Lean on me: Birth Support
Carolyn Tranter is the founder of The Doula Academy and is passionate about her unique role supporting women through childbirth and early motherhood.
What does being a doula involve?
A doula is a professional birth and postnatal support person. [The word is believed to have its origins in Acient Greek]. They don’t do anything medical – that’s the job of the midwife and doctors. They’re there purely to offer emotional and physical support and information. It’s a bit like being an aunty – but an aunty with a knowledge base. It’s somebody who helps make the journey easier. I’ve had people who have seen their positive pregnancy test and then called me straightaway and I’ve had a client who has called me at 40 weeks.
Most people make the decision earlier in the pregnancy and that gives the doula time to meet with them a few times before the labour to get to know them and find out how they can help.
The doula is with the client during the labour from whenever they want her, to when they no longer feel they need her.
So they may phone her after the first contraction or it may be when they’re starting to feel a bit nervous once they’ve realised this is the real thing. The doula goes to their home, so the goal is that they’re able to stay in the place they feel comfortable for as long as possible.
The doula is there to support them and encourage them and answer questions. They then go through to the hospital with them – if they’re going to hospital – and stay with them until she’s no longer needed.
If a mother decides she doesn’t need me anymore before the baby’s born then I will step out, but I don’t leave the hospital in case she changes her mind. Most commonly, I’m there until about two hours after the baby is born to help them with that first breastfeed and make that wonderful first cup of tea.
I also visit three to four times after baby is born, at a planned time or I can come on call if they need help with breastfeeding or bathing or something like that.
Who uses a doula?
It’s all sorts. I have first-time mums and I’ve had mums who I’ve been with for all of their births. It’s also a real mix of clients: I’ve had single mums, I’ve had teenage mums, I’ve had mums who have used IVF. I’ve had a real mix of family dynamics.
I frequently get mums who haven’t used a doula for their first birth but felt that something about it wasn’t ideal and so they want a doula for the second.
After the baby is born, what does the doula do that is different from the midwife?
The doula doesn’t weigh or check the baby or anything like that. Postnatally the doula is there to do herself out of a job by teaching the mum and dad to parent their child.
There are postnatal doulas who just do the after-birth support. They may never even touch the baby, they are there to show Mum and Dad how to care for their baby. Parents often say babies don’t come with a manual – basically we’re the manual.
When you’re entering a new job situation there’s always somebody there who will show you the ropes.
In society today, a lot of women and men have little experience when it comes to babies; often the first baby they hold is their own. You wouldn’t expect them to know exactly what to do. A lot of it is instinctive, but I notice a lot of new parents don’t trust their instincts to begin with.
What are some of the key things you help mums with?
Through the birth process I will help parents get the information they need with regard to any decisions they have to make. I don’t just give them the information, I help them find it. We don’t come between a woman and her midwife. We just make sure she has the information she needs.
One of the things I’m passionate about is informed decision making and often when you’re under the health system you put on
a patient hat and just say ‘Okay’ instead of ‘Why?’ My byline for my business is ‘creating positive birth memories’. No matter what the experience, a woman can have positive birth memories if she is involved in the decision-making process.
I’ll also talk them through some of the self-help techniques they can use. My role is not to replace Dad – or any other support she may have – it’s to help them help the woman. During the labour I’ll do massage and acupressure, encourage the mum to be active and make suggestions if what she’s doing isn’t working for the pain. I’ll also show the other support people what to do.
I take photos during the birth and write a little birth story for them. It’s a way to clarify things. After baby is born I can help with breastfeeding and helping mum to rest and recover after the birth. Postnatally, I try to visit within the first 24 hours so I can answer any questions she may have about the labour and the birth. It just helps her to process it.
I also try to visit on the day they go home to help with that transition. Setting up the bassinet or the cot, making sure the room isn’t too hot or too cold, helping her find a comfortable place to breastfeed.
Also, practical things like learning how to bathe baby, learning how to settle them, learning baby’s signs. It helps the parent interpret their baby, rather than just going by what the book says.
What prompted you to become a doula?
For my fourth birth, my husband was away and I needed my mum to look after the other three children. I knew I didn’t want to go through labour alone, so I had two friends support me and it was the best labour I had.
They had both had children although they’d had no training. They instinctively knew what I needed – when I needed a hug or a back rub, encouraged me to drink and to go for a walk.We celebrated the process instead of being terrified by it.
When that baby was a year old I started the Diploma in Childbirth Education and through that supported six women during labour.
I loved doing it and decided that I would offer that as a service to women. Through that training I discovered that there was actually a career that I could pursue as a doula. I had the opportunity to go to America to do my birth doula training. I’ve since been back to do my post-natal training and also to train as a doula trainer. I’m the only DONA International doula trainer in New Zealand. My goal is to have a doula for every woman in New Zealand who wants one.
Not everyone has the luxury of going to America to do the training so I brought it here. I did 27 years as a doula on my own but that’s challenging, so I set up The Doula Academy so after they’ve done my training they’ve got me for life. I support them and it makes it easier for them – so they don’t have to face all the challenges I had.
What do you love about being a doula?
I love making a positive difference – particularly in women’s lives. That’s my personal mission. I can help them celebrate the process instead of being terrified by it and I can help them to see the strengths that they have in themselves.
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