My knowledge of doula's (outside of Slick Woods choosing Erykah Badu to be hers) has until recently been tremendously limited. A doula’s role in the birthing process can be a mystery to those who haven’t hired one themselves—evidenced in Google's prevailing predictive searches on the subject, ‘doula vs midwife?’ and 'doula meaning'.
I reached out to birth doula and naturopath, Vaughne Geary, to find out more about what she does, why it's such an important part of the birthing process, and the joys and challenges that come with the job. In her own words, Vaughne paints a colourful and comprehensive picture of a doula's life, dispelling misconceptions and clearing up the (very distinct) difference between midwives and doulas along the way...
I have always thrived on and been energised by supporting people and naturally found myself being a soundboard for friends seeking advice growing up. During my Naturopathy degree, when I was in the depths of dry science subjects, I went searching for a more hands on, heartfelt hobby to keep me inspired and happy (as you do). I’d heard of doula’s, but it wasn’t until I studied Naturopathy that my love for women’s health and reproductive autonomy came to fruition. I read a lot, listened to podcasts and found great influence from the likes of Erica Chidi Cohen and Carriage House Birth in New York, through which I discovered the incredible depth of doula work. I knew I had hit the jackpot as soon as I signed up for my training.
Women have supported women through pregnancy, labour and the fourth trimester since the beginning of time, all around the world. Being a doula in 2019 is nothing new if you look at it that way, however we now stand beside women and their partners in a time where they face so many options and opinions regarding how and where to birth.
I get asked what the main difference between a doula and a midwife is all the time. Midwives and doulas work together to provide the ultimate care package for a birthing mothers. While midwives are medically trained to care for the mother and baby’s well being, a doula does not make any medical decisions but instead focuses on the total emotional and physical comfort of the birthing person, which can actually make the midwife's job easier, allowing for the birthing person to be wholly supported. It isn’t within a doula’s scope to perform or recommend medical procedures or intervention, however we are trained to understand each physiological and emotional stage of pregnancy, labour and placental delivery, as well as all procedures, options and interventions that may be offered by medical staff or become necessary during these stages.
The biggest misconception with doulas, I think, is that they only support women who want an all-natural birth. We advocate for women to birth in whatever manner they choose, wherever they want, and support them through every step of the way. Doula’s attend cesareans and lots of hospital births and we don’t poo-poo inductions. We are trained to support labour in its most active form, so women who seek a more natural birth will benefit from all of our knowledge and hands-on approach to finding comfort through the discomfort. However, if you are wanting a medicalised birth, we are still incredibly helpful to explain procedures, offer information and guidance, massage you, calm you and ensure you are comfortable. Doula’s hold space in all environments and work very hard to respect and protect your birth preferences.
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“When a girl is born, she is born with all the eggs she will have in her lifetime. And in those eggs, are her future daughters too, if she, and life, chooses. We live in our grandmothers womb. . Who we are today, shapes epigenetically, our daughters and granddaughters. Our choices, and the care we show not only our environment, but ourselves, our minds, our hearts...it all matters. Profoundly.” 🌹 Words that made me weep with equal amounts of awe and fear at the impact and importance of our actions towards others, ourselves and this earth - by @suburbansandcastles
For many people, hospital is a place where they feel at ease due to support from medical professionals in the rare chance that birth does not unfold as planned. A hospital environment is far more sterile and clinical than at home, providing greater distractions and interventions, which means that you have to work harder, both before and during labour, to achieve your birth outcomes. That being said, I’ve seen clients have the most empowered birth with help from thoughtful teams of midwives and obstetricians who respect the woman’s birth preferences and leave them to their own devices, given everything is progressing well. Much like what unfolds naturally at home, this allows for a woman to get in the zone, go deeper within herself and gather strength and self-belief to birth her baby.
Every birth I have attended has honestly been vastly different, which is a testament to the “birth roulette” philosophy that my teacher and doula Queen Angela Gallo coined. Every mother I have supported has had their own unique birth plan, outlook, outcome and wonderfully colourful personality that comes with us in to the birth space. One thing that never changes is the ability of each birth to make me cry my eyes out. Welcoming new life will never, ever get old. I am constantly growing and falling more deeply and madly in love with mothers and the process of birth, which is an ever-evolving learning and humbling process. Birth is a time of innate strength, empowerment and womanhood, which I feel has been hidden from many mothers and replaced by seeds of fear, doubt and compliance. The transformation of woman to mother is something to be wildly proud and appreciative of in a society that has long dismissed the importance and beauty of it.
Most women meet me and already have rough ideas about their ideal birth, however sometimes my first meeting with a client is to talk through their previous birth experience and here we often discuss what theydon’twant. I ask lots of questions in our sessions to uncover hopes and concerns from mothers, so that we can dissect and construct realistic birth preferences and also discuss the possibility of all outcomes. Whether a woman plans for a vaginal or cesarean birth, we hash out all options and I encourage my clients to plan for each scenario, so that they are informed, educated and prepared emotionally.
I’ve supported a number of women ranging from 20 to 40 years and from my personal experience, age has little to do with it. Most women’s belief and outlook towards birth stem from stories they have been told (or had hidden from them) by their own mothers and women in their lives, which can make for some interesting sessions together where we break down preconceived ideas and build them back up again. I’ve seen both physical and emotional preparation do magical things in the birth space for women of almost two decades difference in age.
If you’re after non-pharmaceutical/natural pain relievers, water works wonders for many women and can be used by sitting or standing in the shower, as well as utilising a birth pool. Movement is also really helpful, including walking, squatting, dancing or stair climbing to help the baby move down as well as keep mothers "feel good" hormones up! Massage, acupressure and TENS machines can help provide physical relief, whilst practicing mindfulness or hypnobirthing can have a powerful effect on improving a mother’s outlook towards pain whilst reducing stress and its related hormones.
The biggest challenges I face in my work is hearing how some of my clients have been spoken to and shut down by their care providers about their health or birth preferences can be extremely challenging and disappointing, and I have found myself crying with them in frustration on a number of occasions. Long labours and lack of sleep can also be a serious struggle.A thought-provoking documentary that I recommend every woman should watch is ‘The Business of Being Born’, which sheds light on the way birth has become overly managed and manipulated within the medical system.
The best advice I’ve received from other doulas is that, Collaboration is key!. Being a doula not only presents incredible clients to connect with, but also other talented and inspiring birth professionals who have so much heart, soul, humour and humility, celebrate and commiserate with you, whilst also being the best listeners and advice givers. Having a fresh pair of knickers and a toothbrush in your birth bag is also a seriously good recommendation when you are supporting a client during a long labour.
You can follow Vaughne on Instagram here.
Image by Brigette Clarke.