For women in labor, a doula is ally, coach, cheerleader

  • Fri Sep 14th, 2012 2:18pm
  • Life

By Andrea Brown, Special to The Herald

Shannon Demiter had an epidural with her first birth.

She had a doula with the second one.

“I wanted an unmedicated birth,” she said.

The Lake Stevens mom got what she wanted. The doula was her tonic.

“She walked the halls with me. She rubbed my back. She helped me get in and out of the shower. She sat and chatted with me,” Demiter said. “She was my cheerleader.”

Doula (pronounced doo-lah) is Greek for women’s servant or a woman who serves. There are a few male doulas, but it’s primarily a female thing.

Doulas provide nonmedical support.

They don’t pry, prod or poke. They massage, calm and coach. Their role is to be there for the mom to make childbirth easier.

They also make calls, shoot video and fetch coffee.

It almost sounds like a luxury. But this is labor, the mother of all pain.

“You are in a very vulnerable state, naked, with your girly parts exposed,” said Stanwood doula Serena O’Dwyer, who assisted Demiter.

As prepared as fathers might be … well, sometimes, they don’t know what to do.

Doulas help them do it.

“Dads are the biggest fans,” said Mill Creek doula Emily Fontes. “It makes them feel as a partner more connected to the birthing moment.”

Sometimes, the moment is hours in the making. Demiter was in labor for 32 hours with her second child.

The doula was “a big support for my husband, too,” she said. “He was able to rest up for the big moment when it finally came.”

Demiter said the doula expense was reimbursed through her husband’s health savings plan. She plans to doula it again with the third child, who is due any day now.

Doulas’ services start about $600. They meet with the mom and her partner to devise a birth plan and stay connected during the pregnancy.

“It’s kind of like having a wedding planner,” Fontes said.

Doulas are in it for the long haul during labor. “At the drop of a hat, you can be gone for three days,” Fontes said.

Her longest labor call was 82 hours.

She and O’Dwyer are business partners and backups for each other. With 14 years of combined experience, they’ve seen and heard it all.

“I saved a smartphone that fell in the placenta bucket so it was bloody. I just gloved up and took a whole bunch of alcohol swabs to it,” O’Dwyer said.

“It does get to be a bit of a messy job. You know that show about dirty jobs? Wouldn’t it be awesome if they shadowed a doula?”

She has a doula battle scar on the back of her hand from a mom with sharp fingernails, squeezing tightly. Just part of taking one for the team. A lot of drama unfolds in the heat of labor.

“For the moms, it’s like being in an alternative universe,” said Fontes, who has two children herself. “You have to be intuitive and think on your feet. A really good doula knows when to keep her hands off and mouth shut when they are in a good labor groove.”

Doulas often have several specialties. O’Dwyer, a 29-year-old mother of three, is trained in childbirth education, placenta encapsulation and henna belly art. Fontes, 31, is a massage therapist and childbirth educator. She currently is on hiatus while her older child, Ethan, 7, completes leukemia treatment.

“I doula him all the time,” she said.

He is currently in remission.

Doulas certified by the association DONA International must attend approved birth doula workshops plus a childbirth education series of classes.

Having an educated advocate by her side appealed to Mari Budlong of Marysville, who had a doula at the recent home birth of her third child.

“She was my ally. She knew what I wanted,” Budlong said. “I knew my midwife had other priorities. I wanted someone who would be there for me.”

That allowed the baby’s dad to tend to their two other children when needed.

Budlong’s labor came on strong.

“I woke up at midnight with really long contractions,” she said. “By the time she (the doula) got there I was in full blown labor. Back-to-back intense contractions.”

Baby Drake didn’t dilly-dally. He was born at 2 a.m.

Questions to ask a doula

• What training have you had? (If a doula is certified, check with the organization.)

• Do you have a backup doula if you are not available? May we meet her?

• What is your fee? What does it include and what are your refund policies?

• When do you join women in labor?

• Do we meet after the birth to review the labor and answer questions?

• What is your philosophy about parenting and supporting women and their families during postpartum?

• What is your experience in breastfeeding support?

• Have you had a criminal background check, a recent TB test and current CPR certification?



Open Arms Perinatal Services provides free doula services for women who are income-qualified. For more information: or 206-723-6868. Their doulas speak 14 languages.

Serene Doulas:

From Herald Health magazine, available in the Sunday, Sept. 23, edition of The Herald.