Local doula helps women become mothers
Post Independent Contributor
So, you’re pregnant. You have been to the doctor, seen the ultrasound, painted the nursery and even picked out the name — but are you ready for the big event?
In a heartbeat, most moms will say that childbirth has the power to alter a woman’s life forever. In preparation for such a monumental change, now more than ever they are choosing to approach this ancient rite of passage on their own terms. In recent years an array of birth and pregnancy specialists have gone into business to meet the growing needs of women who want a different experience than those of their mothers and grandmothers.
From natural healers and prenatal yoga instructors to homebirth midwives and lactation consultants, options for a supported pregnancy extend far beyond the care of a woman’s doctor nowadays. Many new mothers also enlist the help of a doula, or birth coach, as they prepare for and ultimately go into labor.
“The term ‘doula’ is said to come from the ancient Greek, meaning ‘a woman who serves,” said Hillery Lyen Warren, a local doula who began serving the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding areas in 2014. “It is our job as doulas to support a mother before, during and even after childbirth — physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
Warren noted that the rise of the modern birth doula began sometime in the late 1960s, when many tenacious and longstanding pregnancy stigmas had begun to fade from society’s collective mindset.
“Before the ‘60s, women who assisted mothers giving birth were not regarded very highly, and the practice was even a little secretive,” she said. “From the beginning of time there have always been women who help other women during childbirth, but the role of a doula as we know it today didn’t really appear until maybe 50 years ago. At that time many women wanted to ‘take back’ childbirth, so to speak, and have their own unique experiences.”
A contemporary doula like Warren will typically receive training and certification from an organization such as DONA International, and may offer a full range of care options to help a new mother feel equipped to handle the stages of pregnancy, labor and postpartum recovery.
“My prenatal visits strive to meet a mother and her partner where they are at, and to support them fully as they make decisions about a birth plan,” Warren noted. “I help give them the information they need to make choices, such as whether to have the baby in the hospital or at home, medicated or not — these are all options I support. It’s really about helping a couple discover and prepare for the birth experience they truly want.”
When the big day finally arrives, Warren says she is always prepared for duty — even if she hears the phone ring at 2 a.m.
“Yes, the job definitely requires being on call in those final days,” she said. “When one of my clients goes into labor, that is when we work as a team to put their birth plan into action.”
Even in a time of anxiety, pain or uncertainty, Warren says that helping a woman enact the plan she designed beforehand helps alleviate some of the stress.
“Having a predetermined plan helps a couple to know what’s coming next,” she said.
With mom in labor and dad feeling frazzled, Warren believes a doula’s presence is perhaps most impactful in the hours just before a baby is born. Her clients seem to agree.
“Having a child was obviously a completely new experience for me and my husband,” said Carbondale resident Toni Bradford, who hired Warren to assist while she was in labor with her son Theo in June 2015. “Having someone like Hillery there who was able to remain calm was really helpful. She supported not only me but my husband, too, so that he didn’t feel alone in helping me feel comforted. It gave us extra confidence going into this huge unknown.”
THE ONLY VOICE
Warren remains with her clients for the entire duration of labor. Although a doula is not trained to perform any medical procedures, she provides constant encouragement and guidance throughout the process.
“After I went into labor, Hillery really helped me through it,” Carbondale resident Kelly LeMere said. LeMere chose to do a home birth with only the assistance of Warren and a midwife when she welcomed her daughter Selah in December 2014.
“Having a doula to guide me and my partner through relaxation techniques, and to let me know when contractions were coming — she gave us tools when we didn’t even know what tools we needed,” LeMere recalled. “When it was time to start pushing, it seemed like Hillery’s voice was the only one I heard.”
LeMere also received Warren’s postpartum assistance with nutrition information and emotional support.
“Research has shown that doulas can help facilitate easier, shorter, more comfortable births,” Warren noted, “but postpartum care is extremely important as well. A new baby changes the whole dynamic of a family, so reducing stress and setting realistic expectations during that time is key.”
Warren is currently at work developing a project called The Family Nest, which offers services such as doula care, childbirth education and placenta encapsulation. Together with another local doula, she also plans to start a Carbondale chapter of the Holistic Moms Network, a national nonprofit organization devoted to empowering parents through community and connection — reinforcing the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child.
“I believe there is nothing more beautiful than helping a couple bring new life into the world and then watching them grow,” Warren said. “In my role as a doula, it is just incredible to witness not only the primal strength of a woman as she gives birth, but the power of family as a whole.”
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