Meet a Doula
We were very excited to get the opportunity to speak to Shoshana Maurer who is an experienced Doula working in London. We wanted to be able to share her wisdom and also educate couples about the support that is available for them during pregnancy and birth.
What is the role of a doula?
A Doula is a person that supports women and couples through pregnancy and birth. At a time when midwives are often stretched running between various women giving birth, a Doula is a calming constant presence from beginning to end. She becomes the labouring woman’s advocate and voice, and protects her from all surrounding noise and chaos at a time when she needs to focus most in a place of quiet and calm.
Why would I choose to have a doula?
A Doula helps empower women to believe their bodies were designed for this task and they should therefore embrace birth rather than fear it. The more they relax into it, the more naturally the body will open up. What’s critical is to help women/couples achieve the birth they want. Too many women still have the preconceived idea that if they don’t have the perfect textbook natural birth, they have already failed as women and mothers. Nonsense! My role is to support the mum’s choice and help her to achieve a positive birthing experience so she looks back with pride and not horror! If it’s an epidural she wants, that is her absolute prerogative to do so. A Doula is NOT a medical professional. I work in partnership with midwives and doctors and respect their medical knowledge and professionalism. A Doula is unable to perform examinations or any other clinical task. I will help communicate with the medical staff to ensure my clients have all the information they need to make calm informed decisions throughout their birth.
How will my partner feel if there is a doula at the birth?
Having a Doula take enormous pressure off the partners as it allows them to have someone there to protect and support them too, as well as their birthing partner.
I’m particularly sensitive to partners as it’s essential they’re not made to feel like a third wheel in the room. At the end of the day, it’s not my baby but theirs and they should be able to experience this powerful and raw shared experience together. I allow them breathing space if they need a break – as well as the confidence that I will step in doing the jobs they might feel they can’t.
It’s very hard watching their partners in pain – as well as feeling redundant - and the comfort of having someone with calm and experience helping both is enormous.
How do women benefit by having a doula?
If a woman is giving birth at an NHS hospital, she’s likely to meet a huge number of midwives along her antenatal journey. Some will get to know her but most won’t just due to the sheer volume of patients they meet.
The midwife who walks into her room day or night has no idea of her fears and anxieties, or the type of birth she wants to achieve. She may be coming off a 10-hour previous shift and is already exhausted. The privilege of having a Doula is consistency - that one person who will get to know everything about her as a woman and her partner as a couple.
So many women – and men - carry fear and anxiety about their birth journey – questions come up such as ‘What if I can’t do it/what if I fail myself as a woman not being able to have a natural birth/what if I poo/what happens if my partner faints or is scared of hospitals/what if I tear badly and my sex life is ruined afterwards/what if I can’t breast feed/how will I overcome medical staff touching me if I’ve been abused/ what if I want to choose an elective caesarean’ and the list goes on.....
My role as an experienced Doula is to answer all those questions, be there to empower and protect them as much as possible - and to advocate that they will try to achieve as much of their wished experience as possible.
How do you work differently to other doulas and what is the process?
I pride myself on building up really good relationships with my clients and will often stay in touch up to a year afterwards answering baby/toddler questions, continuing my line of support. Many couples are from abroad or don’t have family support so it’s essential to be there for them.
I offer three stages of support to couples;
Positive birthing takes positive mental preparation. Birth can make many women feel vulnerable and insecure so preparation is important. After an initial introductory meeting, I will meet clients for at least 3 or 4 antenatal preparation sessions, often starting in the second or third trimester. We’ll have as many meetings as they need, as well as lots of phone calls to stay connected and answer any of their questions in between.
These sessions last a couple of hours and we discuss any individual health or emotional concerns they may have, and we work together on their birth plan. We’ll focus on the kind of birth journey she and her partner choose, and discuss the options to try and achieve this. I will offer help with breathing techniques and give guidance on the various options of pain relief, as well as focus on birthing positions.
It is very important to remember that as much as we plan our births, things don’t always go to plan. We might not necessarily get the birth pool we desperately want, or the labour to go as quickly as we want. Surrendering is sometimes the hardest but most healing challenge and positive mental preparation will help.
I will be on-call from weeks 38-42 of the pregnancy. As soon as my client goes into labour, I will either go to their home and labour with them there for as long as possible, or meet at their chosen hospital.
Women/couples often don’t know when ‘it’s time to go in’ so I will advise and give guidance. I will remain with them until the baby is born and offer constant reassurance and positive energy. I will respect their privacy and dignity and do whatever I can to help make them feel calm, safe and secure.
Once the baby is born, I will ensure they have plenty of precious skin to skin time so they may bond with their baby, with as little disturbances as possible from hospital staff. In the event of a home birth, all the same apply.
After the birth, I will assist them at home with feeding (breast or bottle), show how to change nappies or bath the baby - or give emotional support. Talking and evaluating the birth is very important and therapeutic.
We can discuss any health concerns they may have and can refer them to a number of practitioners who are specialised in maternal and childcare issues, as well as good alternative care therapists.
Why did you decide to become a doula?
After having 5 of my own kids – and being fortunate enough to have great pregnancies and mostly natural births – it wasn’t a choice of career I even thought about.
I was trained as a fashion buyer and started off my career as a fashion stylist at Selfridges for 10 years.
A friend having a baby asked me to accompany her to her birth as she wanted someone super calm and experienced. I instantly fell back in love with the birth process and decided to become a Doula to help empower and nurture other women. Educating women and couples about their pregnancy and birth journey, as well as supporting them through it is my greatest joy.
The mix of people I meet is fantastic and being invited into someone’s most intimate and raw life experience is beyond incredible and an amazing privilege.
How has Covid-19 affected your work?
Immensely! Due to the current hospital guidelines, most hospital trusts are not allowing Doulas into the hospitals due to the risk of infection.
So all the antenatal sessions have been done on Zoom or in client’s gardens – as well as the postnatal sessions – but most frustratingly we cannot be there at the births. For me on a basic human level, it’s extremely hard as I feel I’m not doing my job properly and fulfilling my commitment. Couples come to you as they want the support – particularly at the birth – and you cannot give it to them. Phone and video calls have sufficed but it’s not quite the same!
I feel quite strongly that the antenatal care is an integral and important part of the pregnancy and birth preparation process as knowledge is key – the stronger a client is mentally prepared, the better her birth experience will be. So whether we do it in person or over Zoom hasn’t really affected that.
To find out more and work directly with Shoshana please go to her website www.ukdoula.com or visit her Facebook page PUSHbyShoshana.