Calling all doulas- aspiring and experienced alike! Welcome to Part 3 of a short series on developing professionally as a birth doula. The goal of this series is to help you learn how to better serve the mother, work with care providers, and develop a good rapport while you’re at it. Be sure to visit the other parts of the series:
The last installment of my short series is going to be brief and to the point. (Sorry it took me so long to write it!)
Doulas, what is your role? We’ve all heard many versions of the answer to the question “what is a doula?”, but generally they are all pretty similar. Here’s my own definition:
A doula is a non-medical, trained labor assistant who provides physical, emotional, and informational support to families before, during and after childbirth.
You may have your own variant on this definition, but one thing that almost everyone unanimously agrees on is that a doula is not a medical caregiver (unless she is a medical caregiver already who is simply acting as a doula at the time).
And yet, it seems that far too many doulas have a very difficult time restraining themselves when it comes to giving medical opinions, “cheating” at births by sneaking in food, etc., and other “infringements” on the non-medical restriction on our job. So how do you avoid the temptation and stay within your realm?
1) Give women information- not advice. If we really do believe that we stand behind evidence based care, then wouldn’t it make sense to let that evidence speak for itself? Give women resources and information to inspire them to do their own research. Always encourage them to come to an informed decision together with their caregivers.
2) Don’t argue with a doctor during a birth. Ask questions instead. As I said in Part 2 of this series, you need to keep your cool during a birth, even if you are in direct disagreement with a doctor. Phrase your disagreement as a question.
For example, instead of: “This mother doesn’t need pitocin! Her water has only been broken for an hour,” try something like, “How long after the waters are broken does the risk of infection increase dramatically?” Even if you already know the answer, starting with a question opens the doors to suggesting that the parents and doctor (not you!) can perhaps come to a decision on how long they feel comfortable waiting before beginning pitocin.
3) Learn policies & ask questions about them beforehand. Don’t be the one to break them. Your job during a birth is to provide informational, physical, and emotional support to the mother. It is not to disregard the hospital policies that the birthing family has already agreed to by choosing to birth there. Of course, you can encourage the families to ask for exceptions to the rules, but don’t blow them off. You don’t have the training, the authority, or in most cases, the financial resources to take on this sort of liability during a birth.
Remember, I am all for helping to change the face of birth in America. However, this should be done outside of your role as a doula through various methods of advocacy. When you are a doula, stick to the support you should be giving the family to ensure a job well done from all perspectives.
How do you maintain your role during a birth? What suggestions would you add to this list? How do you walk the fine line of doula and birth advocate?