As a new business in the birthing community here in Bellingham, it has been a pleasure and honor to be embraced by other local birth professionals and businesses. I feel so grateful that not only has Glow Fitness been included, but we're also becoming a resource for other businesses and their clients. One birth professional here in Bellingham who has become someone that I trust and respect is Christi Banks of Natural Birth Offerings Doula Services. Not only does she serve women in Bellingham as a Doula, but she also provides childbirth education, aromatherapy during labor and delivery, placenta preparation, and postpartum services.
I recently had the pleasure of asking Christi a few questions about being a Doula, and here's what she had to say.
1-What exactly is a Doula, and what services do they typically provide?
Doulas are usually women (though we have one amazing male doula here in Whatcom County), who are trained in supporting women through pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum stages.
The most common Doula is the Labor/Birth Doula. She meets with her client during the pregnancy where they discuss options and prepare a birth plan for birth. During labor, the Doula comes to the client whether at home or at their birth location and assists in physical comfort measures, emotional encouragement, helping partners and family understand the labor, and in the event that decisions need to be made, the Doula will help the client navigate her options and ask questions of the care provider so she can make informed choices.
Postpartum Doulas come in after the baby arrives. She comes to the client’s home to help troubleshoot breastfeeding and/or bottle feeding challenges, assists the mother in her physical recovery after birth, helps guide her through any postpartum mood disorders, provides resources to the new family based on their needs, helps new parents understand their baby, and even assists with household duties such as meal planning & preparation and cleaning tasks.
2-Why would having a Doula be better than having a close supportive family member as a birth coach?
Family members can be an amazing comfort to many women, however their roles can be pretty limited. Doulas are experts in birth, which can take an infinite number of paths. We are prepared for unexpected changes and the many variations, able to quickly switch gears and adapt. This is not always as easy for a family member due to the lack of training and experience, along with their emotional investment in the laboring woman. Sometimes that emotional connection can be more stressful than helpful to the laboring woman. Having a Doula present frees up the family so they can support in the capacity which works best while leaving the details up to the Doula.
3-How do you make the birthing process comfortable for those who are around me, as well as myself?
A Doula is sort of the Liaison of the labor room. She should never replace or upstage your partner or family, but rather enhance everyone’s experience. As a Doula my first priority is making sure you are fully supported. That is why you hired me right? Typically this means I am giving your partner suggestions to help as needed so he/she can be your pillar of primary support. I am the second set of hands, the gopher, the observer. Sometimes this can include making suggestions to keep those around you busy with small tasks to help you, so they feel like they are being productive as well.
My role is to be aware of what the care team is saying and doing. From there, I help everyone in the room understand what is being discussed. I can interpret the medical jargon and help explain if and why there could be a concern or the reasoning behind a suggested change in labor plan. In the event of a necessary medical intervention, I provide comfort to everyone in the room by making sure everyone knows the “why” of what is happening. Once they understand the “why”, I help facilitate more conversation directly between you and your care provider so you can feel confident and fully informed. This helps your support team feel confident and less worried as well.
4-What is unique about your style of birth coaching? What experiences have you had that contributes to your skills as a Doula?
Years of experience and complete unbiased support. I have no agenda when it comes to what birth “should” be. Over the years I’ve attended close to 100 births and no two are alike. No one style of birth is superior. Every woman has different needs, and I recognize the importance of meeting a woman where she is and helping create the birth plan best suited to her own comfort levels. It does not matter to me if you are planning a natural water birth at home, or if you plan to get an epidural at the hospital as soon as they will admit you. It is not my job to talk you out of what you want. My job is to provide you with accurate, unbiased, evidence-based information so you feel totally confident in your decisions. Only then can a woman feel free to let go of everything and trust her Doula.
My unbiased support comes from witnessing just about every birth scenario out there. I’ve supported natural births at home, Birth Centers and hospitals. I’ve supported hospital transfers. I’ve supported planned epidurals and planned cesareans. I’ve supported births where everything goes perfectly to plan, and I’ve been there when absolutely nothing goes according to plan and women experience trauma.
I can never guarantee birth outcomes. Only the baby controls labor. I don’t view interventions, epidurals and cesareans as failures. If anything, going through interventions when they weren’t planned makes women even stronger. I don’t judge birth.
5-What inspired you to train to become a Doula?
I have been a caregiver since I was a child. I befriended the unpopular kids at school. I volunteered at any opportunity. I opened my home to people who needed a place to stay. I still provide meals and household items to people who are down. I have a giving and nurturing nature and have literally given the shirt off my back.
So when I became pregnant, a switch flipped. Birth became all-consuming in my world. I read and researched so much during my pregnancy that I didn’t learn a thing I didn’t already know in my 12-week birth class. From there, I decided to become a childbirth educator. Slowly, more and more of my students were asking me to attend their labors so I moved on to take a doula training.
My involvement in birth work has naturally progressed. It sounds cliché but Doula work is just something I was called to.
6-Is a Doula available only during labor and delivery, or do they also provide pre/postnatal care as well?
Doulas absolutely offer pre/postnatal support. Some women need additional support during pregnancy. There could be real fears of complications with the baby, lack of understanding how birth works, previous sexual abuse causing stress about the pregnancy and birth…so many reasons women need someone to talk to. Care providers aren’t always able to really talk women through these things in preparation for labor.
Postnatally, Doulas come to your home and help you navigate all the changes and challenges which can arise with a new baby. Care providers can only do so much for you once baby arrives. During appointments, they can try to talk about what to expect and how to troubleshoot, but then you are on your way. Doulas are there to help show you how to do things in person. Hands on help.
Doulas fill in the gaps between care providers and research from home.
7-If a woman already has a midwife, does she still need a Doula?
Absolutely! In fact all of our local midwives encourage women to hire a Doula. Even though midwives are generally present for more of the labor than an OB may be, their primary responsibility is making sure mother and baby are safe and healthy, versus hands-on constant support.
Midwives have a tough job. While a women is in labor, she has other women who still need her. She may have to leave the room to check on lab work, return client calls, reschedule appointments to remain with you, complete charting, and other technical requirements on her plate.
In addition to your midwife’s duties, quite often she has been up all day tending to women before labors begin at night. She may even attend back-to-back labors on very little sleep. Midwives sometimes need to leave the room for little cat naps during your labor so they can be rested enough to provide adequate care.
Doulas help fill the gap here. Because they are birth professionals, they provide support when the midwife can’t be in the room.
8-Can Doulas be present for all types of births (birth center, home birth, or hospital birth)?
Doulas do attend all types of births. There are a few doulas who choose to attend only hospital or only out of hospital births due to their comfort levels but the majority of doulas are versatile in all environments. Here in Whatcom County we are lucky that doulas are welcomed in all birth locations for any type of birth choice.