By Joyce Heid
Late this past August, Janine D’Adamo and Alec Heuisler of Waverly welcomed their son, Niko, into the world at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. In preparing for Niko’s arrival, although they were very comfortable with their choice of hospital and obstetrician, the couple still felt they would benefit from the services of a doula. “This being our first child and not having any experience with childbirth, we just wanted to have an extra advocate with us,” says D’Adamo.
The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves.” Today, the term is used in reference to a trained professional who provides support to a woman and her family prior to, during, and after delivery. People often confuse a doula with a midwife, but they serve very different functions. “A doula differs from a midwife in that we [doulas] provide nonmedical, emotional, physical, informational support and guidance throughout late pregnancy, birth, and postpartum,” explains Carla Paisley of Mobtown Doulas, located in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore. “Where a midwife is responsible for the clinical and physical well-being of the mother-to-be, doulas are primarily concerned with providing a continuous stream of information and emotional support as a woman becomes a mother or a couple becomes a family. Doulas work with clients seeking medical care from both midwives and obstetricians.”
D’Adamo and Heuisler met with Paisley and her partner, Emily Leffler-Schulman, when they were about 25 weeks along in the pregnancy, after finding Mobtown Doulas through an Internet search. The doulas discussed a sample birth plan with the couple, helping them customize it to fit their own needs and expectations. They also addressed the many questions they had about childbirth, as well as relaxation techniques and ways he could provide support for her.
Many people also may be under the false impression that a doula “replaces” the father or partner during labor. In fact, says Paisley, nothing could be further from the truth: it’s the doula’s role to support not only the mother during labor and postpartum but her partner, too. “We can answer questions, soothe the fears, and show a partner how to best help the mother. We can offer an exhausted partner some time to rest, eat, and recharge during long labors and births. It is our role to normalize and empower, not replace or promote an agenda.”
Generally, Paisley and Leffler-Schulman meet with a family several times before delivery, but little Niko must have had his own customized birth plan because his mom went into labor five weeks early. At the time, his parents had only attended one birthing class. Not to worry, however, because Mobtown Doulas was there to help. D’Adamo says having the doulas in the delivery room was essential. “Emily was with us all day and night Saturday, and then Sunday morning Carla came, and that was when we started pushing.” Niko arrived shortly thereafter.
Once the baby is born, that doesn’t mean a doula’s services end. In fact, says Paisley, Mobtown Doulas views its job as only just beginning at that point. “Many doula practices focus upon the prenatal period,” she says. “We feel that the real need for support occurs once baby is born and a family is made.” Leffler-Schulman visited D’Adamo, Heuisler, and Niko in the hospital the day after the birth, answering questions about everything from breastfeeding to vaccines. Once home, the couple began keeping in daily contact with the doulas either by text message or phone call.
To find a doula, Paisley suggests several options, among them asking your provider, searching the Internet, and using the website DoulaMatch.net—although nothing tops word of mouth. “If you know someone who loved her doula, ask her to share!” The important thing, she adds, is to find a doula willing to work in a variety of settings with a variety of births.
While the hope with every birth is for it to culminate with the arrival of a healthy baby, every delivery itself is unique. Some are natural, some involve the use of epidurals. There are hospital births and home births—and some births that require medical intervention. A doula is there to advocate for her family, no matter what the situation. “Our role is to facilitate an educated, supportive environment as the mother chooses her own path,” explains Paisley. “Our practice has supported all types of births, from planned C-sections to birth center. We uphold a mother’s wishes and work together to ensure that all parties are heard and respected.
“Our motto is, ‘Your birth, our support.’ We mean it.” BC
For more information on Mobtown Doulas, go online to www.MobtownDoulas.com.