When I tell people that I am a doula, I usually get the confused look and head nod... "oh yeah... What is a doula?" In the simplest terms, a doula is a professional labor support person; but, for me, it is so much more. A doula is an advocate for the birthing mother and father. She cares about the couple and works toward helping provide the birth that the family would like to have. For dad, a doula can be a reassurance and help him know what he can do to support mom. Lets face it, childbirth classes are great, but what if you don't remember something, or draw a blank? A doula in no way replaces Dad's job when it comes to the birth of his child.
How it works:
Generally speaking, a doula meets with potential clients in a consultation format to see if the doula is a good fit for the couple. It is best if a couple looking for a doula meets with several before making the final decision. Once a doula is hired, the number of prenatal visits varies. The purpose of the prenatal visits is to get to know each other. Being present for a birth is a very intimate moment, one where you don't want people you can't trust. I like to learn what the couple's expectations are for the birth and how they foresee things going, what relaxation techniques work best etc. We also work out the schedule for when to call and answer any questions. Many doulas will also make themselves available for prenatal Dr. visits if that is something that is desired. After that, it is really just a waiting game. I put myself 'on call' for the two weeks before and after the due date. Which basically means that I don't travel more than an hour away from home and try not to make plans that would be devastated by being interrupted by being called in.
As a doula, I do not perform any medical procedures whatsoever. But I do provide emotional, physical and informational support. Physical support can include, but is not limited to: massage (hands, feet, shoulders, back), counter pressure, and position change suggestions. Informational support can be as simple as letting mom know that what she is feeling is normal, to reviewing the pros and cons of different options.
A doula can be a great option for any woman no matter the birth she wants to have. Going 'natural' is not a prerequisite in order to have a doula. A doula will provide as much or as little support as the family wants, and will be a positive influence and advocate during the birthing process.