Historically, the word doula derives from the Greek, meaning a "female servant". In all cultures and areas of the world, It wasn't uncommon for a woman to birth at home, surrounded by a handful of other women, each providing assistance and comfort. It wasn't until the 1930's that birth became a medical experience vs. woman's rite of passage.
Fast forward, a doula now means a woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born. As a doula, we respect the medical experience, but advocate for the woman to embrace her birth, the way she envisions it. We believe that if a woman is continuously nurtured and encouraged by caring and confident people in a peaceful safe environment, if she is free to move about to find greater comfort, and if she know's effective ways to respond to her contractions, fear will give away to confidence, and a sense of well-being. She copes with labor, rather than suffers, and birth becomes the woman's greatest achievement, rather than their greatest fear.
A doula's training focuses on the "art of labor support"; the emotional needs of a woman in labor, and non-medical physical and emotional comfort measures. We are taught to understand the psycho-emotional experience of childbearing, hand-on mastery of comfort and labor enhancing measures, such as relaxation, breathing, positioning and movements to reduce pain and enhance labor progress.
Some may feel that they have a supportive partner and that is all they need, however while having a supportive partner is wonderful and extremely helpful to the laboring woman, having a doula also present, your partner and doula will help each other. What if you have a long labor and your partner needs a break to get you and themselves a snack? The doula will remain present with you the entire time. What if your partner wants to be in front of you, talking you through contractions and keeping eye contact with you to help you remain focused? Your doula is the one giving you a massage to relieve your back pain, or is the one running out to get you snacks, or is running a warm bath/shower for you. What if you're at the hospital and a nurse suggests an intervention that isn't in your birth plan, and both you and your partner are so caught up in the moment that you aren't able to speak up? Your doula will help you find your voice. Ultimately, having a doula and your birth partner means you have two people who are there solely for you emotional well-being.