How doulas support women and families during pregnancy

Kairis Joy Burt: mother, sister and community doula.

Do you know who helped give birth to you? Who supported your mother during her pregnancy with you: dad, grandma, aunts, sisters, neighbors…a doula? For much of modern America our collective image of giving birth is mom being rushed to the hospital to return with a little bundle of joy. Hospitals, doctors and nurses have supplanted the traditional network of family and trusted friends who use to support our mothers during pregnancy.

Right in my backyard!

I recently tripped across the word doula while doing some research about mid-wives. But I had no clue what a doula was. Then I remembered, leave it to Facebook, that I knew of a women who I thought was a doula. So in social media fashion, I messaged Kairis Joy Burt and asked if she would educate this old white guy on the role of a doula for pregnant women. In short, I have seen the light and I have heard the word and it is good.

Doula vs. mid-wife

A midwife is a medically trained health care provider that generally provides support for women who have chosen to deliver at home. Doulas are nonmedical providers of emotional support, education and advocacy for the mother regardless of whether the delivery is at home or hospital.

Are you being called?

Kairis recounted to me how she first got thrust into being a de facto doula. Her employer told that

New baby, how are we going to pay for this.

Mom: “I’ve got a baby”. Dad: “Ay Carumba, how am I going to pay for this?”

there was a woman at the hospital giving birth and needed someone with her. Whether her employer saw an untapped compassionate resource or it was the hand of God, Kairis found her passion.

Maternity 101

Our educational system is very good at teaching women how to be loyal productive employees in our economy through reading, writing and arithmetic. It is not good, nor should it necessarily have a role, at teaching women about pregnancy, birthing a child or how to care for the newborn. This critically important communal knowledge has been left to the family. In our highly mobile and fractured society, many women, even ones with advanced degrees and loving partners, are left with a vacuum of support when it comes to pregnancy.

Time out Doc!

Kairis opened my eyes to the very important role a doula can play in family dynamics during

Doulas can be the referee calling a time out so the mom can stay calm and focused.

pregnancy, child birth and nurturing the newborn. First and foremost a doula is an advocate for the expectant mom. As she said, “It may be an unplanned pregnancy, but there never has to be an unplanned birth.” Doulas work with the mother to create a birthing plan that will both empower the mother and reduce the anxiety of dealing with hospitals, medical staff and family.

While talking to Kairis about the very sensitive role she plays with families, I had this vision of her in a striped referee shirt in the birthing room calling a time out. Let’s be honest, not everyone in the family gets along. Fathers may not mesh with mother-in-laws and aunts may not cherish the presence of the mother’s friends. In the most diplomatic way possible, doulas work to maintain a bubble of peace around the mother so she can focus on giving birth.

Empowering mom’s voice

Doulas are a constant companion to answer questions and help the mother find her voice, literally

The sterile delivery room can be an intimidating place. Doulas are the mother’s advocate when they need to make decisions.

and figuratively, when it comes to making decisions about how she wants to deliver her child. Doctors and nurses have their formula for delivering babies. Some of their procedures may not be what the mother intended or wanted. The doula helps clarify the options and give the mom some breathing room to make her decision. Once she has made her decision, even if it strays from the original birth plan, the doula supports her.

Sister circle

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that doulas only work their magic in the delivery room. Community doulas, like Kairis, may be involved in helping the mother find living accommodations, get enrolled in Women Infant and Children’s Program, and arrange transportation to pre-natal visits or any number of issues that the mother may be facing. Doulas also work with the mothers on new born care and breast feeding support.

Who do you call?

Kairis has had the joy and weight of helping teenage mothers whose parents may not even know Puzzled woman over health insurancethey were pregnant. Could a young woman, overwhelmed at the thought of giving birth, have ever fathomed the thought of having a guardian angel like Kairis in her life?

Birthing Project USA has been central to Kairis’ education and support as a doula. Kathryn Hall, public health program advisor with the California State Department of Health Services, founded the The Birthing Project in 1988 in Sacramento. Her work has blossomed into the nationwide Birthing Project USA.  BPusa is now international with ties to projects in Malawi, Ghana, Cuba, and Honduras.

I know Kairis would love to be a full time doula. Although, there are probably times when she feels like the work is full time, she actually is a braid artist transforming a head of hair into a work of art. If you feel a calling to become a doula, need to learn about the doula program or know someone who could benefit from a doula, you can contact Kairis through email at

  • tesspowell

    What a lovely story! I never heard of this position either and one would think the father could fulfill that role. But as a man & mostly likely having to work hard, I can see where having a female doula would be an assets. Thanks for sharing this with us Kevin. Nice to know about your talents Kairis!

    • Kevin Knauss

      I was similarly enlightened as well. We all live in our little world thinking everyone shares the same access to services, family support or community resources. The broader picture that I would like to address in a later post is the connection of healthy moms, healthy positive deliveries, happy families, and the role they play in creating healthy sustainable communities. Like Kairis mentioned, young adults will always give more respect to their elders that were present or helped deliver and raise them.

  • Beth

    Forwarding to my good Doula friend..
    For the record, my first choice for both of my own deliveries would have been an in-home midwife and doula assisted birth. But because my insurance covers hospitalized births but not home births–which in my calculations cost about the same as the first four hours in the hospital–I delivered in hospitals instead of at home. THIS is part of the problem of insurance managed health care. What other cost sensitive decisions are being made by insurance companies, public or private, that should be made between the doctor and the patient?

    • Kevin Knauss

      Wouldn’t it be novel if the focus shifted from corporate delivery of babies to an emphasis of embracing the mother and family. As long as maternity services remains a profit center on corporate balance sheets I fear we will never change the tide.

  • Beth

    Indeed. For what it’s worth, the Sutter Davis Women’s Health Center is a great resource for expecting moms and made for a much better second delivery–most likely because of all the midwives and doulas on staff. :^)

  • Jeannette Bryant

    Having a knowledgeable friend in the maternity room where a laboring woman is the most vulnerable to all suggestions, is most desirable. Emotions are as high as are the expectations, so someone with a cool head, and a loving, caring heart is just what the doctor ordered.