the provision of maternity care in the UK. The restrictions have seen fathers and birth partners prevented from attending scans, appointments and even the early stages of labour. This is a situation that has cause anguish and upset, and the #butnotmaternity movement has been campaigning for months to reverse these rules.
All women in labour need support and advocacy, wether that comes in the form of a friend, partner or a dedicated doula. Yes, a doula....a concept I was introduced to following the birth of my first child.
As we head back in to lockdown and a new wave of uncertaintiy, I spoke to Jemma Leighton, doula and founder of www.stilettostostrollers.com, about just what a doula does, and how they benefit all sorts of pregnancies and births.
What is a doula? Do you find people don't know what it is?
Whenever I tell people that I am a doula I’m often greeted with quizzical looks or comments like “ummmm ok, sorry what is a doula?” And I always respond with the same line, “a doula is there to mother the mother”. At which point either eyes are rolled, or people want to know more. My response it normally something like this….. “A doula is a knowledgeable, often trained (but not medically) person that helps you at the time around childbirth, though you can also get end of life and divorce doulas. As a birth and postnatal doula, I can either be there to support you in the run up and during birth or/and postnatally.” Another thing you have with a doula is an advocate, you’ll have one or two meetings before hand to discuss your birth wishes and any worries then we’re someone who not only supports you, but we’re a friend and can help to empower you/your partner to ask questions and push for your wishes to be adhered to. It’s not a one size fits all, the role is different for every mother and every birth, but I recently read a fantastic quote that sums it up perfectly – “A doula isn't a superhero that flies in to save the day, they come and tie your cape so that you can do it yourself.” We support mothers and help to give them and their partners confidence during an often-unknown situation. From emotional support, to education and sharing our knowledge, or sharing our contacts to physical support in labour. It’s recognised by the NICE guidelines that continuity of care increases positive birth outcomes, and although a Doula is not medically trained and would never replace a midwife, studies have shown that by having a birth doula the likelihood of a positive birth experience is increased. What are the common misconceptions about Doula's? Oh, I could go on for hours about this, but I’ll try and keep it to the point for you. Firstly, people expect us all to be old croc wearing hippies, which we’re not. I think that might be why people are surprised when I tell them my job. I’ve found there are two main thoughts that people have, it’s either that doulas are only for rich people or that they are only for home births. Neither of which is the case. I’ve supported every type of birth from a caesarean to a home water birth and all the ones in the middle…. The dictionary definition of a doula is: A woman, typically without formal obstetric training, who is employed to provide guidance and support to a pregnant woman during labour.
That’s what we do and a whole lot more….. How did you get into it? What was your career before? I actually became a doula because I was asked my so many parents I’d taught antenatally if I could ‘just be there’ at the birth, and I wanted to be able to say yes! My career before entering the birth world was very different, I worked in luxury marketing and PR for 14 years. I left my role as an agency director deciding not to return after having my second child and knowing that my true passion lied elsewhere – I wanted to start a birth revolution. I had already started stilettos to strollers and trained to be a hypnobirthing teacher while on maternity leave with my first child and it changed my life completely. When I fell pregnant the first time I was very much in the mindset of get me in and get the epidural on pronto. But then the more I found out about birth and the natural route it takes the more I changed my mind on that one. I truly believe that knowledge is power, and it’s astonishing how little education we receive about our own bodies and how they really work. By understanding how pregnancy, birth and recovery actually unfolds we can work with what nature has already created rather than trying to overpower it. I went into this career because I want more women to have empowering, positive birth experiences and to do that they need support, knowledge and confidence. What sort of training do you need to do? A doula isn’t a legal job which is crazy, so in theory anyone can do it. Personally, I attended a doula training course, completed my course work and then joined the official body Doula UK as a mentored doula to gain experience and knowledge. Also alongside this previously I trained as a hypnobirthing teacher, with the infant loss foundation to support bereaved parents and in a birth trauma technique called The Rewind Technique. I am currently studying gentle sleep training.
Are you busy? Do a lot of mothers use doula's these days? Do you know what yes, I am. I have a young family myself, so I limit the number of clients I take on, but I do get fully booked months in advance. Doula’s are becoming more popular, especially with people now living further away from their families and not having mothers or sisters nearby. Also, with women being aware of any anxiety they might suffer and any worries they have relating to giving birth they are looking for someone that can offer support and continuity of care.
What else does Stilettos to Strollers offer? I like to think we are the ultimate support for parents, so the services reflect that. Antenatal education, birth support, birth trauma support and a blog that shares resources and information for new mothers. How do expectant mothers find out about you? I find lots of people hear about me via friends, though people also follow my Instagram page and find me online. @stilettostostrollers or www.stilettostostrollers.com
What is the most challenging aspect of the role? This is a tough one, it sounds cheesy, but I would say saying goodbye. After you’ve been with a family for months, then supported them through one of the most momentous days of their lives, visited them with a newborn… it’s then time to say goodbye. I’m lucky that I’m still friends with a number of my past clients and I get to see the babies grow up, but it still feels funny going from talking to a mother every day on what’s app to then not.
And the most rewarding? I still cry every time I see a mother hold her baby for the first time. Just knowing you might have made that day a little bit easier for them is wonderful. I literally float out of so many births on cloud 9 because women are amazing!
How on earth do you make it work around having tiny children of your own? You just do. When you feel passionately about something you make it work. I honestly want to make birth better and less scary for mothers and so I make the time to do it. I have a wonderfully supportive family and husband who know how passionate and determined I am, and they help with my kids a lot. I also have some fantastic friends who have stepped in to have my children when I’m attending a long birth.
What key message would you like to share with women who are pregnant and/or consider using a doula? This is your birth, do you it your way. There is too much ‘I wasn’t allowed’ in birth stories I hear. So choose to replace fear with confidence, preconceived ideas with facts and become empowered to take charge of how you want to birth your baby. That’s what a supportive doula can help you do.