The doula advantage
Improving outcomes for mothers and babies
We all agree on the desired outcome of every pregnancy and birth – healthy, happy baby and healthy, happy mom. In fact, if there were a shortcut that could decrease complications during pregnancy and birth, raise babies’ Apgar scores, increase mothers’ senses of well-being and self-efficacy, and reduce the likelihood of needing costly and invasive medical procedures, most families would take it. This shortcut might look even more enticing if families knew there’s no risk involved – and studies repeatedly show that it helps everyone.
The support of a doula during a mother’s pregnancy, birth and postpartum period can lead to that lucky shortcut. Rebecca Sapp, 41, is a doula serving central Illinois, all the way from Greenville to Bloomington and both hospitals in Springfield. She considers herself to be a travel guide for the adventure of bringing babies into the world. No matter the circumstances, she says, a doula can help families navigate the twists and turns of their particular journey.
A happy birth story, Rebecca says, involves the spirit as much as the physical body. “It’s all about how you felt you were treated. It’s not about the birth plan, it’s about feeling respected.”
Getting to know you
Doulas are able to assist with all kinds of births. Rebecca says her first step is to get to know the expectant mom and dad and learn about their particular needs and goals. “I want to help people know their options and feel empowered,” Rebecca says. “Then I can help them achieve their vision.”
June Hunter, of Springfield, who delivered her baby in December 2017 with Rebecca assisting, says having a doula did indeed guide her on her birth journey. “There were questions I didn’t even know to ask, and she helped with that,” June says.
June was hoping for an unmedicated birth at St. John’s Hospital, and she and Rebecca discussed her goals ahead of time. When June arrived at the hospital, experiencing such strong contractions that she couldn’t speak, let alone make decisions, Rebecca discussed June’s wishes with the nurses and doctors present. She helped June into a deep tub of warm water for pain relief – an option only available at St. John’s and only with the presence of a doula.
Burlie Schmillen, 30, of Springfield, gave birth to her two boys (in 2015 and 2017) with Rebecca as her doula, and she says Rebecca’s support helped her feel encouraged and reassured. “Rebecca really impacted both of my entire pregnancies up until, and even after delivery,” Burlie says. “My mind was put at ease with all of my questions and concerns. She supported me through my pre-preeclampsia in my first pregnancy and helped me monitor myself for the same concern the second round.”
Rebecca stresses that using a doula isn’t meant to displace a birthing mother’s other supporters, like her partner or other loved ones. Doulas also don’t overlap with medical staff like nurses, midwives or doctors – in fact, doulas don’t provide any medical care whatsoever. The doula serves as a support person and advocate, and she improves communication between all the parties involved.
For some laboring couples, Rebecca says, “having a doula can enable mom and dad to be in a bubble, completely in the moment, while the doula does everything else.”
“A doula does not take anything away from the experience for you and your partner,” Burlie says. For Burlie, having Rebecca’s support helped her manage the negative messages she was receiving from others about her planned unmedicated birth, and it showed her that “natural birth is a valuable and valid and not uncommon experience to have if it is important to you.”
In some circumstances, Rebecca explains, a doula might provide a couple the emotional support that helps them keep a positive perspective. “Ready, prepared, excited,” says Rebecca. “I would call it ‘warrior mode.’ A feeling of, ‘I can do this!’ changes everything.”
A doula doesn’t step on the toes of the other hospital staff – who also want the best for both mother and baby and have the medical expertise to provide what doulas can’t offer. Rather, doulas work in tandem with the team of medical professionals present at a birth. “It’s a simpatico relationship,” says Rebecca.
Work of the heart
Doula is an ancient Greek word that translates to “a woman who serves.” Rebecca says being a doula is very deep, emotionally complicated work, but she loves it. After 22 years as a massage therapist and 23 years as a mom of now eight children, Rebecca added “doula” to her resume three years ago, and she says being with people at such a poignant time of their lives is an honor.
It’s also an exciting, constantly changing journey. “We know our trajectory – a baby at the end – but we don’t know our exact path,” Rebecca says.
To learn more about local doula services, find Doulas of Springfield, IL, on Facebook, or search doulamatch.net. Rebecca is a member of the collective Gentle Touch Doulas, and she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Watson is a freelance communications consultant in Springfield.