Diary of a Canberra doula: navigating a different approach to birth
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Diary of a Canberra doula: navigating a different approach to birth

Friends are a bit too easily rattled. Sisters are perhaps a little inexperienced. Partners, too involved. Your mum? They've been there, done that and damn, they won't shut up about it. Sometimes, when you’ve got new life tearing its way out of you, what you need is a stranger. Someone emotionally unattached. You need a doctor, a midwife and ... a doula?

A doula is a non-clinical birth coach who provides emotional and physical support to mothers and partners during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.

Canberra doula Mirabai Rose is now providing doula training to women.

Canberra doula Mirabai Rose is now providing doula training to women.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

It's considered a "lay profession" and practitioners earn between $800-$2500 per birth. It's this non-clinical aspect which Canberra doula Mirabai Rose believes is key to the practice.

"We're supporting people at the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual level. The word 'doula' means 'to mother the mother', it also means 'woman servant'. So we provide that classic mothering for the birth mother," says Rose, who worked as a doula for 11 years and now runs doula training courses.

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Every doula's approach is different.

Rose carries out "birth mapping" to prepare a mother for birth. In this rapport-building process, "most of the work is done".

The word 'doula' means 'to mother the mother', it also means 'woman servant'.

Canberra doula Mirabai Rose

"It's about establishing what resources are required for the couple to have the labour they want. This means looking at the inner resources of the mother and the tools she needs, including breathing, relaxation, affirmation, positioning, movement and also her emotional and mental wellness."

"If we're working with a partner, they're a team, so we're looking at what resources they need in order to support the mother. So whether they need help to learn massage, or breathing, or birthing education.

"The birth preparation is about what values are important to the couple, and how the doula can help them meet these values during birth."

Mirabai Rose is a local doula, she aids women in the birthing process and trains other women to do the same.

Mirabai Rose is a local doula, she aids women in the birthing process and trains other women to do the same.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

For those who have brought a child into the world, you might twitch at the thought of someone telling you to "relax" during one of the most physically arduous moments of your life.

Rose says it's less about the physical process and more about creating an emotional experience for the mother and welcoming a child "without fear".

"We know we cannot control the process, but we're working on the mother's responses to the process and the kind of experience which is most valuable to her."

"Whether she has a caesarean, a birth at home, on the side of the road or on a train, that's not the particular goal the doula is working toward. It's about how they want to be feeling at the end of the day."

So why are some opting for a doula when they have the assistance of a midwife and perhaps a family member or friend?

Midwives have a very important role but it's not the role of the doula. The roles are quite complementary.

"Many people think 'Oh my family, my midwife can do that', but that's not the case, midwives have a very important role but it's not the role of the doula. The roles are quite complementary."

"The midwife will monitor the vitals of the mother and baby and so forth, but the doula will be with the mother the whole time, when the midwife is in and out.

Mirabai Rose became a doula because of her interest in supporting women to embrace their birth experience.

Mirabai Rose became a doula because of her interest in supporting women to embrace their birth experience.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"The doula is also different to the mother's mother or friend because they're not emotionally attached. Doulas aren't bringing their own fears and trauma into the birthing process, they've had the time and experience to work on that."

The doula experience is not for everyone.

"There's a tremendous amount of misinterpretation about doulas, which is a shame. It's seen as a hippy thing, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not a hippy thing. It's practical and purposeful. And women feel empowered, supported and held."

"People are often critical of something they don't understand. I've never had someone understand the doula practice and then be critical. Once they get it, they get it."

Perhaps some of this scepticism stems from it not being a regulated industry in Australia.

Christa Buckland from Doula Network Australia, the largest national group of doulas in Australia, estimates that 1000 doulas operate nationally, but that it's "impossible" to know.

When I witness a woman going through this transformation, it's a tremendous honour.

Many train as doulas out of personal interest and development, without progressing to work as a doula. The ones who do progress into the field end up working part-time or very occasionally.

She says this is the case for approximately 80 per cent of trained doulas. This pattern has also been observed in Rose's training.

Eleven years after starting in the field, she's still in the game because of her deep interest in supporting women to embrace their birth experience.

"When I witness a woman going through this transformation, it's a tremendous honour. I'm not scared of the rawness of her experience. It feels so real, it's one of the most authentic things you'll ever witness. It's powerful.

"There's not one aspect of me that wants to rescue her from it."

Serena Coady is a lifestyle reporter at The Canberra Times

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