Can my mother/sister/husband/friend/midwife be my doula?

A laboring woman should be accompanied by whatever people as she chooses. However, the support of professional doula is different from – and complimentary to! – the support offered by loved ones, and that offered by medical professionals.

You wouldn’t expect your partner to stand in for the doctor, or the doctor to stand in for your partner, would you? Of course not! The primary role of the medical team – doctor/nurse/midwife – is to monitor and support the physical health of mother and baby. Doctors, nurses, and midwives typically endeavor to support the laboring woman emotionally as well, but when the birth room gets busy, that’s not their primary task.

So what about loved ones? Well, at my first birth I was assisted by two midwives, my husband, and my mother. My mother is an experienced nurse and nursing instructor. Although not an expert in labor and delivery, you’d likely imagine she’d be able to provide “emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decisions,” right? Well, she certainly provided emotional and physical support and gave my partner the breaks he needed, but so far as objective viewpoint goes: NOPE! This was her baby, in pain and bringing forth her grandbaby. In this moment, she was just – and wonderfully – Jackie’s Mommy.

For my second birth, I hired a doula. (I hired Rachel.) You can see her here, working together with my husband to support me through pushing. My midwives are present but out of the shot – because they are busy with the medical work of assisting delivery.Rachel assisting at the birth of Jackie's second child

This does not mean you should not invite your mother or other loved one as well as a professional doula! We strongly believe that women in labor should be attended by whomever they choose (though you may need to check in with your provider’s/birth location’s policies regarding number of attendants). Because just as your mother/sister/husband/friend/midwife isn’t a professional doula (and perhaps even if s/he is), a professional doula knows very well that her role is not the same as you mother/sister/husband/friend/midwife’s. Only the medical team is the medical team, and only your loved ones are your loved ones.

Indeed, although your doula’s primary duty is to you, the laboring mother, most medical professionals and loved ones wind up finding that the presence of a professional doula enhanced their own ability to support the laboring mother. The doula eases the pressure on the partner, and on the medical staff, to fill all the roles all the time. She helps hold the birthing room as a sacred space, in which every attendant is able to bring her or his particular skills and gifts.

Together, we support the mother and her birth memory.