Giving birth can – and should – be a woman’s most precious and cherished memory. Or, it can be a painful, harrowing one that’s only dredged up when trading horror stories with other moms at play group. A bit of girl power from a midwife or doula can make all the difference.
In the modern maternity system, it’s all too easy to forget that birth is an emotional and spiritual rite of passage for women, with beeping monitors, bustling nurses and routine interventions taking the shine off what should be a positive and uplifting experience. Having a beautiful birth experience can be as easy as going back to our roots, when women relied on other women to guide and support them through childbirth. Jude Pollack, founder and director of Genesis Clinic in Johannesburg, says women should consider bringing a midwife and/or a doula onto their birthing teams. A midwife is a trained health professional who helps deliver the babies of healthy moms who’re having normal, uncomplicated, low-risk pregnancies. A doula is a skilled ‘childbirth companion’ who offers emotional and physical support to moms throughout their labour. “And together,” Jude says, “they’re a mom’s best chance of having a beautiful, safe, natural birth.”
Mom Carlyn Ferreira gave birth naturally to son Levi (4) and daughter Noa (13 months) with a midwife and doulas at her side. And both times – first a water birth at active birthing unit, Genesis Clinic in Joburg, and the second birth in her own home – the experience was “truly phenomenal”. And she credits these great birth experiences entirely to the women who supported her. Carlyn began her first pregnancy under the care of a gynaecologist, never imagining she’d have anything other than the usual hospital delivery. It was during her antenatal classes that she discovered a clinical hospital birth wasn’t her only birth option. “I realised that I wanted a more personal pregnancy and birth experience, one where I could sit and chat to my caregiver about anything, without being rushed or pressured, and later could give birth in a way that felt right for me,” she says. And thanks to midwife Karen van der Merwe and doulas Michelle Walton and Sally Baker, that’s precisely the experience Carlyn had. “Levi’s birth was so calm and positive,” she remembers. “Karen was with me constantly from the beginning of labour right to the end, guiding me through it and helping me to give birth as naturally as possible.” While her midwife was taking care of all the necessary medical checks, Carlyn’s doulas or ‘childbirth companions’ were ensuring that mom was taken care of. “They were such a wonderful support emotionally,” says Carlyn. “I was doted on by both doulas. I felt very connected to Sally, who knew exactly what I was going through; she was a quiet reassuring support, not just for me but for my husband Joe too. And after the birth, Michelle did all my postnatal visits and popped in for tea to see how I was doing.”
BENEFITS OF GIRL POWER
If you’re having a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, there are good reasons to bring a midwife and/or doula into the labour room with you, even if you’re planning a hospital birth. “Midwives and doulas play a huge role in creating a calm and supportive environment for labouring moms,” says Jude. “And when moms feel relaxed, calm and supported, their labour is quicker and easier, and they have less need of drugs and medical interventions. We also find that moms who have positive birth experiences are less likely to get postpartum depression, will bond better with their babies, and have a higher rate of breastfeeding.”
WHAT DOES A MIDWIFE DO?
“A midwife will manage your prenatal care and checks, and advise you about all aspects of pregnancy, birth and caring for your newborn,” says Jude. “She will help you deliver your baby naturally, whether in a hospital, clinic or at home, with minimal drugs or medical interventions. If needs be, she will refer you to a gynae or obstetrician. After the birth, she will see to your postnatal care and monitor baby’s progress.”
WHY YOU MIGHT WANT A MIDWIFE
- You want a more personal pregnancy and birth experience.
- You want emotional and practical support both before and after baby is born.
- You want to feel empowered and in control during the birth.
- You want a natural birth experience, where you aren’t rushed and are encouraged to give birth in a way that feels best for you, be that squatting, on all fours, or in water.
- You want minimal medical intervention, such as foetal monitoring, labour augmentation, epidurals, episiotomies, and assisted deliveries (forceps).
WHAT DOES A DOULA DO?
A doula is not a medical professional, so she can’t make any medical decisions or actually deliver the baby. What she does do though, is offer emotional support and care for the mom. “She’s rather like a mom for the expectant mom,” says Jude. “While others are focused on safely delivering baby, the doula is entirely focused on mom and her wellbeing. She looks after mom’s needs, from ensuring her favourite music is on the CD player to defending the mom’s birthing wishes if another practitioner tries to bully her into accepting unnecessary procedures. “She doesn’t replace your husband or partner, but rather offers another element of support for both parents. She’s an advocate for the mom, a nurturer, and is a constant encouraging presence during the birth.”
WHY YOU MIGHT WANT A DOULA
- You want emotional support during your pregnancy and throughout the birth.
- You want someone who’ll help both you and dad understand what is happening in pregnancy or labour, especially if complications arise.
- You want to use drug-free pain relief such as massage or relaxation techniques.
- You want someone to ensure your birthing wishes are respected, and to advocate for you during the birth, communicating with medical staff if needed.
“I tell moms who’re petrified and don’t know what to expect of their upcoming births, that it’s all about getting your mindset right from the beginning,” says Carlyn. “A midwife or a doula can help you get into that positive space before, and can keep you there throughout the birth.” Which could mean one less horror story being bandied about …
- Doulas of Southern Africa, for more information and a list of practising local doulas
- The Society of Midwives of South Africa
- Mother Instinct’s list of private midwives
- Active birthing hospital, Genesis Clinic
MIDWIVES AND DOULAS IN HOSPITALS
You don’t have to give birth at home to enjoy the support of a midwife or doula. Though still in the minority in South Africa, some progressive hospitals do allow private midwives to deliver babies, and will let doulas accompany moms and dads into the labour ward and even into the operating theatre for those moms having c-sections. Some gynaes also offer subsidiary midwife/doula services to their patients.