MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 15-Aug-14 11:55:04

Guest post: The Hackney Doula - 'What I've learnt about birth'

Bumpfest speaker Rebecca Schiller's decision to become a doula came as a surprise to her family, but - as she writes here - her work has taught her more about life than anything else she's done.

Rebecca Schiller

The Hackney Doula

Posted on: Fri 15-Aug-14 11:55:04

(15 comments )

Lead photo

'It's really important to leave our own experiences outside the door'

I could feel the raised eyebrows over the phone as I told my parents I was giving up my dream job to become a doula. Kudos to my Mum and Dad for biting back “but, but you have a Masters degree in War Studies” and instead settling for something more akin to, “that's interesting darling”.

Friends and colleagues had been waiting for my doula phase to pass for quite a while. After all, I was ambitious and - while it was understandable that the birth of my first child might distract me for a bit - I'd soon realise that there was more to life that babies, wouldn't I?

Happily they didn't hold their breaths. Whilst I've never been that interested in babies (apart from my own) I feel increasingly vocational about supporting women and their families as they make an enormous transition in their lives. I feel certain that I've learnt more in four years as a doula than in the four years of tertiary education people thought I was throwing away when my career took a new course.

Here's what I know now.

1. Good support makes for a positive pregnancy and birth

I could talk about the evidence - like this Cochrane Review of continuous support in labour - or about my own experience of being supported by my husband, midwife and doula, or what women have said in surveys and to my face, but let's take it back to basics.

Most women in the UK only give birth a couple of times in their lives. It's important, big, scary, exciting, special, overwhelming, unknown and unknowable. Choose your own adjective. Feeling alone, unsure, afraid, and as if no-one has the time or inclination to listen is not good. Having a wing-man or wing-woman (or even both) can only be a good thing.

2. My experience is not your experience

I have had two great(ish) births. I had my children at home. I have used the NHS and an independent midwife. I didn't need any intervention. I struggled with breastfeeding but eventually managed to feed my daughter for a long time and plan to do so with my son. The way I birthed and fed my babies affected how I felt about myself and shaped me as a mother.

No single choice makes someone a good, bad or indifferent person or parent, and none of us can possibly understand the complex set of circumstances or experiences that lead someone to a particular decision. My work as a doula has made me much more tolerant as I hear the backstories and witness the difficulties and triumphs of walking along the balance beam of parenting.


None of this should mean anything to you. Only you will be able to work out what is right for you. Other people's experiences can be interesting and some will even prompt you to investigate other options, but just because I did X, Y and Z and it made for a happy(ish) time, doesn't mean I know the secret formula to mothering ‘success’, and anyone who claims they do is, quite frankly, talking bollocks.

3. Everyone in the birth room brings their own baggage

While preparing to be a doula, it's really important to leave our own experiences outside the door. When we are with our clients, we focus on the here and now. It is still very, very hard to do. Midwives, obstetricians, pregnant women, sisters, mothers, friends, fathers, health visitors - everyone brings their experiences and their thoughts to a birth. Sometimes my job takes a lot of being sensitive to that. I need to be a combination of stage manager, diplomat, psychic, idiot-savant and friend, in order to be respectful to everyone's journeys and the vitally important roles they all play, whilst making sure a labouring woman feels at the centre of the universe, protected from the baggage that others bring.

4. We all judge. We shouldn't

We can't help it. Modern parenting is set up as a series of choices that, once made, pigeon-hole you in one camp or another. Attachment parenting, cry it out, breast or bottle, elective caesarean, free birth. Navigating the world of new motherhood can feel like one long AIBU thread.

Of course, it's all rubbish. No single choice makes someone a good, bad or indifferent person or parent, and none of us can possibly understand the complex set of circumstances or experiences that lead someone to a particular decision. My work as a doula has made me much more tolerant as I hear the backstories and witness the difficulties and triumphs of walking along the balance beam of parenting.

5. I'm not a natural birth or breastfeeding advocate

I started off that way, but I now think being an advocate of any one way of doing things misses the point and doesn't give women what they need: information, someone who really listens, a shoulder to cry on or a hand to high five.

6. Human rights are just as valid in childbirth

You are just the same autonomous, adult woman with a brain that you were the day before the lines appeared on your pregnancy test. Run screaming from anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.

7. Human beings are amazing

We are resilient, biologically fascinating and psychologically more complex than I ever previously thought. We are usually essentially kind, but circumstance can easily push us off course. We often don't realise our impact (for the good or the bad) on others.

I could go on, but I won't. If there's one other thing I've learnt, it's that pregnant women like to be heard more than they want to listen to streams of advice from others. And you may find pregnancy, birth and new motherhood easier if you get some good support - find someone who listens more than they talk. If you can't find that person around you already, visit Doula UK.

And my parents? I think I've won them over, but if not then at least my apprenticeship over the past years has taught me that my journey is about me and no-one else.

If you've an infant in the offing, and could use some more insider info, come to Bumpfest, Mumsnet's one-day event dedicated to all things birth and baby-related. No fuss or fluff - just the expert advice you need. And a lovely lunch, treats and try-outs - plus a goody bag packed with lovely stuff for you and your newborn.

By Rebecca Schiller

Twitter: @hackneydoula

Swex Fri 15-Aug-14 13:51:13

Good luck to you in your new career. I had a doula for my second baby. Both deliveries were premature and extraordinarily traumatic, and having the doula for the second one was a wonderful and positive experience. She was literally my lifeline, and though my husband was there at every moment she fitted in around him and didn't usurp him in any way. My doula came "on the nhs" and I only wish it was available in every hospital as I will forever be grateful to my wonderful doula.

