In ancient cultures women in labour were cared for and supported by their sisters, mothers, aunties, traditional birth attendants, herbalists… Birth was seen as a natural and normal part of life, becoming a mother was a rite of passage the women learned from each other. At my own birth, in the late 1950s in the UK, my mother was supported by her sisters, her mother and the local Community Midwife (aka ‘Call the Midwife’!).
Nowadays, birth has been largely removed from the home and from the loving hands of our sisters. Many of us, as birth-keepers, have had to re-kindle our inner wisdom of birth and mothering, learning to trust in our intuition again, coupled with gaining new understanding of the complex medical world of childbirth. Yet the essential qualities of a Doula or Birth Attendant remain the same.
I am frequently asked “What makes an exceptional Doula?” Here are my top 9 qualities for those working in this sacred field of birthing –
1. Be Present
– research shows that continuous support in labour and the ‘prescence’ of a doula reduces the need for medical intervention and increases the mother’s satisfaction in the birth experience. The doula’s ability to stay in the ‘present moment’ with the birthing mother is essential – one expansion (contraction) at a time… breathing… releasing… letting go..
– staying calm and feeling comfortable to allow the labour to unfold in a relaxed way. Letting go of any expectations of ‘how long’ or ‘what kind of birth’ a mother will have.
3. Emotionally Clear
– a doula must leave her own emotions ‘at the door’ outside the birthing space. If you feel emotional or overwhemed by your feelings during a birth the best thing you can do is take time out, perhaps call your mentor or a peer who can help you to regroup before coming back into the birth room. It is highly recommended for doulas to have undertaken self-exploration as part of their training and seek on-going support to de-brief previous births.
4. Encouraging Dad
– supporting the father to step forward and be present with ‘his woman’ in this most intimate time of the couple’s relationship. Sometimes this means the doula leaving the room and creating the space for mum and dad to enjoy sensual time together – remembering the need for intimacy to allow the Love Hormone (Oxytocin) to flow and the labour to progress naturally.
– trusting your intuition (inner knowing or gut feelings) to offer the most appropriate support for each woman and birth you attend. Every birth and each woman’s needs are very different – during some labours the doula may be very ‘hands on’ offering massage, physical support, making food… others may simply require her to ‘Be Present’ quietly supporting the sacred space of birth. Tuning-in to what is most needed at any time during the labour is an essential skill for a doula.
– to Yourself! If you are currently a doula, or considering training as one, you are all ready feeling the commitment to changing women’s experience of birth for the better. It’s vital you also have a strong commitment to yourself and exploring your own journey of learning and personal growth. Ensure you find on-going support from a mentor or attend additional training and development courses as you grow your doula career.
– for learning, researching, reading and asking the right questions. Even as a highly experienced doula you will often be presented with new ‘procedures’ or ‘policies’ suggested by care providers for your clients. Your enthusiasm to explore and understand these will help you build knowledge and offer support for informed choice for birthing mothers.
– in bucket loads! In the deepest core of your being you trust in birth. This is regardless of previous experiences you may have had with clients or even your own birth stories. You have come to a place of inner knowing and certainty that every woman has the full potential to birth her baby in the perfect way for her own growth and transformation.
– last but not least! Your ability to stay in your own heart and encourage pregnant and birthing mothers to strenthen their heart-baby connection. There is a belief that fear and love cannot exist at the same time, so bringing love to your work will help to dissipate fear.
These words from John Lennon apply perfectly to the essential qualities of a doula –
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”
Anna Watts is a Sacred Birth Educator, Doula Trainer, Counsellor and Spiritual Healer. She offers regular Sacred Birth & Doula Trainings for both new and practising Doulas to explore birth as a journey of transformation and healing. www.celebrationofbirth.com