Grandmothers, Aunts, Sisters, Nieces, Mothers – all women would have once, traditionally been called on to attend a birth and help with a delivery. In essence, they were serving as Doulas long before the phrase was coined. Today, Doulas in Ireland are becoming increasingly popular in both the labour ward and as a post-partum service. The term Doula has only been in use since the mid-seventies but the word has its origins in Ancient Greece and refers to a woman who personally serves another woman. A Doula is not a midwife and does not make any medical decisions. Instead, she provides a woman with unconditional support – both emotionally and physically during labour. Giving birth is the most monumentally life-changing event that there is and ‘a doula is a woman’s ally in the labour ward’ says Bridget Sheeran SRN, RM, MSc Midwife ‘a Doula gets to enhance the experience and share in the profound privilege at being present at a birth.’ Hospitals are very busy places and with increasingly limited resources, staff, midwives and the obstetrical team are often stretched and busy with more than one labouring woman at a time. Often the nurse or mid-wife in attendance is primarily engaged with monitoring the labour, making notes on charts and all the while being on call for a number of other women and so does not have a lot of time for hands-on care. A ‘Doula will provide a continuous presence and offer praise, encouragement, counter-pressure physical contact, reassurance and companionship.’ Bridget Sheeran, midwife and homeopath from Baltimore, is now offering ‘the first Doula course to be available outside of Dublin’. Bridget, a known pioneer and active campaigner for women’s birth rights and freedom of birthing choice, was thrilled with the success of her over-subscribed pilot Doula course. ‘The course is an intensive two day course which covers all aspects of becoming a Doula ranging from the concept of birth as a journey, the physiology of pregnancy, labour and birth, pain coping techniques, massage , and effective communication skills’. Bridget follows the ‘Birthing from Within’ philosophy whose mission is to ‘inspire and teach expecting and new parents to co-create prenatal care that is informative, transformative, and builds a foundation for birthing in awareness’. The exploration into whether you have what it takes to become a Doula, begins in Bridget’s unique and custom made ‘walk-in’ labyrinth. ‘The idea is for the Doula to see if she is the type of person who can be the woman to support another woman through the maternity and birthing process.’ The Labyrinth, built from stones carried by children and women whose births Bridget has attended in her capacity as Midwife, is ‘a symbolic pathway with one way in and one way out. Prospective Doulas need to follow the twists and turns as they would follow the twists and turns of labour as they help their client negotiate through the physical and emotional side of labour. All the while, the Doula in training has to bear in mind that it is vital to let the woman decide her own path.’ Bridget, herself a mother of four sons, is passionate about holistic and gentle births which benefit the wellbeing of both mother and child. Research has shown the ‘benefits of a having a Doula who you know and trust, reduces labour time, increases breastfeeding success and reduces postnatal infections.’ Doulas by extension, offer great support to dads-to-be as well. It is still a fairly recent development that Dads have been invited into the maternity wards and tasked with the enormity of being responsible for providing uninterrupted emotional and physical support, guidance and encouragement to their partners. Some men are overwhelmed when faced with medical terminology or medical advice relating to delivery or if a birth-plan is interrupted or not as straightforward as planned. In this instance, Doulas who are well versed in labour jargon and procedure can interpret the advice of the medical team and offer explanations, suggestions and support. Bridget, who did her MSc thesis on women travelling long distances from home to hospital during labour, says that ‘having a Doula present in the car on the journey is an advantage too as the Doula and the woman can sit together in the back seat (which is much more spacious for someone in labour) and the Dad can focus on driving safely instead.’ Bridget works as a Family Health Practitioner in West Cork and offers a variety of services to mums and mums-to-be. Her Antenatal preparation and Aquanatal classes are very well subscribed as is her Baby Talk sessions which are held in Skibbereen and cover a host of topics. Bridget also offers Birth Debriefing for ‘women of all ages needing to heal their experience of giving birth or specific trauma from pregnancy and afterwards.’ The communication skills that Bridget uses are based on ‘compassionate giving’ otherwise known as NVC (non-violent communication) from the work of Marshall Rozenberg. The Doula course encompasses the same ethos and is ‘about women finding resources within themselves to help other women.’ Women considering doing the Doula course as a change of career or even just for personal development and growth can get more information by visiting Bridget’s website at www.bridgetthemidwife.com . As Carmel from Caheragh says, ‘I have four daughters and would love to do the Doula course as at some stage I may be needed during one of my girls’ labours and I would like to be useful and not just stand there like a spare tyre in the place.’
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