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After experiencing an alarming amount of injustice as a working mother, I found myself being called to work as a childbirth educator and doula. My passion lies in educating women about how incredible they are, the amazing things their bodies are capable of, how to trust their intuition and how to exercise their rights as mothers in the workplace.

Before you dismiss this article as a fluff piece about how beautiful birth is and how we all must avoid pain medication to get the full effect of its splendor, please understand that this piece is about the specific and critical role a doula plays in childbirth.

Doulas know about the unknown.

Do you know the changes your body experiences when you become pregnant? Do you know what your placenta does, where it comes from, or what happens to it after your baby is born? Do you know what babies are capable of in utero? Do you know that labor has three stages? Do you know that some women don’t feel the pain of childbirth? Do you know how maternity leave works, or what happens if your baby is born early and has to stay in the NICU for longer than your maternity leave lasts? Do you know everyone keeps saying that “breast is best”?

There are so many unknowns already when it comes to childbirth and motherhood, but it’s incredibly sad how little we as women are told about these life-changing occurrences before actually experiencing them firsthand. I believe that by not educating ourselves about what we are capable of (whether or not we plan to have children one day), we are disempowering ourselves and each other.

Think about it.

By not understanding how pregnancy affects sleep, how can we truly support our exhausted coworker in the cubicle across the walkway? By not understanding how physically challenging childbirth is, how can we truly support our sister who has just given birth? By not understanding all of the effort breastfeeding requires, how can we truly support our friend experiencing challenges with providing nourishment for her baby?

Ladies, we need each other. We need to empower each other in ways we’ve never empowered each other before. We need to do more than compliment someone’s shoes or praise someone for losing ten pounds before her wedding day. We need to honor one another for conquering all of the hardship we face daily at our schools, jobs and homes. We need to respect one another for continuing to persevere in spite of discrimination and inequality. And we need to empower those of us who have become mothers and must deal with all of those challenges while also raising society’s newest members. Those new members of society will be change makers one day, after all.

Doulas empower their clients.

All of this empowering and respecting — that’s what doulas do. Doulas educate, encourage and support pregnant women as they experience bringing new life into our shared world. They comfort women during their pregnancies and support them physically and emotionally as they labor for hours, sometimes days, before actually giving birth to their baby.

Doulas help mothers afterward as well by visiting them in their homes and assisting them with breastfeeding. If she’s a postpartum doula, she cooks for her clients, tidies up their houses for them and keeps an eye on their babies while they nap in the next room. She answers questions, listens to her client’s feelings and behaves in the way we should all behave toward one another — as sisters, always by each other’s side.

I chose to become a doula because there have been many times in my life that I have felt disempowered. I used to feel scared, objectified, unworthy, hopeless, disliked, incapable of doing anything truly worthwhile. Then I became a mom and realized all that I was capable of. I was capable of growing a baby, giving birth to a baby, nourishing a baby with my own body and comforting a baby for years and years and years all the way into adulthood. I was capable of endless amounts of love. I was capable of standing up for myself and for my family. But most of all, I was capable of finally loving and respecting myself as a person. I finally felt worthy of life and love and happiness.

To be clear, while pregnancy and childbirth are what evoked these revelations, it wasn’t gaining the title of “mother” that did all of this for me. It was realizing my strength. Until she has given birth, a mother cannot truly know how powerful she is. She can’t picture it or truly practice beforehand. She has to prepare herself for every possible scenario, and she has to educate herself on the incredible amount of options she has and the potential decisions she may have to make. There is so much more to giving birth than just feeling contractions and pushing a baby out.

That’s where a doula comes in. A doula is very knowledgeable about pregnancy and childbirth. Some, like me, are childbirth educators and work as both birth doulas and postpartum doulas. Others are on the midwifery track, and others simply have a lot of life experience in the birth world and use their skills to help other women with their own birth experiences. One thing is for sure, though, no one continues to be a doula unless they are truly passionate about it.

Doulas are dedicated.

A work shift for a doula can be 48 hours long with no breaks. It could start at 2 a.m. and last until 7 p.m. two days later. Or a laboring mother could have her baby in a record-setting half hour before her doula has even finished loading all of her labor comfort tools into the car. The work is never predictable, and she is always on call. Her motto is, “If I’m not at a birth, I’ll totally be able to attend your [insert event here].” Everything in her life revolves around her pregnant clients and their unknown timelines. Due dates are really just guess dates, and nothing, not one thing, can be planned for or predicted when it comes to birth.

So what exactly does a birth doula do when her client goes into labor? A birth doula primarily provides love and support for her client while doing her best to make sure her client’s birth intentions are always at the forefront. Seriously. That may sound a bit flowery, but what more could a mother need when in the throes of laboring for hours on end? A doula provides that love and support through massage, aromatherapy, reciting birth affirmations, helping her client get into a rhythm of swaying and breathing, recommending new positions, dimming the lights, filling the tub, changing the water temperature and by adjusting the thermostat.

She provides that love and support by holding a straw in her client’s mouth, repeatedly rewetting a cool washcloth and placing it on her client’s neck, applying heat to her client’s lower back, holding the birth ball steady, propping her client up in the shower, blocking unwanted spectators, changing the song on the playlist, brushing her client’s hair out of her face and tidying up the birth space while her client rests.

She provides that love and support by standing in her client’s partner’s place while he or she eats a quick meal, taking photos if asked, asking the parents if they’d like a moment to discuss what their care provider has told them about a decision they have to make, answering questions about interventions, staying strong when her client is weak, staying in the room throughout multiple nurse shift changes, texting and calling curious family members with updates, rolling her client’s IV stand to the bathroom as she pees for the 100th time and diffusing any tension that may present itself if things become stressful.

Doulas have a positive impact on birth outcomes.

A doula is an all-knowing guide whose main goal is to protect and empower the mother who has trusted her to be by her side no matter what happens. Studies have shown that women who have a labor doula with them during labor and childbirth have shorter labors, have less of a need for medication to augment labor, are less likely to request pain medications, are less likely to have emergency cesarean sections and are more likely to be satisfied with their birth experience. Studies have also shown that women who have social support during the postpartum period tend to have less postpartum depression, breastfeed for a longer duration and make a better adjustment to parenthood overall. Isn’t it amazing that one woman supporting another woman can result in so many beneficial outcomes? Love and kindness are two very powerful things, and girl power is the real deal.

If you would like a doula at your birth but feel that it’s probably not feasible because you’re on a tight budget, rest assured that you still have options. Seek out doulas in your area that are still in training, as they typically provide reduced rates. If you feel more comfortable asking a certified doula to attend your birth but can’t afford their fees, ask if you can set up a payment plan to break the fee into smaller portions and pay over time. Interview a few doulas to find the one that’s best suited to you and your personality and needs, and ask them about their payment options. Don’t forget to see if your insurance company will reimburse you for your doula, some do and it’s definitely worth asking about.

Doulas are passionate about what they do. The firmly believe that every woman deserves to be fully supported  as she is birthed into motherhood. They aren’t just for crunchy mamas or women attempting to birth without the use of pain medications, they are for everyone.