By Samantha Mills
For a woman, giving birth is one of the greatest challenges her bodies will ever face. During pregnancy, there is no such thing as too much help. And though there are many sources from which they can draw support, including doctors, partners, and family, there’s one that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves.
A doula (a term coming from a Greek term meaning “a woman who serves”) is a woman and in a few rare but growing cases a man, who provides emotional, physical and mental support for a mother and her partner during the birth, pregnancy and postpartum stages. Where a hospital would be concerned primarily with a mother’s physical well-being, a doula provides primarily emotional well-being, with small touches such as an ear to listen to, a shoulder to cry on and a helping hand when needed. The object is to allow the mother to feel like a normal person again through all the different changes her body is undertaking.
One London-based business offering these services is Sweet Stella’s, located in North Yoga and Wellness at 1615 N Routledge Park, Unit 23 in London and owned by Shannon Moyer-Szemenyei. The business serves Perth, Huron, Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford, Lambton and Kent counties and has experience with Stratford General Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, and Woodstock General Hospital.
Shannon became a doula after seeing the kind of support her doula supplied to her and her husband. Shannon had difficulties with pregnancy in the past and wanted to take a more controlled approach this time around.
She said she was amazed at how her doula helped, and since then she was inspired to help other parents in the same way. “A doula is hired typically twelve weeks into the pregnancy, so I’m there the whole way,” Shannon explains. “During pregnancy we offer many courses for parent preparation that can be taken, including birth prep, child education and education for partners who want to be competent in helping the mother go through all these different stages.”
During birth doulas help mothers through their contractions, and “step into the supporting role for the partner, in case they need to leave to run home or to just get some sleep,” she said. “Afterwards, we’re there for the mother through postpartum stages. We help her through postpartum depression, we make sure she is eating enough and still taking care of herself, and we are there for her in the case that the baby miscarries.”
Doulas act as a major support system for the mother in ways that the family sometimes can’t provide, Shannon said. As the family tends to centre more upon the new arrival, the doula focuses on what she can do for the mother. In the case of a miscarriage, she can be a listening ear without necessarily being as emotionally attached as a family member. “I’ve worked with all sorts of mothers.” Shannon said. “First time mothers who have no idea what to expect, experienced mothers and single mothers.”
Being a doula is all about helping the parents take control of the situation in order for them to go through this natural process, she said. “We work alongside many different types of medical care,” said Shannon, noting that they also work with hospital staff and midwives.
“We recommend the mother gain a wide variety of support through this stage in her life,” she said. “Massages with RMTs are great to make sure everything is still in line, mental health support should be sought in the case of dealing with anxieties and depression the mother might be facing. Doulas work with them all. It’s important for a mother to remember that she can control the situation and that all of this is a completely natural experience.” For more information, visit the DONA International (Doula Organization of North America) website at DONA.org, or Shannon’s blog at www.SweetStellas.blogspot.ca.