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what exactly IS a doula? — in partnership with Oh Baby! KC
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what exactly IS a doula? — in partnership with Oh Baby! KC

This is a guest post from our friend Mary Pope, in partnership for women's health month. Mary is the owner of Oh Baby! Kansas City, a doula agency offering birth support, postpartum care, sleep coaching and more. Mary is a birth, postpartum & bereavement doula and childbirth educator. To learn more about Mary + Oh Baby! Kansas City, visit ohbabykc.com.

One day I was hanging with a friend and someone she knew stopped to say hello. Introductions were made, and my friend said “Oh, Mary is a doula!” The new acquaintance says “Oh! A doula! Remind me again… doulas do stuff with vaginas and all that?” I reply with “Oh no no no. We doulas only touch the vaginas... of the heart.”*Cue awkward silence from my new friend*

“But Mary, hearts don’t have vaginas… Do they?” No. No they do not. But that just reinforces the fact that doulas are not medical professionals! 

One of the most commonly asked questions I get when I tell people “I’m a doula and I own a doula agency” is “Oh, that’s so great that you get to deliver babies!”

We do not deliver babies. We do not give medical advice, and we do not have anything to do with your vagina (except to give you tips postpartum to help your vagina feel more comfortable). Our expertise is helping you feel heard, supported & comfortable.

You know, the vaginas of the heart.

So now that we’ve established that I clearly do not have my medical degree, let’s talk about what we as doulas actually do. The nitty gritty of it. Because wtf does “heard, supported & comfortable” actually mean? And why does that even matter?

Heard

Birth & postpartum are really hard. In both instances, it is common to feel overwhelmed by the information being thrown at you from every direction (your OB, your mom, your friends, Facebook mommy groups, strangers in the grocery store…), but you may not feel like anyone is interested in hearing what you have to say or how you are actually feeling. 

Your doula does. Your doula asks you what your goals and desires are & cheers you on while you reach for them. Your doula doesn’t just care about your baby - your doula cares about you as a person. If you’ve had a person do that for you, you know exactly how valuable that is!

Supported

This is very similar to “heard” but I like to think of the difference between heard and supported being like this:

  • Heard - You are lying on an uncomfortable surface and tell me “I’m really uncomfortable” and I say “I know, I’m sorry. That looks really uncomfortable! Your feelings are definitely valid.” (Empathetic!)
  • Supported - You are lying on an uncomfortable surface and tell me “I’m really uncomfortable” and I hand you pillow after pillow for you to position around yourself until we are at your desired level of pillows. (Helpful AND empathetic!)

Supporting you means handing you tools so you can reach your goals! I may not be able to change the circumstances, but I can make your circumstances a little (or a lot!) more bearable by presenting options that you may not have considered.

In the birth space, this means using all the tools available to me to make your birth experience rock. In postpartum, this means using my knowledge and experience to help you find your “footing” as you figure out your parenting journey, as well as being an extra set of hands so you don’t have to worry about doing all the things. So nice, right?!

Comfortable 

I think we all know what it means to be comfortable. And yet, we all have different ideas of comfort. 

In birth, comfort for one person may be having someone keep a cool cloth on their neck, speaking affirmations & pressing on their back to relieve the pressure of contractions. And for another, comfort may mean knowing that the minute things get uncomfy, an epidural is there. Neither of those are wrong! You are allowed to have your ideal of comfort & should not be made to feel ashamed of utilizing what you want to. 

Your doula gets to know you to learn what comfort means to you & helps you navigate with that in mind. Because here’s a little truth bomb for you - no matter how wonderful and supportive your OB is, their #1 priority is not your comfort. That’s why having someone (a doula) whose job is primarily your comfort, is so important. 

Before you say “Oh, but my partner does that and cares about my comfort! They can be my doula!” Listen. They know you, but your doula knows birth and postpartum. This is your partner’s experience as well and they also may need support. Your doula supports the vagina of your partner’s heart as well (yes, that was as awkward for me to write as it was for you to read. Let’s just sit with that one for a minute).

I mentioned two different types of doulas: birth and postpartum. They both offer different types of support, so I wanted to explain the differences between them: 

  • Birth doula: Offers emotional, educational & physical support leading up to and during the birth process. This can look like helping you create a birth plan, utilizing relief techniques during labor and offering options during labor to make everything go according to what you envision. Birth doulas do not give medical advice.
  • Postpartum doula: Offers emotional, education & physical support postpartum in the family’s home. This can look like showing you basic newborn care techniques, helping with light housework (dishes & laundry), giving lactation advice or pointers and taking care of your baby so you can nap or shower (or overnight so you can get bigger chunks of sleep). 

I hope after reading this, you have a better understanding of what doulas do and how we help our families have better births & postpartum experiences. So I hope next time you hear of a doula, your first thought is “vaginas of the heart”. You’re welcome.

- Mary Pope, Doula and Owner of Oh Baby! Kansas City 

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