It’s our mission here at CheltenhamMaman HQ to introduce the Mamans of Gloucestershire to a whole manner of services with only one key objective – to make the life of the mother (and as a direct result the child/ren) happier, fuller, easier and just better. When it comes to pregnancy and the early days of motherhood there are a lot of choices to make. Today we meet two local doulas who, embracing the concept of collaboration over competition, have kindly let me interview them together to find out what it is exactly that they do.
Today I chat to Sarah Ballard who runs her business as Gloucestershire Doula ad Alex Burner who practices as Sunshine Maman Doula.
CMHQ So ladies – a really warm welcome to CheltenhamMaman. First things first – tell us about the little people in your lives?
Sarah: I’m kept busy by my two children Oliver, 5 and Elizabeth aged 3. The thing about being a doula is that there are no set times to when you work so though Oliver is at school Elizabeth is at home with me – it’s nice to have a job that means I can be with them so much but you do rely on a support network of friends and family when you are on call!
Alex: And I have three! Bella is 7, Oak is 4 and Bear is just 1. I home school them so there is never a dull moment in my house. My husband is working from home at the moment so he’s babysitting.
Sarah: erm… Alex I think you mean he’s parenting!
CMHQ: Ha! We hear that a lot! Ok so you’re both pretty busy as Mums – before I find out what led you to become doulas and what you offer can you explain to me exactly what a doula is?
Alex: Sure. A doula is someone who provides emotional and physical support during pregnancy, birth and often postnatally. In our cases we both work alongside the medical profession in the best interest of mother and baby.
CMHQ: Ok so what did your journeys to becoming a doula look like?
Sarah: Well I’m fairly recently qualified. I had a traumatic birth with Oliver and decided to employ a doula for my second birth. I ended up having a home birth, intervention free, and the doula just made it a much more positive experience. When my sister became pregnant I supported her a lot answering questions and helping her prepare – it just occurred to me that I should consider it as a career so I began my training.
Alex: And I used to work in mental health so pretty far away from the world of childbirth! I worked with an independent midwife for my second birth and she suggested I give it a try. I’ve been qualified for several years now.
CMHQ: And the training? What does it consist of?
Sarah: It’s pretty full on – you do pre and post course work and the course itself is fairly intensive over four days. Then you are mentored by an existing doula for as long as that mentor feels you need support – this usually lasts around a year but can be more.
Alex: Being a member to Doula UK also means you have to meet their continued professional development standards so you have to study even when qualified to ensure you stay up to date with best practise. It’s also quite emotionally draining sharing someone’s birth experience and being there for them to lean on – the hours can be really long! Doula UK provides us with a network of peers so we can all support each other.
CMHQ: So say I was pregnant (which for the record – I am most definitely not) how would I go about employing a doula?
Sarah: The most important thing is to interview at least two or three. This person will be present at one of the most important moments in your life – you need to be happy you like them and that goes for both parents. I’ve been approached by mums as early as seven weeks into their pregnancy and as late as 37 weeks! Ideally we would want to be starting our antenatal visits by about 20-25 weeks.
Alex: Definitely. Ideally it’s great to have a couple of antenatal visits at least to get to know each other and to understand the mother’s birth expectations, wishes and worries. Then we are on call for the whole period from the 38th week of pregnancy until the baby arrives. We both do a postnatal visit too; a bit of a birth debrief and listen is really important.
Sarah: I actually offer a postnatal service where I can go in as many times as needed to help with all sorts – essentially I just step in to do whatever is needed to help that mother take on the role she needs to have to settle in to her new life. I was taught that as soon as you enter a mother’s home postnatally your goal needs to be how to support the woman to be an independent mother as soon as possible – if that means doing some laundry or looking after older children while she gets some time to bond with her newborn that’s just fine.
CMHQ: And if you don’t mind me asking how much might one expect to pay for a doula’s services?
Alex: It depends on what package and what level of service you opt into and also whether your doula is still mentored but as a ballpark expect between £500 and £800. For some people it’s a small price to pay for ensuring you are fully supported throughout your birth experience and to have someone who can ensure you make informed choices.
CMHQ: So should you only be looking to work with a doula if you are looking for an intervention free, natural birth?
Alex: No not at all! It’s a total myth that we are all earth mothers! Our job is to ensure a woman has access to information about every aspect of what is offered to them. If one of our clients feels they have made an informed decision to have an elective c-section then we will be there right by her side throughout that birth.
Sarah: It’s also a myth that we are enforcers of breast feeding. The only thing we enforce is that the mother makes decisions she won’t regret because she has all the information she needs at hand. I’ve prepared many a bottle of formula for mums that have made that choice. It’s not my place to have an opinion on the way they choose to birth or parent.
Sarah: One of the other benefits of having a doula is continuity. Mothers often don’t realise that if they have a long labour they can have several midwives looking after them when their shifts change. Having a doula gives some continuity of care alongside the qualified health professionals. We can be there right from the beginning when the mother thinks they may be in the early stages of labour all the way through to the end.
CMHQ: Do you sometimes find that your presence in the delivery room unnerves the Dads or Partners?
Alex: Not at all. Sometimes it’s them that insist we are hired! Some are worried that they won’t be able to support their Partners for a whole myriad of reasons. Some can’t even trust that they won’t pass out in the room! So they are relieved to have someone who can support their partners through the experience.
Sarah: Working with the partners and building that relationship is such a satisfying part of the job. We are there to support the whole family unit.
CMHQ: And do you ever encounter problems with the midwives or Doctors that you work alongside?
Alex: I haven’t. Generally they are just pleased that the mother feels supported and as long as we don’t overstep the mark and try and get involved with the medical side of things the relationship has always, in my experience, been a very positive one.
Sarah: I haven’t either. Overall we are all there to work as part of a multi disciplinary team to support that mother. That’s really all that matters regardless of whether you are the doula, midwife or the doctor!
CMHQ: You ladies sound like the fairy godmothers for pregnant women! I had a very traumatic first labour and I can understand the benefit of having someone there with experience of what is and what isn’t normal. I’m sure there are plenty of expectant Mamans out there who will be in touch. Best of luck with your businesses ladies and thanks for taking the time to dispel some of the doula myths!
There is also a Gloucestershire wide doulas Facebook page where you can find out information about all doulas working locally.