Doula – In simple terms, it’s mothering the mother. Being a Doula is the ancient art of providing information and instilling confidence to a woman and her family in pregnancy, childbirth and the early post natal phase.
Interview with Renee Adair
Renee first began working with women and babies in 1994 as a massage and Aromatherapist and Reiki Practitioner in 1998 began studying and working as a Doula, Childbirth and Early Parenting Educator and Birth Counselor. Renee is the founder and principal educator of the Australian Doula College and the registered charity Doula Heart Network.
Q. For someone totally new to the word and concept of a Doula how do you explain it?
A. In simple terms, it’s mothering the mother. Being a Doula is the ancient art of providing information and instilling confidence to a woman and her family in pregnancy, childbirth and the early post natal phase.
Q. From your experience what are the reasons that women turn to a Doula for assistance, before, during and after the birth process?
A. The reasons for a woman engaging a Doula are as vast as an abyss. From first time mums to those having their second or seventh baby. The overriding reason for women wanting a Doula by their side is usually fear. Unfortunately, in our culture most woman are fearful of birth in some way and that comes from a magnitude of places. (That is a Q and A all of its own!)
General physical and emotional support is in there as well as knowing the Doula brings a trust in the birthing process and is a shoulder to cry on and a resource centre. The maternity system offers very little of those things and now that partners are expected to be all knowing in the birthing space, many women are engaging Doulas to assist them too.
Q. How can a pregnant woman find the ‘right’ Doula for her? You don’t find a connection with everyone you meet so how do you deal with this?
A. All of our Doulas offer an obligation free interview and we ask that both parents are present at that interview. As Doulas we are used to not gaining every job and so don’t take offence. It’s not about us. It’s about the parents finding the most suitable Doula for their experience. I do offer a caution to parents though and suggest not meeting to many Doulas, it simply gets to confusing! Once at a meeting, parents need to trust their instincts!
Q. You would guess that a Doula would be utilized, in the majority, by first time mothers. Is this true?
A. No. Actually the current trend for Doulas in this country are women having their second or third baby. Those mothers and partners have reflected on the first labour and birth and have come away feeling sadly, traumatized, dissatisfied or confused about their labour and birth experience in some way. They want to feel different about the next labour and birth and want someone their to support them and their wishes.
About Renee Adair and the Australian Doula College
Q. You are the founder and the woman behind the Australian Doula College in Sydney. What took you on the path to become a Doula and take this on to train?
A. I had two inspirational homebirth experiences (they were not easy in terms of the labours but I was incredibly well supported)
I was an Aromatherapist and Reiki practitioner and had worked with pregnant and postnatal women. I had heard so many disturbing labour and birth stories. I began to wonder and wanted to discover, what if all women had this same emotional support as I did, would their experiences have been any different? So, I studied with Maree Burrows in Bondi and became childbirth and parenting educator and Doula and started going to births. I have attended hundreds of births and can tell you that solid, loving, well-informed and non-judgmental support makes all the difference.
Q. Is the demand for Doulas in Australia such that a fully qualified Doula can expect to make the work a full time occupation?
Being a Doula is such an individual journey. We have Doulas who might only do three – four Doula jobs a year and there are some who make Doula work their primary source of income, however, it can be tricky. I have done that myself and it’s a huge commitment being on call all the time!
Q. In promoting the use of a Doula there are increasing arrays of positive studies relating to a Doula’s influence on the childbirth process. Can you outline some of the benefits and, in your opinion, how the Doula influences these figures.
A. Simple and basic support, both physical and emotional. Doulas are not plugged in emotionally to the laboring couple nor to the hospital system and so can sit in a neutral place.
Q. Where do you see the role of the Doula in 5-10 years time? There are obvious medical expense benefits that hospitals would be remiss to ignore for example.
A. I would like to see Doulas included as a normal part of a birthing team and for families in the postnatal period. The research on Doulas is overwhelmingly positive and cannot be denied. The current climate in maternity care is such that women are usually coming a way dissatisfied from their birth experience. Staffing issues are a problem and hospitals work to a tight schedule. Staff doesn’t have the time and in a lot of cases the skills to manage labour emotionally for the parents and they can tend to over offer medications and interventions.
I would like to see Doulas in the next couple of years covered by private health insurance companies and dare I say in ten years time by Medicare!
Q. How does the Doula offer assistance in pre-natal care and where would this take place?
A. Pre natal appointments take place in the couple’s home. This allows the couple to feel comfortable and relaxed and for the Doula to gain a sense of who the couple is. Our Doulas meet with the clients three times (outside of the interview) before the birth.
We cover fears, feelings, expectations, hospital policies, what to bring, we assist with a birth plan or wish list and are a general sounding board for both parents to be.
Q. In general how often does a Doula visit during the pregnancy process to provide support?
A. We offer an obligation free interview and three visits before the birth.
Q. No two births are the same however can you illustrate some of the skills that a Doula may utilize to calm a mother during the birth?
A. We come with a big bag of tricks and some Doulas are more comfortable with using some techniques over others. Certainly, the most calming tools are massage, the use of water, visualization, helping the mother feel comfortable with sounding during a sensation, homeopathics and Essential oils can be used along with reminding her of what’s normal and offering endless encouragement.
Q. How are Doula’s regarded by the medical profession such as midwives and Obstetricians?
A. We have an Obstetrician and a Midwife on the Australian Doula College Board and our Doulas have a good reputation. There are still doctors and Midwives that see us a threat for whatever reason and unfortunately some have come into contact with Doulas that are not trained or are under trained and working without supervision. These Doulas can get staff off side and this creates tension. We have a lot of Midwives in varies hospitals that a are really glad to see us when we arrive as they are usually super busy and appreciate the help.
Q. How does the Doula’s role fit in with that of the Father at the time of labour? Two is company three is a crowd.
A. As you may have noticed I have included partners/fathers in a lot of my answers as mostly they are now simply expected in the labouring room. This comes as a bit of a shock for some and so the Doula offers them an enormous amount of support and guidance before, during and after the birth. Most men can’t go to their fathers and ask them, ‘what was it like for you supporting mum when I was born’? Because this is the first generation of men that have solidly been attending births. A Doula can offer information, guilt free breaks and share her knowledge and trust of a labour and birth and ultimately makes it easier for them to be there and be the best support they can.
I have been a main support for single women over the years and I must say, I wanted a Doula to support me to support her!
Doula support Post-natal
Q. Many mothers refer to a gap in information once you get your new baby home as compared to a wealth of information about the pregnancy and birthing process. How can a Doula assist in dealing with this?
A. A very real scenario. Generally speaking in our culture we just expect that women are all knowing and should just be able to get on with it! Truth is, that’s normal if you grow up in a village where you have seen women breast feeding and being with their babies since you were a little girl, all day every day. It’s not our norm so women need guidance, information, general support and encouragement. Doulas offer this and more in the postnatal period. Having the same woman who shared your birth experience with you come into your home and assist with the transition to parenthood is very powerful and really helps.