What Does a Doula Do, Metaphorically Speaking?
“I am a doula.”
“We’re thinking about getting a doula.”
“We hired a doula.”
“Did you have a doula?”
“We loved our doula!”
Utter any of the above statements, and you’re bound to get a few follow-up questions.
“Adoula? What’s an adoula?”
Not adoula. Doula. Just doula. D-O-U-L-A.
“Oh. Well, what does a doula do?”
They provide continuous emotional and physical support, information, and advocacy to women during labor.
“Oh. Well, can’t your family do that?”
Sure, and a good doula will help my friends and family to enhance the support that they are already giving me! But doulas are trained to provide this type of support. And there’s some great research showing that this type of support is associated with women having fewer c-sections and forceps and vacuum deliveries, being more satisfied with their birth experience, and even having slightly shorter labors than women without continuous support.
“Oh. Well, I still don’t get what a doula does. What do they do?”
They can do everything from helping to reassure us about the normalcy of what’s going on (if it is normal) to suggesting position changes during labor to helping us to formulate questions to ask hospital staff when it comes to making decisions about our baby’s birth to assisting with breastfeeding immediately after birth.
“Oh. Okay.” [I still don't know what a doula does, but I'm just going to stop asking questions about it.]
Like many things that are unfamiliar to the vast majority of people, it’s hard to get a good idea of just what a doula does unless a) you’ve had a doula at your own birth, b) you’ve seen a doula in action, or c) you are a doula.
And like many of these unfamiliar, somewhat-hard-to-explain things, direct and literal explanations don’t always paint the clearest pictures.
Sometimes you need to rely on an analogy or a metaphor in order to create a clearer picture.
Dr. John Kennell is often quoted as saying “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” In all honesty, it’s not my favorite doula analogy. And this in part because I’d rather let women make their own decision about whether they want to take a drug (or hire a doula) in the first place. Furthermore, I’d hate to suggest that it would be unethical for a woman not to hire a doula! Instead, I think that doulas should be available for every woman who wants one; and this is far from claiming that they should be forced on every woman.
Nonetheless, I get where Dr. Kennell was going with his statement. Good doulas can provide tremendous support to women during labor, especially in a society where general knowledge about childbirth is limited and in-hospital maternity care is often inescapably disjointed and non-continuous. In this respect, it does seem unethical to deprive childbearing women of doula support!
Over the weekend, however, I heard a doula support metaphor that I think captures what doulas do far better than the “doulas-as-drug” metaphor:
“Having a doula was like having an IV of calm for my family and me.”
I like this analogy. I like it a lot. I like it because it’s simple. And although IVs are medical interventions that can seem intrusive to some people, they are also quiet, and still, and non-show-stealers, so to speak. And I also like this analogy because this “IV of calm” can be achieved through everything that a doula does, whether she’s massaging a mom’s back or teaching a partner how to do the double-hip squeeze or helping a woman to figure out her birth options or placing a cool washcloth on a mother’s neck as she’s pushing out her baby.
Doulas might very well be walking IVs of calm for the women they support–and, one hopes, for everyone else on a woman’s labor support team.
But this “IV of calm” analogy can’t be the only one that captures just what doulas do. Thus, I have a question for all of you:
How would you describe what a doula does…metaphorically speaking?
How would you finish the statement, “having a doula is like __________”?
In addition to helping the doulas and doula-hirers of the world explain the mystery of doula support to those inquiring minds they meet, answering this question can also help you to enter the latest fabulous giveaway from Birthing Beautiful Ideas sponsor Home Baby Crafts. Head on over to the HBC Facebook page starting at noon on July 16, 2012 to see how you can win an amazing gift package for the special doula in your life!