What is a doula and why has Meghan Markle reportedly hired one?
Amid reports that Meghan Markle has hired a doula as well as a midwife to assist with the delivery of her first child, we caught up with Lauren Mishcon, the doula at the centre of the speculation, to find out if a doula is really as ‘new age’ as the rest of the internet would have you believe.
WHAT IS A DOULA?
A doula (pronounced ‘doola’) is a Greek word meaning ‘caregiver’ or ‘woman servant’. It now refers to an experienced layperson who offers continuous emotional and practical support before, during and after childbirth.
A doula believes in “mothering the mother” – enabling a woman to have the most satisfying and empowered time that she can during pregnancy, birth and the early days as a new mum.
WHAT ARE THEY RESPONSIBLE FOR?
Doulas are responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of the mother and to act as an advocate for her wishes – but never to speak for her.
There is a common myth that doulas are only for women who wish to give birth without drugs or medical intervention but nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst we are trained to view childbirth as a natural and normal process we are not die-hard natural childbirth fans and are aware that there is a time and a place for medical intervention.
Doulas want every woman to have a positive and empowering experience. For some women that means giving birth with as little intervention as possible, for others, it simply is not a consideration for personal or practical reasons. Our job is to support the choices of the mother, whatever they may be.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DOULA AND A MIDWIFE?
A midwife is a trained medical professional. They attend to the delivery and can assess fetal heart rates, check cervical dilation watch for and treat complications of birth and give medical advice.
Doulas are lay people. They do not perform a medical service and are not employed by a hospital. Their concern is purely for the wellbeing of the mother.
In essence: doulas work with the mother from the waist up while the midwife primarily attends to the mother from the waist down. Doulas support only a few births per month and are on-call 24/7 for a whole month around the due date. They stay with the mother as long as is needed.
ARE DOULAS AS ‘NEW AGE’ AS THE INTERNET MAKES OUT?
Absolutely not. It’s very easy to dismiss the idea of a doula as ‘hippy nonsense’ but women have been supporting other women in labour for as long as babies have been born. It is only in recent history since we stopped living in villages and close-knit communities and since births have moved from home to hospital that it has become unusual to have another experienced woman in childbirth assist you. As with anything, doulas range from mainstream to more alternative but there is a doula for every family.
WHAT DOES THE PARTNER DO DURING THE LABOUR?
Doulas do not replace partners. We are not the ones telling the mother how much we love her, that’s their job. Our job is to support and enhance the relationship between parents and not to interfere with the intimate nature of it.
A good doula will ensure that the partner is kept calm and involved in the process. They will be able to engage in birth to whatever point they feel able to without the immense pressure of being the mother’s sole support.
We are also trained to know when to be hands-on and when to step back and allow the couple space together. Sometimes this can mean guiding the partner on how to emotionally and physically support the mother. Other times it can be as simple as being an extra pair of hands to make a cup of tea, carry bags or pay for parking.
Labour can be long and partners often need a break, a nap, to go to the loo, something to eat – but wards are often busy and midwives are under pressure. A doula provides that vital continuity of care. Partners need reassurance and support during birth as much as mothers. They have a very important role to play and nobody to guide them through it.
Doulas are there to reassure them that all is going well if they are feeling anxious. Doulas are good at waiting! The combination of a doula’s knowledge and experience combined with the partner’s loving touch and voice can make all the difference in the world.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU RECOMMEND THAT PRINCE HARRY CAN DO TO HELP DURING THE LABOUR?
As I say to the partners of all my clients, what you can bring to the birth is the oxytocin. Harry is the only person in the room who loves Meghan and is as invested in the baby as she is.
You do not necessarily have to DO anything in order to be useful. Your presence, your love and support are felt by the labouring woman. A touch and a reassuring familiar voice are immensely comforting. The best thing he can do is to stay calm and help to keep the atmosphere in the room relaxed.
WHY DO YOU THINK MEGHAN IS REPORTED TO WANT A DOULA?
Meghan is a Royal, but she is also a woman who is about to become a first-time mother and may have all the same common concerns as anybody expecting their first baby. If Meghan is aiming for an un-medicated birth then she may be wanting the support of an experienced woman in the room who is there purely for her and Harry.
This is Meghan and Harry’s first baby and since they do not know what to expect so having somebody with them throughout the process might help to make the birth a smoother and easier experience.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE RIGHT DOULA FOR YOU?
Finding the right match is the most fundamental thing about choosing your doula. You and your partner have to feel you can work happily together as a team, that you can trust them, be yourself around them and be prepared to potentially spend 24 hours in their company.
It’s a very intimate relationship. Your doula may see you naked, vomiting, going to the toilet and will be beside you when you are your most vulnerable. You should interview a few doulas to see who feels like the best fit for you.
Lauren Mishcon is an experienced birth doula and has supported over 150 families welcome their babies into the world. Lauren can be found at fromtummytomummy.co.uk