In the last few years I have lived abroad I have increasingly heard about “doulas”, whose existence and role I admit previously I did not know. However, having recently talked to some of my foreign non-italian colleagues who trusted in the doulas during their gestation, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more.
The doula’s role
Doula means “servant”, and is an ancient figure that can be found already from Ancient Greece. In Italy it is about 10/15 years that this profession properly started, while in the rest of Europe or in the USA it has been much longer. The doula is a non-health professional figure for the emotional and practical support of the family and particularly of the pregnant mothers until roughly the child’s first birthday.
For example, emotionally she can help the mother to look for the positive side of the situation, give her attention and make her believe in her strength. On the practical side the doula is not a cleaner or a housekeeper, but if the mother needs it she can certainly help keep the house clean. She is not a babysitter but can watch children while the mother washes or eats in peace. The doula is above all a non-judgmental figure who respects the choices of the mother and the family, an emotional and practical help you can count on.
When the doula enters the scene
- Pregnancy and pre-birth
One of the fundamental roles of the doula is to help the mother to make the “birth plan“, that is the whole list of things that the future mother wants in the hospital (or at home). The doula helps to make these wishes come true and directs the family to the centers or health experts suited to their choices. Then almost at the 9th month, about 10 days before the birth, the doula organizes the “blessing way“: a Navaho tradition ceremony to welcome the mother who is born, because as per Native American tradition when a baby is born a new mother is also born. This celebration of life is usually celebrated with friends and loved ones, doing rituals that the mother chooses: for example, you can create essential oils or scented salts to take home as a souvenir, create handmade gifts for the mother and the baby, burn fears and sing songs to the sound of shamanic drums, make a cast of the belly, braid hair with fresh flowers and many other activities that suit the future mother’s likings.
If the mother believes that the father is unable to support her during labour in the hospital, the doula can enter the delivery room as a replacement, otherwise she can watch the other children outside. During home birth the doula can help prepare peoperly the place and the necessary to support the mother during birth (for example by massaging her feet).
Especially if it’s the mother’s first child, she may have different fears and insecurities after giving birth (how do I change the diaper? Why doesn’t the baby sleep? And if I can’t breastfeed? etc ..). Breastfeeding especially can be a critical point for several women, but the doula will help find health workers to support the new mother. About other insecurities the doula will work as emotional support and if necessary suggest some psychological support or groups to the mother and / or family.
The relationship with healthcare professionals
Let’s dispel one of the many myths: the doula does NOT want to replace anyone. As mentioned above, the doula is not a health figure but an emotional (NOT psychological) and practical support. Fortunately, several health workers (doctors, midwives, nurses, etc.) accept the figure of the doula and indeed, advise the new mothers to contact them. Others do not welcome the doulas, but I believe it is certainly because they do not understand this role. Because different support figures exist, they can all work together to better help mothers and for the babies and families’ best interest.
How to become a doula
There are many schools around the world that can teach you how to become a doula, some of the courses last 9 months, others are shorter. Check online which is the closest school in your area and if your state requires an enrollment in a specific professional body. It is then at the discretion of the person to feel competent and ready to start practicing the profession. I guess one becomes a doula if you feel particularly connected with pregnacy and the motherhood world, if you want to combine practical and emotional help and support and make it your call, doing all of this with joy in your heart.