Editor's Note: Today's blog post was guest-written by health educator, Elizabeth Johnson. You can read more about Elizabeth's bio at the end of this post. She's a local treasure, we're so thankful for her generosity and words today.
Yes, of course everyone should hire a doula but for some populations (and abuse survivors are included in this group) hiring a doula should be a non-negotiable part of their birth and postpartum plans. As a trauma-informed health educator, I train healthcare professionals to better understand how past abuse affects later health and wellness. Despite wide evidence to support the lasting impact, the general public -including survivors and healthcare professionals who work with survivors- are generally unaware of exactly how abuse can manifest itself later in life, and especially so at vulnerable times like pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. Doulas, however, are one of the birth-y folks with whom I speak most often who have especially strong instinct about the needs of their clients, a skill which works in their favor when their client might be an abuse survivor.
1. Doulas have your needs in mind. From the moment you hire a doula it’s all about you. Birth doulas are your support person and advocate, before during and after the birth. They work with you to make sure that your wants and needs, ideas about childbirth and what you have in mind for a postpartum plan all happen. And the support doesn’t stop with the baby in your arms. Postpartum doulas provide crucial support for new families. They help with all aspects of baby care…on your terms, not your mother’s. Breastfeeding, for example, can be triggering for abuse survivors and sometimes survivors are reluctant to tell people that they don’t want to breastfeed. This kind of information doesn’t rattle your doula who is there to support you and doesn’t have a stake in the breast vs. bottle debate. She can handle your share with non-judgmental grace and of course still work with you to meet your postpartum goals.
2. Doulas build confidence in yourself and help create more positive experiences overall. Some research shows that having a doula at your birth produces shorter labors, fewer interventions and a higher overall satisfaction in the childbirth process. These facts are often important for abuse survivors. Because their bodies have been traumatized in the past, abuse survivors sometimes have a hard time believing that their bodies are capable of delivering a baby. It can be a huge relief to know that just the presence of a doula can help boost your confidence when you need it the most. As an abuse survivor and educator, I knew that past trauma can resurface at vulnerable times (like childbirth) but I wanted to do everything I could to have an intervention-free, non-medicated childbirth experience. So we hired a doula. She wasn’t at the hospital when I checked-in but she arrived right at the point when I was ready to give up and take the epidural. She said, “let’s try something,”. Everything shifted then. My doula was worth her weight in gold for giving me that moment.
3. Doulas allot the time and take the time. Doulas are hired by the families they support, and aren’t supervised by a larger hospital, clinic or practice. What this means for you is more time talking, sharing resources and offering hands-on support instead of quick check-ins because of documentation requirements or multiple patients. Doulas invest in building relationships with their clients because they can and because they know that trust is crucial in helping support a positive birth and postpartum experience. I said “no” to Durham Connects when the service was offered to me at the hospital. I didn’t know who they were and what they would do; I was told about them after my labor when I was exhausted and in pain. Not the best time to make solid decisions! The bottom line was I didn’t want anyone in my home that I didn’t know (and didn’t trust!) at a vulnerable time for me. But my birth doula whom I had known for six months was welcomed back.
Survivors of abuse have unique challenges when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. Each of these crucial junctures in a mom’s life are points where a doula - and only a doula - can offer non-judgmental, continuous support. Doulas are critical community resources for all of us but especially for abuse survivors.
My next trauma-informed training happens Saturday, October 29. The focus is on past abuse and pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum but it is open it's open to any professionals who work with women. Click here for details.
Elizabeth M. Johnson, MA is a health educator who helps people understand how past abuse affects a woman’s later health and wellness. A survivor herself, Elizabeth works with both professionals who serve survivors and survivors themselves. She believes that when you understand the impact of past abuse, you do more than help a woman heal. You improve the lives of families & strengthen your community. Elizabeth lives in Durham with her husband and daughter. Visit her site online at: www.outsidethemombox.com