Years ago, pregnant women were surrounded by other women — mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends — and these women were the circle of support for the mother-to-be, providing reassurance, understanding, and information, vital ingredients during such a key moment in a woman’s life. These women were present throughout pregnancy and many also throughout labour and birth (with a midwife attending the actual birth) enabling the mother-to-be to feel secure and in control of her pregnancy and birthing experience, ultimately resulting in the most natural thing in the world: the birth of a new baby and a new mother.
Our society is no longer characterised by tight-knit communities (of women or men), and though husbands/partners are now participating more than ever before, the special role of a woman (or women) empowering another woman (and her partner) during this time has been virtually lost, and many women enter pregnancy, labour and birth, and even parenting, fearful rather than empowered.
The past decade or so has seen a resurgence of this idea of empowerment and as such the emergence of the “doula” (a term borrowed from the Ancient Greek δούλη /doulē/).
Today, a doula’s role is to provide emotional, informational and physical support to her clients. To do so she must listen to the needs of the woman and her partner, and in turn cater her services and training to those requirements. To best meet the needs of modern families, there are now both Birth Doulas, who focus on pregnancy and birth and Postpartum Doulas, who focus on family needs once baby is born. There are also Specialty Doulas that provide support at other times during a woman’s life.
The journey to become a parent may also involve the participation of a Childbirth Educator, who teaches private and group antenatal childbirth classes, Breastfeeding Counsellors, who provide specific information and support with regards to breastfeeding, and various parenting peer-supporters & educators, who provide specific information with regards to parenting, baby-wearing, baby massage, introducing solids, sleep, positive discipline, etc. In countries with large expatriate communities, there are also professionals who offer individualised assistance and can help you find parenting classes targetted to expatriates.