There has been a huge increase in American mothers choosing to use midwives and doulas before, during, and post childbirth. In ancient Greek, doula means “a woman who serves.” The demand for doulas is on the rise, as well as having a natural childbirth which has then brought the increase of more midwives being involved. So what’s the difference? Do you need one? I had the pleasure of sitting down with my dearest friend, doula, artist, and pasta-making extraordinaire, Lauren Schwichtenberg, to help with these questions many women and their partners are asking today.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became a doula.
I was never interested in the birthing process. I thought it was beautiful, a true miracle, but never was interested. A few years ago, I was sitting at work - I was a writer - and I asked myself, where could I really connect with people. I was by myself the majority of my working time, which was lonely and not very life-giving. I wanted to be a support to someone, to help people feel strength and courage in their most vulnerable moments. Going to sleep that very night, I had this vivid dream. I was at a birth with a woman. She was sweating, screaming. and her mom was next to her. The doctor was there and then there I was right next to her, supporting her. I had the dream again the next night. After that week, I started to research birth work where I lived. I found a few blog posts and websites about doulas, which I had heard about but didn’t fully understand. I read more, and discovered that this was exactly what I wanted to do. You get to come in as this powerhouse and force of knowledge for people in their most vulnerable moments. I immediately signed up for a doula training class and began.
Having so many years of experience as a doula, could you describe the difference between a doula and a midwife?
A doula is a non-medical support person. They do work in tandem with midwives, who do all the medical care. There are so many rules and regulations around midwives that they are basically bound to the same codes as doctors.
More people are really looking for more of a natural approach to their birth. This is where a doula would come in - they are in the room with you, they know what’s going on, but they’re not your midwife who is doing all the medical processes. You could be in your home or at a hospital in labor for hours, and normally the midwife or doctor can’t be there the entire time with you. The doula is there through everything.
They have the training to know what’s going on during the labor process, how the birth is going, and to advocate on your behalf for what you and your partner need.
People don’t realize that there is a chunk of time where the midwife can’t be with you, so the doula is there with answers and support. It could look like helping you take a walk, getting you food or water, focusing on your breath, or giving you a back massage. They are also really, really important to the partner in the room. If you have a good doula, they can empower the husband or the partner to be the main support system, because the doula is there to support both people, not be the main support of the woman.
When the midwife is in the room, the partner can sometimes feel awkward and out of place. The doula can make sure the partner is feeling comfortable, that they understand this is THEIR child being born, and they don’t miss any experience in the room. There are so many different experiences you can have with a midwife. It’s important to sit down and discuss when they will be with you during the birthing process, what their process of birth looks like, and so on.
How does the midwife and doula work together during labor?
I have to be sensitive to the environment of whoever is in the room. Sometimes that means I need to be in the shadows while I let the midwife work, and sometimes they want me to be very involved during the birth. I like to work in tandem and have a relationship with the midwife during labor. The only time I step up for the woman is when there is something that’s not happening that I know the woman desires, and if she’s too tired I can speak for her.
How would you talk with someone who’s potentially wanting a doula or midwife?
There are so many benefits of getting a midwife, and that should be decided with you and your partner. Getting a doula is going to be an added cost in most people’s minds. What I know is the people who have had doulas that I’ve worked with have seen this huge addition to their labor experience. Especially for first-time parents. There are so many questions, so many things that happen during labor, and it’s so beneficial to have a person who is neutral in the room, who can walk both people through the process. It’s also so helpful that a doula is someone who isn’t family and isn’t there to give their opinion, but to be completely unattached and committed to what the woman and partner wants. Someone who can be your mouth and talking point between your desires and nursing staff and midwife. A lot of times you’ll be so tired you have no idea how to express what you need.
It has the potential to be a chaotic environment, so the doula is the grounding person for you. Your advocate. Your support. Your guide.
The biggest thing I’m realizing is that the doula is there for the mother and for the partner. Whether your partner is a woman or man, that person almost always feels like they don’t have a place in the labor room. But this is their child, too. The partner has a place and a voice in the labor room, and the doula gets everyone involved. New life is coming into the world, so let’s all be fully into it.
The doula is someone who can bring the partner in and say, hey, this massage will help her - or this oil is made to relax her. We can make her feel beautiful and feel strong. It’s so important that both people are having a good experience, because once the baby comes into the world, they both are ready to be involved together, as parents. This is a miracle that’s happening. It can be hard and peaceful all at the same time, and if you have a good doula there - they can empathize and empower both people. I know birth hurts, but you have the ability to do this. Your body was made to do this. Let’s do this together.
Photos by Eun Creative