I am a certified doula. I also have my degree in Family Studies and Human Development, which is what led me to become a doula. One of my favorite professors, in her early early grad school days, was a doula , which was the first time I ever heard the word (which I'm going to explain in this post). She used some of her birth videos during the "birth" secion of my Human Development 101 class. Her favorite video to share was the birth she attended in which a huge military first time dad passed out as his son entered the world. We, the students, laughed at the drama, but didn't really get it, seeing as most of us had never given birth. What I loved about family studies was the information we learned about family dynamics, first attachments and how all of this shapes who we are as people and our capacity to love, and have healthy adult relationships, and how all of this starts at birth.
Before I go any farther on the human development stuff let me explain what a doula is and then tie it back to the above. A doula is a labor and birth assistant, in literal terms she is a womans' servant. But to put it in a more understandable way, like what she actually does during labor and birth, a doula walks alongside a woman and her huaband/partner helping meet the woman's needs. A Doulas work has many different tasks, it can varry from showing dad how to do a hip squeeze to relieve back pain, making sure mom is drinking enough fluids, giving foot rubs to parking cars at the hospital so that a laboring woman is never alone and her husband never has to leave her at the ER door. They provide continuous emotional and physical support, encouragement and care, they also serve as an advocate for the mother by explaining hospital proceedures, and routines. One of my favorite parts of being a doula is helping the dad get invloved. Birth can be very overwhelming to a new father, your in a hospital, mom is uncomfortable and there are machines and doctors or nurses saying and doing things he may not understand, is mom OK? I have really enjoyed being able to help dad help his wife. There have been several times I have been at a teaching hospital and nurses or docotrs in training get so into the birth they crowd around the bed knocking the dad out of the way, and the father of the child about the enter the world is going to miss the whole thing! This is the point in which I stick up for the the dad and say, "hey would you mind if the dad could stand next to his wife?" This is just one little portion of my job, but its great to see a father get to take on more invloved roles when someone is encouraging him or just giving him ideas about ways to meet his partners needs. The doula never replaces the husband/partner's roll but can greatly enhance it.
When it comes to the mom, a doula plays many different roles. At my birth I asked a good friend to be my doula, my favorite part of having her there was to have another woman notice the little things that needed done, she washed all the dishes at our house, inbetween putting pressure on my back during contractions (it was nice to come home to a clean kitchen), she pulled my bangs out of my eyes with clips when I was pushing, she kept telling me I was doing such a good job (I remember at one point she said something like "You are are making this look easy, you're doing such a good job" just when I was getting to the point of wanting to give up). My doula sat with me through the delivery of the placenta and told me how amazing my birth was, and that she was excited I had a girl (we didn't find out earlier), this gave my husband the flexibility to sit holding our new child while my doula helped me get cleaned up and into bed... and then she prepared a meal and fed us all and installed the car seat before she went home. She came by and gave me encouraging words when I was trying to nurse ("she's latching on so well, you're doing so awesome!") and feeling like my nipples were about to just fall off. It was wonderful having my husband with me, and he was encouraging, but when my doula said "you can do it!" I knew I could because she had... three times (now four as of 2 weeks ago).
A doula also provides postpartum support, with breastfeeding support, infant care and many other things. I was once hired to sit and hold the newborn so that mom could rest and dad could run a few errands. A doula can also be a great lifeline when you need someone to listen.
I think what I love about being a doula is that by being present for someone's birth the mental drama can be focused on the actual arrival of a baby joining its family, the focus can be on a baby developing its first relationships. I love it that I can be the person who is asked to communicate with the nurse, or who runs to the car for some forgotten item, or stays to comfort the mom so her partner can go and make phone calls, go to the bathroom or talk with doctors. A laboring woman needs to feel safe, encouraged and loved so she can put her energy into welcoming her baby into the world with her partner standing by her side. This is what a doula can offer to birth.