What Does a Doula Do, Metaphorically Speaking?

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!

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  1. Rachel P
    Rachel P07-16-2012

    Having a doula is like wearing your favorite sweater – fits just right, keeps you warm & comfy, and brings a smile to your face.

    From my husband: “Having a doula is like having water wings on the Titanic. Won’t necessarily save your life, but it’ll make you feel better.” Yuk yuk. Seriously though, my husband has told all of his co-workers that have had babies since ours were born that they should hire a doula. :D

  2. Teresa

    Having a doula is like….having a beacon….leading the way with her beaming light and guiding mother’s on their journey.

  3. Cynthia

    great post!

  4. BJ

    Having a doula is like having a guide when traveling to a foreign country. She knows the best places to visit, where to stop and rest, she speaks the language, and she can help you get the most out of your trip.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas

      Love this!

  5. Traci K.
    Traci K.07-16-2012

    Having a doula is like having a repository for all your thoughts, desires, fears, wishes, etc. during your labor so you can focus on your body and let her worry about the other people and other things going on in the room.

  6. Jeanette Albright
    Jeanette Albright07-16-2012

    …giving you the peace of mind that you can and will do this.

  7. Becky S
    Becky S07-16-2012

    Having a doula at your birth is like taking a test with the teacher right there, giving you the answer. I think my husband loved our doula more than I did!

  8. Anwen

    The first bit reminds me of a story my boyfriend told me of a colleague who was concerned that he couldn’t open pdf fies because he lacked a ‘dobe’ and wanted to know where he could buy one…

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas

      Oh my gosh, that is too funny!!

  9. Jessica Y
    Jessica Y07-16-2012

    Having a doula is like having a knowledgeable friend that will help you through one of the toughest moments of your life. I am so glad I discovered a doula for this birth. I can’t wait.

  10. Claire R
    Claire R07-17-2012

    Having a doula is like having someone to protect and keep your birth space safe, its like having someone who knows you inside and out being there for you

  11. IzzyMummy

    …..sounds like an incredible thing. I am definitly looking into one for our next child.

  12. Shauna

    These made me smile today!!

  13. Kate

    I really wish I had listened to my gut and gotten a doula for my son’s birth; I think I probably wouldn’t have ended up with the cascade of interventions that ended in a vacuum delivery. I refused to consider going back to the hospital for my daughter’s birth even though it’s just around the corner and the birthing center is a 45 min drive away. If for some reason I get risked out a birthing center birth next time and have to go to a hospital I’ll definitely be getting a doula!

  14. Staci P
    Staci P07-18-2012

    Having a doula is like bringing in a sea of peace and confidence to a birth. When the doula shows up, you know that somehow, it’s all going to be okay.

  15. Rochelle

    Having a doula is like a breath of fresh air!

  16. Katie S.
    Katie S.07-19-2012

    Having a doula is like…having a constant haven, there for your during an exhausting physical, mental, and emotional journey. A resource for information, a comforting aura, provider of words and sounds of reassurance for support and guidance, giver of nourishment in every sense of the word. Without this, a birthing mother can become worn out and lost. All mothers deserve a doula :)

  17. Chris

    Having a doula is like (hopefully) having that angel by your side watching, waiting, comforting you in whatever you need at the right given m0ment. Knowing in advance what you need and without reservation just serving you and your partner selflessly. Giving you the reassurance that your birth is yours alone, and no one can take that from you…ever.

  18. Doula Lauren
    Doula Lauren07-20-2012

    We rule! Let me tell you mama, doulas are worth every penny &then some. YOU DESERVE a doula for your birth.

  19. Angela

    Having a doula is like having your super experienced friend or mother there, without the baggage.

  20. jessica hall
    jessica hall07-22-2012

    having a doula is like having a map in uncharted territory….every birth is a new experience and leads us in search of ourselves and new “land”…a doula can be the map, your birth partner is in your passneger seat, but your doula can be the map they hold :)

  21. Holly

    ((loved the baggage one))

    Having a doula is like having a guidepost at your birth. an advocate, friend, and constant companion. :)

  22. Rachel

    Having a doula is like a lifeline of love in an unfamiliar, possibly scary space. A steady,loving, knowledgeable hand there just for you. It’s the best.

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