Why are some couples willing to spend a large sum on a doula?

‘I was able to become the mother I wanted to be because of their professionalism’

Vanessa and Benjamin: ‘The stress was too much to bear, and I knew that I needed to seek outside support right away’.

Vanessa and Benjamin: ‘The stress was too much to bear, and I knew that I needed to seek outside support right away’.

 

The challenges of birth and new motherhood don’t go unnoticed. But they can be filtered with the image of the selfless and self-sacrificing mother; the mother who endures the exhaustion, intense healing, emotional upheaval, and overwhelm while also attempting to find the balance within the fourth trimester. It can be a period of fear, uncertainty, compounded by possible trauma with knocked confidence and a terrifying lack of sleep.

Every experience is unique. The past 18 months have shown us that couples need as much support, understanding, and dedicated services as possible to support them in their journey to and through parenthood.

Tough pregnancies, complications in birth, difficulties in breastfeeding, and lack of familial support are some reasons why couples hire a Birth Doula or Postpartum Doula who seem to act very much like the best friend who understands what you need before you need it. Doulas support couples in having a safe and positive birth and postpartum experience by providing complementary care to that provided by the hospital.

But why are some couples willing to spend a large sum (€700-€1,000) on a doula when that money could be used across the already expensive cost of having a baby?

Avril Flynn, a midwife and childbirth educator, says having a doula transformed her matrescence (the psychological transformation into motherhood) and her ability to be a mother in ways she says are difficult to describe.

“After I had Felix (now three), I really struggled,” she says. “My family don’t live nearby, we lived in a small apartment, and Felix had pretty awful Colic, as well as breastfeeding being very challenging. I felt like such a failure. When Garret, my husband, was heading back to work, he contacted doulacare.ie and that is when things started to improve immensely.”

For Avril, having a postpartum doula, who visited for a few hours throughout the week and at nights, gave her the assurance many new mothers need in that first year of motherhood. “I cannot overestimate just how amazing Catherine and Susan were,” she says. “They gave me back my shattered confidence and were like the best ‘mammy substitute’. They could hold Felix and let me get some sleep, do light housework and laundry, and even prepare meals. More than anything, they told me I was a good mum, that he was a beautiful baby and that I was doing not only my best but a good job. I was able to become the mother I so desperately wanted to be because of their professionalism and kindness.

“They bridge the divide as you learn to navigate those sometimes challenging early weeks and months of new parenthood,” says Avril. “I don’t think I would have survived without them, and while I know it’s a huge privilege to be able to afford a doula, it is worth every single penny and so much more.”

Anita Petry, communications manager with the Doula Association of Ireland, recognises that the sector remains unregulated. However, the association works hard to put specific requirements in place to ensure the professionalism of doulas and the quality of services offered.

“We have a membership process,” says Petry, “that ensures doulas have been professionally trained (by pre-approved training bodies), able to safely work with vulnerable populations (Garda vetted) and have an ethical general professional conduct (holding valid indemnity insurance and signing onto our Code of Ethics).

“We always make sure to look at the curriculum doulas are studying as training must be quite extensive and cover a wide range of subjects pertaining to perinatal health and wellbeing, such as the physiology of birth, comfort measures and non-pharmacological pain relief options, common medical interventions, emotional changes during labour and the postpartum period, up-to-date best practice in newborn care, normal infant feeding cues and behaviour, and safe sleep guidelines, always including a clear understanding of a doula’s scope of practice, its limitations, and how it complements the treatments offered by medical care providers.”

With a diverse membership, Petry says the association creates a supportive environment with the knowledge and experience within the membership body. For example, she says, “We have members who are lactation consultants, research doctors, public policy writers, who specialise in bereavement and end of life support, fertility and pregnancy termination, multi-cultural perinatal health support, and so on, while every single member is a professionally trained birth or postpartum doula.”

Vanessa Gordon, CEO and publisher of East End Taste Magazine, chose to hire a postpartum doula for her second pregnancy with her son, Benjamin, now four. With her midwife recommending the recently retired director of nursing in the maternity ward at the hospital where she delivered her son, Vanessa was appreciative of the support she received from her doula.

“With my first pregnancy with my daughter, Sarah, I suffered from hyperemesis (severe morning sickness) throughout,” she says. “I also suffered from postpartum depression for six weeks after she was born. It was a very difficult time, and at times, very traumatising to go through those emotions as a new mum.

“I ended up suffering from hyperemesis with my son, and it carried on for weeks longer than with my daughter. I also had a scare with a herniated belly button where my doctor thought I was suffering an incarcerated umbilical hernia and needed surgery. This stress was too much to bear, and I knew that I needed to seek outside support right away.

“My postpartum doula supported me mainly after the delivery of my son. However, she was also there prior to and helped answer any questions I had. Most importantly, she was there for me as a support system through breastfeeding (something I struggled with greatly during my first child), helped answer any questions with regards to a newborn baby boy, and helped as a mother’s helper with tasks at home like the wash, folding, preparing meals, and other light tasks.”

While having someone available to take on this extra load of the invisible job of motherhood is a beautiful thing, a doula offers much needed, often concealed, but irrevocable support, which is necessary for a new mother. They offer knowledge, encouragement, guidance, and emotional support, all the while increasing a woman’s confidence in her ability to mother.

“I did not have a fear or concern of leaving the hospital with an overwhelming amount of responsibility,” says Vanessa. “I had little to no feelings of uncertainty.”

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