A nurturing doula can help empower women. “[C]aregiving professionals can seek new ways to nurture and empower [women]…during labor and birth.”-Paulina Perez
To nurture is defined as “the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something”
The very process of nurturing is at the heart of what a doula does. If we look again at the description of what a doula is, it includes the following four elements:
- Providing information
- Minimizing stress
- Facilitating communication
These are all a part of the care doulas give, and they provide a framework to help the birthing mother grow in the process of labor and delivery. Thus, nurturing becomes the catalyst through which a doula helps to empower women. Empowerment has become a term that is used often among doulas, but has not been clearly defined. The National Empowerment Center in Massachusetts has studied this and come up with a list of qualities that could all include the quality of nurturing.
- Having decision making power. Often in our medical system, women feel stripped of their ability to make decisions, or they are not made aware of what decisions they can make. By providing information, a doula can help a woman become aware of her rights to make decisions regarding her care.
- Having access to information and resources. Women are also not aware that they have access to more information than they are usually told. They are often left to their own devices to ask questions or find information. Sometimes they are not even aware that there is information and resources out there that they can access. New Beginnings trains our doulas in finding evidence based research and information that they can help provide for their clients. In doing so, they can also help their clients find the questions that they may want to ask their healthcare providers.
- Having a range of options from which to make choices (not just yes/no, either/or.) Once a woman has access to more information, it becomes clear that there are many different options available. Choosing which model of health care will benefit them most is just one example. A doula can help provide them with education on these models of care and encourage them to seek the care that best fits what they need.
- Assertiveness. “Assertiveness is a manner of behaving that communicates respect for others as well as commands respect for yourself.” (MIRECC) A doula can first model this behavior for her clients when she accompanies her client to a pre-natal interview, and then support her client in her efforts to be assertive herself.
- A feeling that the individual can make a difference (being hopeful). The nurturing a doula gives can provide a decrease in stress for birthing mothers and a hope that something can be done to change themselves and their birth.
- Learning to redefine who we are, what we can do, and our relationship to institutionalized power. By providing information and facilitating communication, a doula can help a woman explore her thoughts about herself, birth, and how she wants to relate to her care providers.
- Learning about and expressing anger. A doula can also model healthy anger management practices and allow a space for her client to express and work through anger involving past or present birth experiences.
- Not feeling alone; feeling part of a group. A doula can provide the nurturing support of a constant labor companion that is there for both her and other members of the birth team.
- Understanding that people have rights. The rights of childbearing women are often dismissed. A doula can help remind her of these rights and provide a way for her to communicate them to her care provider.
- Learning skills that the individual defines as important. A New Beginnings doula is trained to assess the emotional and non-medical needs of their clients. Part of this is assessing what skills their clients and families may need in order to cope effectively during labor and birth.
- Increasing one’s positive self-image and overcoming stigma. Doulas can act as a positive reinforcement for the woman’s own coping skills and provide her with the support she may need to feel good about herself and her decisions.
The nurturing by doulas is an essential part of what they provide before, during, and after labor. “Assisting the laboring woman in learning about herself and the process of birth itself often results in a favorable experience, as this turning inward can be the key to an empowering birth experience.” (Perez, 2014)
Perez, P. (2014). The Nurturing Touch at Birth: A Labor Support Handbook. 3rd Edition.
Vermont, Cutting Edge Press.
D.E.S.C. Script for Assertiveness.Adapted from Positive Coping Skills ToolboxVA Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (MIRECC) Retrieved online at http://studentservices.fgcu.edu/StudentConduct/files/D.E.S.C._Script.pdf (July, 2016).
Chamberlin, Judith. (2013). A Working Definition of Empowerment. National Empowerment Center.