Do you know what doulas do? Event to raise awareness of birth options

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

When it comes to giving birth, the image that often comes to mind is a woman in a hospital bed, surrounded by bright lights and blue-clad doctors and nurses, with everyone shouting “Push!” This might be the most familiar birthing option these days, there are others around the central peninsula, some that are alternatives to a hospital birth and some that complement going the traditional route.

Bethe Smith, of Soldotna, has had three children and experienced dramatically different births with each, so much so that the last one inspired her to pursue a career assisting other women during childbirth.

“I have three children — Ciara, 11, Rennen, 8, and Taryn, almost 2. When I had my first I was 21 and I put full trust in my doctors and did not question much,” she said.

Smith was advised to have her labor induced, rather than waiting for birth to begin on its own. She was given several birth-inducing drugs, as well as an epidural to relax her and prevent her own discomfort.

“After a long nap I was told it was time to push. So I did. She was coming and they were not ready so they told me to stop. They had to announce over the intercom over the whole hospital that we needed a doctor in room 418 STAT. Yikes. I did not know who the doctor was. It was very scary and I felt very out of control,” she said.

Her firstborn ended up suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease and there were problems with the child latching on during breast-feeding. The delivery of her second child was an equally less-than-pleasant birth experience.

“With my second I was given directed pushing and I started hemorrhaging. Again, I was scared and felt out of control,” she said.

For the birth of her third child, Smith wanted to try an alternative to the at-the-hospital model of birth. She researched her options and decided to use a birthing center at Woman’s Way Midwifery in Soldotna and midwife there to deliver the child.

“My last one I had at the birth center and it was amazing. I labored at home with my husband. Then when I got to the birth center she was here 15 minutes later. It was very calm and relaxing. I was allowed to listen to my body as I had her. I wanted this for every mother,” Smith said. “With my birth experiences I know that the hospital can be very intimidating and nursing does not always go smoothly, so I wanted to help women make educated decisions about their birth and parenting choices.”

Smith began a year of school, working toward becoming a certified birthing doula, which is a supportive companion for birthing mothers, professionally trained to provide physical and emotional support during labor and birth.

They are not doctors. Rather, they specialize in nonmedical skills, and do not perform clinical tasks, or diagnose medical conditions. Doulas also do not make decisions for their clients. Their goal is to provide the support and information needed to help the birthing mother have a safe and satisfying birth as the mother defines it.

“A doula provides continuous support, beginning during early or active labor, through birth, and for approximately two hours following the birth. The doula offers help and advice on comfort measures such as breathing, relaxation, movement, positioning and massage. She also assists families with gathering information about the course of labor and their options. Her most critical role is providing continuous emotional reassurance and comfort,” Smith said.

“Doulas attend home births and hospital births, cesarean, medicated births and unmedicated births, with women whose care is being overseen by doctors or midwives. Doulas may be the only support person for the mother, or may be part of a labor support team including mom’s partner, friends and/or family members. Women who have partners on the Slope value doulas knowing that even if their husband is not there, they have support that they can trust,” Smith said.

There are also postpartum doulas who provide support after the baby is born, Smith said.

“They have knowledge about postpartum recovery, breast-feeding and newborn care. Their services vary depending on your needs, and might involve anything from a one-time visit for information and advice, to providing overnight care every night for a month,” she added.

As Smith nears the end of her schooling and is involved in the hands-on, practical portion of her education, she has partnered with other doulas and assisted in several births, including a vaginal birth after cesarean at the hospital where the mother labored for 14 hours.

“Her partner said that he greatly appreciated the fact that he could leave to eat or get some fresh air and he knew that she was in good hands and doing great. I like to think that the partner and I are a team with supporting the mother,” she said. “I love being a birth doula. I love helping moms do research about different decisions. I love helping them through labor just seeing their confidence grow. There is so much love at a birth and I consider it an honor to be a part of that.”

For those looking to learn more about the different doulas on the peninsula, Smith said there is an upcoming opportunity at 6 p.m. Aug. 20 at 818 Cook St. in Kenai. The “Meet the Doulas” event is part of the monthly meeting of the International Cesarean Awareness Network.

“This is a great opportunity to sit down and ask us your questions. Child care is available,” Smith said, and she can provide more information on this event, or other doulas in the area, by calling her at 907-715-7867.

More information on doulas and other traditional and alternative birth methods and options can be obtained through the Central Peninsula BirthNetwork.

“Central Peninsula BirthNetwork is a chapter of BirthNetwork National, a consumer-based, grass-roots organization based on the belief that birth can profoundly affect our physical, mental and spiritual well-being,” said Niki Parrish, a leader of the local chapter.

“We are experienced mothers, breast-feeding supporters, consumer advocates, midwives and complementary care providers all dedicated to the cause of promoting awareness and availability of Mother-Friendly Care, as defined below by the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative, also known as the MFCI,” she added.

Parrish added that the Central Peninsula BirthNetwork functions around a series of core beliefs.

“We believe birth is a normal, healthy process; not an illness or disease. Empowering births can take place in birth centers, hospitals and homes. Women are entitled to complete and accurate information on their full range of options for pregnancy, birth, postpartum and breast-feeding. Women have a right to make health care decisions for themselves and their babies. That right includes informed consent, as well as informed refusal,” she said.

To inform the public and would-be parents, the group hosts regular educational movie showings, outreach events and workshops. They also offer one-to-one support for families exploring their birth options in the central peninsula area, and they distribute the “Guide to a Healthy Birth,” a free evidence-based maternity care booklet. They also publish a Professional Member Guide listing local providers who have endorsed the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative.

To learn more about the Central Peninsula BirthNetwork, contact Parrish at birthnetworkcp@gmail.com.

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