Women who are preparing to give birth can have questions about what resources are available to them during the most vulnerable and empowering time of their lives. Abigail Branch, owner of Glow Fitness, had the pleasure of interviewing a local Bellingham doula (and her older sister!), Bethany Robbins, to learn more about what exactly a doula is, what makes them so unique and necessary for a positive birthing experience, and more.
1-What exactly is a Doula, and what services do they typically provide?
"Doula" is Greek for servant, and that's exactly what I am: primarily a servant to laboring mothers and their partners. This means I wear a lot of hats. My job varies quite a bit from birth to birth. Depending on the particular needs and wants of each mama, I am an educator, an advocate, a translator, a coach, a comforter and I provided physical support. I am hired directly by my clients and work solely for them with their needs in mind. No two births are alike, because no two mamas are alike.
2-Why would having a Doula be better than having a close supportive family member as a birth coach?
First of all, I highly value the presence of close friends and/or family members during a birth. Traditionally, it was mothers, sisters and aunties who supported their loved ones in labor. That said, I am well trained to understand the process of birth as well as possible complications. I come to births with a wellspring of knowledge and confidence, having worked in hospitals, birth centers and private homes. I come with an objective point of view, fully dedicated to supporting mom in the birth she hopes to have. I continue to be an objective support person even in the face of difficulty or sudden changes in a birth plan. For some family members or friends, it can be a struggle to see their loved one in pain.
3-How do you make the birthing process comfortable for those who are around me, as well as myself?
Before labor, I educate moms on comfort techniques. We talk through labor and what works best for each stage. For example, it's wonderful to use a laboring tub but best not to get in until you're at least 5cm dilated. Epidurals can be wonderful tools for certain laboring mothers, but again, there's a window where they work best. I cannot and will never make a decision for a mother in labor, but I am always there to offer suggestions and try new things that I've seen work well in the past.
4-What is unique about your style of birth coaching? What experiences have you had that contributes to your skills as a Doula?
My mother is a midwife. As you can imagine, I've had lots of exposure and natural training over the years. My three homebirth experiences (all very different) gave me confidence that women were made for birth! I also walk into each laboring room with humility, knowing that the plan often changes and we must be flexible. Many people will say "All that matters is a healthy mom and healthy baby". This is absolutely true, when you take a holistic approach. In my opinion, "healthy" covers physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health. As a lay counselor, I care deeply about how women feel about their birth experience. I firmly believe that mothers should feel empowered by their births.
5-What inspired you to train to become a Doula?
My mother definitely sparked my wonder and fascination with all things birth, but it wasn't until my second was born that I felt pulled to do the work. I was living in a city with a terrible teaching hospital. Their c-section rate was over 30% and rising. I had many friends who were delivering their babies there and coming away sick and traumatized by their experiences. I could have accompanied them as a friend, but I felt led to go through training with DONA and become an official Doula. I love homebirths and the usually easier second/third/fourth time mamas, but I'm most passionate about first time moms delivering in hospitals. In my mind, they are most at risk and the bravest women I have the privilege to work with. A healthy mother is a healthy baby, family, marriage, and future. Being a Doula means I am fighting on the front lines for women's health!
6-Is a Doula available only during labor and delivery, or do they also provide pre/postnatal care as well?
Doulas are available anytime, anyplace! Honestly though, as a birth Doula, I go on-call (meaning, I do not drink alcohol or go out of town) for the 3 weeks leading up to mom's due date until 1 weeks after the baby is born. During my on-call "shift", I am available to come see mom day or night, in fact, I'm prepared to do so. I meet with clients 2-3 times throughout the pregnancy and will visit them within the week of the birth. Mothers can also hire a Post-partum Doula for more assistance and support in the months following their birth.
7-If a woman already has a midwife, does she still need a Doula?
Midwives are incredible. They are dedicated to their clients and give so much of their time and energy during labor and birth. They are solely responsible for the health and delivery of both mother and baby. That is a huge task! It often doesn't allow for the time and space for them to fully focus on mom's emotional needs. Doulas and midwives are a perfect team (much like doctor and nurse). I often visit moms early in labor. I help moms decide when it's time to go to a hospital or birth center and stay with them throughout the entire process. Although very attentive, most midwives step in and out as they have charts to fill in and other clients to attend to. If you desire constant support, a Doula is your best friend.
8-Can Doulas be present for all types of births (birth center, home birth, or hospital birth)?
Absolutely! I love attending each of those types of births for different reasons. Depending on the location, my job description changes quite a bit, but I have to say, I love them all.
Come into our Glow Fitness studio at 436 W Bakerview Rd Suite 103 to find a local Bellingham Doula near you, and educate yourself on the options you have for your birth plan!
Click here for more information on Bethany Robbins' services as a Doula in the Bellingham, WA area.