Life as a Doula

I knew that midwifery was my calling from an early age. At eighteen I went up to London to train and was a midwife at the age of twenty two.

I worked in various parts of the UK, and then when I had my children, working at night seemed the ideal way to combine midwifery with being there for my daughters.

Eventually after 30 years as an NHS midwife, I decided to take a step back, and consider what was important to me in life.

After some research, and knowing that midwifery was in my soul, I was drawn to a different role, but still in the field of birth, the role of a doula. Doula means serving woman, and is the worlds second oldest profession!

Being a doula offered me the opportunity to get to know and understand women really well, inside and out, and to understand what they wanted to achieve in pregnancy and birth and to help them to achieve it. To be an advocate, a trusted friend and a supporter.

Having doula support can make a difference and improve birth outcomes. There is a 50 percent reduction in the rate of caesarean and a significant reduction in the use of narcotics for pain relief, and an overall improvement in the birth experience.

The role of the doula is different from that of a midwife. As a doula, I provide emotional and physical support during pregnancy and birth. I help with planning for birth, and signpost to information about available options, such as homebirth, waterbirth, place of birth, hypno birthing and preparation for labour.

As a complementary therapist, I am able to provide essential oils for labour, teach massage techniques, and optimal positions for labour and birth, and use reflexology antenatally, in labour and for postnatal therapy.

I am no longer bound by time constraints, and I am able to remain with women and her family for the entire duration, with no threat of a shift change!

I am able to give time to explain procedures and to discuss the implications of choices.

I am also able to support women when attending midwife or doctors appointments, and one of the best aspects for me, is that my time is no longer dominated by paperwork!

I have found that being a doula is the most rewarding work, not least because many special relationships develop in the process, primarily between women and their doulas, but also with her extended family, and with midwives and other health professionals too.

Being a doula involves a huge commitment on my part. I allow four weeks for each woman, two weeks either side of her estimated due date, 7 days a week, for 24 hours per day!

‘many women know and research confirms that having an experienced female birth companion, who is neither a health professional nor a part of their social circle, can have a tangible positive effect on their experience of childbirth’
Maddie McMahon.

May I also recommend a wonderful little book written by Maddie McMahon called ‘ Why doulas matter’ published by Pinter and Martin, which may be purchased or borrowed from me.

My Doula Bag

My Doula BagAs a Doula I always have a sense of excitement when I have been looking after a lady in pregnancy and we finally arrive at 38 weeks.

I prepare to be on call for her and make preparations to care for her through her birthing experience. I get my Doula Bag out.

I absolutely love my Doula Bag! It is a huge red carpet bag, it holds everything…and the kitchen sink! I adore it! I feel like Mary Poppins.

I thought you might like to know what I put in, some you might not have thought of and some you will find really useful. There may also be a few surprises…

1) The all important birth plan. I take one for me and one for the midwife. It is so important to me that I pass on your wishes for labour.

2) An overnight bag. Yes…I make up a small essential one just in case you forget. In mine I include large stretchy washable granny knickers, some incontinence and sanitary pads. Extra pads to protect my car seats and a big plastic sheet just in case your waters break, or the baby arrives unexpectedly, yes it happens! Some mouth wash, mints and sanitising spray are a good idea too. Of course if you are planning your birth at home it’s great to gather these things together at home and keep them all at the ready.

3) I have a lovely velvet microwavable bean bag. This is great to apply to your back or symphysis area. It is so soothing.

4) A cashmere poncho. This encompasses an exhausted mum and a feeding baby. You do sometimes feel cold and shake after birth so this is perfect.

5) Warm socks. Feet often become inexplicably cold in labour so some cozy socks are great.

6) Hair accessories. Ladies always forget hair clips, bobbles and slides and I can never help as I have a short crop. I now have an array in my doula bag that Claire’s could be proud of.

7) A miniature fan. Blissful in the right moment.

8) A flask of ice cubes. These are for drinks and really help to make them more refreshing.

9) A dozen pristine white flannels. These have been rolled, pressed and frozen and are great when you are hot and exhausted and need reviving.

10) A hand mirror that is V shaped. This means you can see you emerging baby if you wish and if you are standing you can see the decent of the little head. It’s wonderful.

11) A pack of warm gauze swabs. These are to hold against the perineum and they help the tissue to stretch and prevent tearing.

12) Rubber squeezy balls. Enough for everyone present. These are great stress relievers.

13) A TENS machine. This is a non invasive form of pain relief that can really help in the early stages of labour.

14) Bendy straws, your own cup, some lip salve and soothing eye drops. All small comforts that make a big difference.

15) Great nutrition. You need to keep your energy up in labour and I find people love protein snacks. I particularly like Bounce Protein Balls, they are easy to nibble on even when you don’t feel like eating. Flavoured or plain coconut water provides ultimate hydration, much better than a drip!

16) A Femme gel pad. This is a gel pad that you can put in the freezer and it slips into a gauze sleeve and is fantastic for reducing haemorrhoids or swelling following stitches.

Finally my personal favourites…

17) Essential oils. I make up essential oils for each individual for antenatal relaxation and for labour. A massage oil for labour could contain clary sage, lavender, jasmine, rose, neroli, or frankincense. They each have amazing properties and can be tailored to individuals and their unique circumstances. An inhaler, just like the old Vicks style, containing frankincense for it’s anti panic properties is great. Soothing postnatal drops that are antibacterial and anti inflammatory are also part of my package.

18) Rebozzo. Rebozzo is used for labour in South America and the Far East. It is a very strong colourful cotton shawl and it is used to help support active birth. It’s strength can support you in virtually any position and it’s uses are many and varied.

Finally, on a very practical note I always keep a good amount of change and a small torch in my bag. I don’t like hospital car parks in the middle of the night and you can end up with a substantial parking bill by the time you leave!

So where ever you are planning your birth, be it in a pool at home or in hospital all of these items can make a great difference and really enhance your birth. For those who are supporting you through this time it provides some easy to use tools that can be really effective.