Today I had an interview with Helena from www.magrossesse.com, a Paris based on-line pregnancy magazine.
Since the Doula is still a bit of an unknown phenomenon here in Paris, Helena was interested to find out more about what it is exactly this little Doo-la is Doo-ing here in Paris, and share it with her readers....
Never one to turn down the opportunity of a photo-shoot and to wax lyrical about birth, I was more than happy to share my experiences and ideas
Do - what?
The thing is about Doulas is that their role is often underestimated and mis-understood.
The summary "emotional and psychological support" is often used to describe how the Doo-la's Do-Good, but this description often seems simply too big and too vague for people to understand.
In fact, a Doulas role is often even bigger than that; she might equally assist a woman in negotiating birth choices and decisions, everything from the highly stressful to the completely mundane (such as what to pack in her hospital bag or what songs to put on her labour playlist!)
DONA (the doula association of North America) have thankfully wrapped up the standpoint of a Doula rather exquisitely in these 5 succinct points:
1. You cannot hurt my feelings in labour 2. I won’t lie to you in labour 3. I will do everything in my power so you do not suffer 4. I will help you to feel safe 5. I cannot speak for you; but I will make sure that you have a voice and I will make sure you are heard
No more Do's and Do not's : working in partnership with women
You see, the doula isn't just a job; its a philosophy, an approach, it represents a whole different way of looking at birth - and women's rights and needs in childbirth.
A doula supports women's choice, she actively advocates for that individual woman and her full spectrum of emotional and psychological needs. The woman is central to the pregnancy and birth process. A doula sees the woman as an individual, and she celebrates that individuality. She recognises and values the enormity and the sanctity of this special period in each woman's life, and the huge effects it can have on her future identity as a a woman, and a mother.
Do Doulas belong in Paris?
The question is - with the status quo - does the doula belong in France? Where and how does this philosophy fit?
Interestingly, during the interview we discussed that there is still the dominant belief in France that the Doctor reigns as the power supreme in birth. Most French hospitals still very much operate on the idea of a hierarchy, many women feeling relatively passive or inadequately involved in their birth experience or options. But of course there are women who want something different to this...and inevitably, things are changing... but slowly.
So what does this leave a Doo-la to Do? Do I see it as a massive obstacle? Not really. Change always starts somewhere, often with only a small group of people. If I can play my small part in sharing alternative ideas, offering support to women who want something different to the 'norm', then I consider that I've played a small but important part in that transformation process....
The thing about a hierarchy is, we're not supposed to challenge it.
But someone, somewhere along the lines, always does. That's how things have always changed, and that's how things will continue to change.
Do Doulas change things?
I spoke to a woman yesterday who told me that when she had her baby in North Africa 18 years ago, she wasn't even allowed a family member in the room when she gave birth, there was just her, a midwife, and a doctor. Some of her female family members had been in the room during the labour but had been made to leave when it came to her giving birth.
It's strange, and sad for us now to think that birth would need to be somehow 'hidden,' in this way. That a woman's valuable support network would be discouraged from being there for her at such an important and vulnerable moment - to share a loving word or a offer a calming touch - perhaps when she needs it most.
From this standpoint, we have already come so far in our understanding of women's support and choices in birth, but in many other respects we still have such a long way to go.
Indeed, it sometimes seems that we still need to move mountains....
In labour rooms, homes, hospitals, birth centres, all over the world, there are mini-revolutions happening....The idea that medical profession have some kind of secret monopoly on your rights or your body in childbirth is being progressively shaken.
Medical professions are increasingly beginning to view themselves more as 'partners' in women's birth choices and experiences.
Doctors and midwife now 'share' information with women, they offer choices (which women are free to decline or accept). Authority is beginning to be interrogated and challenged, power is shared. Respect, dignity, and consent are part of the daily dialogue..
If indeed, there is still some way to go in bringing this kind of philosophy to Paris then I think that Doulas have an important role to play in this transformation.
Crucially, a Doula works for a woman, and I believe that these changes begin with the women themselves, demanding something different. If that woman has a Doula to support her in these choices, then all the better...