Toria2014 Fri 15-Aug-14 19:44:40

I had a Doula for my first baby (7 weeks old now) - I gave birth at home, she was only there for about an hour before I gave birth, due to my labour being very quick, but she was instrumental in my positive birth experience, due to her care beforehand at our antenatal meetings.

She gave me the confidence and strength to trust my body and not be afraid. I would recommend a Doula to anyone, and if I ever have another child I would hire one again.

Mitchell2 Fri 15-Aug-14 20:51:09

I had a Doula for my birth (8 weeks ago). I say birth but due to circumstance I ended up with a ELCS. Regardless if the fact she wasn't there for the actual birth she was instrumental in me having a extremely positive birth experience when my planned natural birth wasn't going to happen.

The support provided and was amazing and I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone considering a Doula to get one! grin

Flowerspowers Sun 17-Aug-14 11:17:33

I am heartened to read such a careful and dedicated approach and to learn about such positive experiences of / with a doula. My experience has been disappointing to say the least. This saddens me for myself but also the other families they continue to 'support'. (A family, busy life with broken sleep precludes me from pursuing a legal case).

TeenageMutantNinjaTurtle Sun 17-Aug-14 17:23:03

Really sad to see your post Flowers. I had doulas at both of my babies and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. (the OP was my first doula *waves to Rebecca*)

I don't really have any advice or words of wisdom without the details but didn't want your post to go unacknowledged. I hope you have plenty of support and can work through whatever happened. thanks

I

RebeccaTheDoula Sun 17-Aug-14 19:41:57

Great to read such positive experiences of using a doula. Thanks for commenting everyone.

Flowerspowers I'm sorry you had such a poor experience. Do you know that Doula UK has a complaints procedure? doula.org.uk/content/doula-uk-complaints-procedure

TeenageMutantNinjaTurtle - Hi! frantically tries to work out who you are (as since I moved out of London a few of my clients have had different doulas, sob)

Flowerspowers Sun 17-Aug-14 20:48:27

Thanks. Yes I do. I I spoke with a representative of Doula UK who was very helpful. I made my complaint to the doulas directly. Their response was lies/denial and incredibly feisty. I don't have the emotional strength (it was 14 weeks ago) to take that on. I just hope they realise they messed up and won't do it again.

Are doulas regulated?

RebeccaTheDoula Sun 17-Aug-14 21:30:06

Flowerspowers those who are members of DUK are bound by code of conduct and philosophy and thus DUK has a procedure for dealing with complaints. Outside of that no, as we are deliberately lay people.

I am sorry that you didn't feel you had a good response from the doulas when you complained by glad the DUK rep was helpful. I'm sure if you wanted to re-visit it in future DUK would help. Like in every profession there are very occasional people and occasions when things don't go well and it's really important that this gets fed back.

In the meantime I wish you all the best with your new baby.

PenguinsIsSleepDeprived Sun 17-Aug-14 21:48:25

<Also waves at Rebecca> You were my doula too. Before we both skipped town.

AlpacaMyBags Mon 18-Aug-14 02:15:31

Great post. If I have another baby then DH will probably not be present as we don't have anyone to look after DS (we live abroad). I have already hypothetically lined up a doula to come and assist me.

bealos Wed 20-Aug-14 12:55:34

My doula too! hello Rebecca was really helpful during pregnancy of my second child, helping me figure out how to embrace birth differently with my new partner. Sadly she couldn't attend my birth though due to a massive snowstorm and the Margate/London distance!

I def recommend having a doula to friends and people who attend our local home birth group but am slightly worried about lots of inexperienced doulas popping up on the scene (I know, we've all got to start somewhere in a new career...) full of specific opinions and little practical experience.

bealos Wed 20-Aug-14 12:56:00

great post btw!

ithoughtofitfirst Thu 21-Aug-14 12:54:20

Very Interesting post. I don't know of anyone having used a Doula in my area. I can't imagine having anyone other than my husband or mother with me but your post has made me understand the concept a bit better. With my first child the only interaction I had with anyone in labour was when it was time to push. However I can imagine having a Doula helpful if you were using hypnobirthing techniques to keep you calm and focused.

squizita Thu 21-Aug-14 14:26:48

Bealos interesting what you say about inexperienced Doulas. I read a "good birth story" which scared and concerned me about this issue. A woman who had felt her 1st birth marred by panicky HCP intervening too quickly. Her 2nd, at home, with a doula, happened so fast the midwife was en route ... The doula panicked and pulled the baby, causing a tear! Which the doula then said not to stitch (I know someone who refused stitches and later needed help with her pelvic floor: given doulas aren't HCP, should they advise on this?). This was presented as a good birth story on a well known good birth story site because the mum was very happy.

To me, it was a very alarming story. If a caregiver panics, intervenes and tears you, why is it "good" if they're your doula ... I would want to hire one to ensure that doesn't happen! But it was almost like "its a doula not a big bad HCP so its OK".

I do wish there were some kind of watertight regulation or review system. As it stands, I would feel nervous to hire one not quite knowing how good she was (and given they're most useful for nervous women to support and calm, I'm probably not alone).

Sallyanneb Mon 25-Aug-14 18:03:57

I would love to know opinions on the following names we have shortlisted, particularly what is your favourite and least favourite.

Lucy, Lucia, Georgia, Darcey.

Any comments welcome, thank you x

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now