Note: Part 1 of this special series on doulas can be found here. For this piece, I originally intended to interview a doula and write up something about what they do, but after connecting with Bismarck Birth and Beyond doula Alyse Erbele, her amazing wealth of information and insight seemed best left speaking for itself.
What do you find most people think doulas are?
There definitely is confusion! Most people assume I am a midwife. It's so frequent that I'm shocked when someone knows what a doula is!
So, what IS a doula?
I provide physical and emotional support before, during, and after birth. That can be comfort measures such as back, hand, or foot rubs, talking through mom and her partner's fears and expectations, and discussing and planning for what may come up.
What drew you to and keeps you involved in doula work?
I grew up reading Lennart Nilsson's book, A Child Is Born. I've always been fascinated by pregnancy and birth, and wanted to become a birthworker (a term that encompasses both midwives and doulas and other professionals involved with birth) since I was pregnant with my first child. I took my first training over a year ago, and doulaing has fit who I am perfectly. Knowing I am making a difference keeps me involved, even though it can be very intense and exhausting. I've learned over the last few years how crucial self-care is and teaching moms how do that for themselves is one of the things I'm passionate about. As moms, we give that last bite of chocolate cake and give our turns up, and give and give and give. It's okay to say, "This is for me."
Birth, not matter how it happens or how many children a mother has had, is a growing process. There are always challenges in each birth, and part of what I love best is reflecting back to mom how I see her succeeding. We women so easily discount our sacrifices, even to ourselves, and then we feel like we didn't do much after all. I don't empower women; I help them see the strength they carry within themselves.
What's involved in becoming a doula?
Typically, a doula will take a beginning doula workshop. In Bismarck, we are very fortunate to have an excellent trainer who has returned three times and already has a beginning workshop scheduled for November. After the training, she (or he, there are some men who are 'dudelas') has a certain period of time to fulfill her certification requirements. That includes required reading, attending a certain number of births, and writing an essay.
“I'm not into the 'natural birth' thing...so I don't need a doula, right?”
Who will be there with you the entire time? Who will you depend on? Birthing a baby is hard work, no matter how you do it: unmedicated, epidural, C-section. Having a doula means someone who is an expert on birth is with you and there for you when you want them.
“But I'm worried it might make my husband feel uncomfortable or unnecessary since he's my labor partner.”
A good doula is there to support both partners. Some dads are very involved, but they still need bathroom and snack breaks, a drink of water. A doula encourages and helps the partner when they don't know what to do. The doula is the expert on birth, and the dad is the expert on mom.
The doula's most important job is holding space. Birth is usually a lot of waiting. I like to think I am a “Be-la.” I am not there to 'do' for her as much as 'be' with her through the birthing process. I am there for mom in a unique way during a beautiful and often difficult transition in her life.
How does your work during delivery vary?
One of the really enjoyable things is fitting myself to what a mother needs. The birth process is similar, but each woman has things that are important to her. I've read Scriptures and prayed with women, held hands and said nothing, sat in the other room, and taken photos of those first precious moments.
What happens after baby is born?
A birth doula will typically meet with the mom for a postpartum visit 1-3 weeks after the birth. As a Certified Lactation Counselor, I like to visit mom and baby a day or two after birth to answer any questions that may have come up. Postpartum services are different and separate from birth work.
How much should I expect to pay a doula, and what should I look for when hiring one?
Fees can be anywhere from $200 to $1500 in our area. There are different services that can be added on. I provide placenta encapsulation in addition to doula work. One local doula offers a childbirth education class. More important than cost, a mom needs to find a doula she feels totally comfortable with. A doula attends her during one of her most private and vulnerable times. It is also good to ask about their certification and what they have learned in continuing education.
Anything you'd like to add?
I have struggled with depression and anxiety since the birth of my second child. Since living through that and learning how to not just survive but thrive, I have become very passionate about supporting women living with mental health issues. There is a lot of stigma and ignorance. Many women don't recognize they need help, or if they do, they don't feel they can ask for help. This is terribly damaging to women, to their children, and to families, and it affects our culture. I want to erase that stigma.
I speak openly about my experiences, and as a result have had the opportunity to encourage many women also affected by postpartum depression and anxiety. I think every one of us has a story to share that can encourage others.
Your turn: what would YOU ask a doula? Have you considered hiring one (or used one in the past)?