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
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.
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
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
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.
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 they 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 [email protected]