Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Value and Purpose of Labor Suport

Sarah Eiley Cowherd
The following was written several years ago when I was working towards my doula certification. It has now been nearly 2 years (gulp!) since I last attended a birth. I've been on an extended mama/maternity leave while I raise my young children and focus on my primary ministry of family life. I've been busy whiping noses and bottoms, nursing babies, meal planning, home-tending, playdate hosting and doing all of the important things mamas do. Of course, I still have years of that work still ahead of me, but I am also forunate enough to be returning to birth work now! I have been itchng to re-connect with "Sarah Eiley" - that doula-girl, hippie-chick, earthy-birthy mama that lives inside of me. I am now an active member of Doulas of Central New York, a wonderful agency serving families in my area. I have incredible teammates who support each other and work together. I am hoping to take on just one or two clients per month. I'm "booking" clients NOW for this fall and winter, so call me soon!! And in the meantime if you see me, don't forget about that part of my name that is so special to me - Eiley! :)

The Value and Purpose of Labor Support

When racked with labour pangs, and sore distressed
the sex invoke thee, as the soul’s sure rest;
for thou Eileithyia alone canst give relief to pain,
which art attempts to ease, but tries in vain.
Artemis Eileithyia, venerable power,
who bringest relief in labour’s dreadful hour.”
—Orphic Hymn 2, to Prothyraeia, as translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792.

In Greek mythology, female goddesses gave birth under the guidance of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth and light. In ancient cave drawings that remain today, Eileithyia is depicted serving women in labor, bearing a torch as she welcomes children out of the darkness and into the light. Early in college, and already on my journey to becoming a Doula, I was delighted to learn that I share a connection with this divine helper to women in labor through my middle name, Eiley.
The Greeks lend not only inspirational figures, but words important to those women who serve as doulas. The very word, Doula, comes from ancient Greek culture and literally means, “female servant.” The idea that women traditionally supported one another in their journeys toward motherhood appealed to me as I began to discover my own desire to encourage and care for women. I believe women lost something profound when birth was removed from the home, family, and feminine community and was reestablished in impersonal medical settings. Today’s modern Doula has the opportunity to become a bridge between a female-oriented birth support model and the modern medical model. Many pregnant women intuitively desire the comforting presence of another experienced woman at their birth, and the evolution of Doula care as a profession has worked to fill the gap in society where family and friends once stood.
A birth Doula is a woman with a sincere desire to support women throughout their pregnancy, labor and early postpartum experience. Doulas provide emotional, practical, and physical support throughout labor and birth. Doulas are trained to offer emotional support during pregnancy, and though they do not offer clinical services, they may have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom about topics such as getting prenatal care, nutrition, and preparing the body for birth. A Doula assists a woman during the actual event of labor and delivery with continuous support, advocacy in the hospital, objective information, hands-on comfort techniques and emotional encouragement. Though birth and postpartum Doulas have different roles, the presence of a birth Doula often aids the transition from hospital to home as a new family settles in, bonds with their baby and discovers parenting. Doulas inspire birthing women to trust in their own bodies, in their mothering-intuition and in the birth process as a whole.
There are considerable benefits of a return to a model in which women celebrate and support each other in the transition from maidens to mothers. Studies have shown that women who are supported through labor by a caring individual have better obstetrical outcomes, shorter labors and need less pain medication than women who labor on their own. Research studies on the effectiveness of Doula support suggest that when a woman’s emotional needs are addressed during her pregnancy and labor experience, her perspective of her birth experience is more positive and breastfeeding and early bonding are improved. Overall, a woman who is cared for and cheered through such a life-changing event will likely experience a greater sense of pride and accomplishment.
Birth is a tremendous rite of passage. It can be a wonderful life-changing event for both a woman and her partner. Birth can be magical and joyful. Birth can be about letting go of fears and taking one contraction at a time. The childbearing year is a time that calls for honesty, trust, patience, tenderness, and support. It is an intensely emotional experience. I believe having a Doula present at birth allows a woman the chance to connect with the courage and strength of all of the women who have gone before her in birthing and mothering. What an incredible blessing and honor it is for me to be working with women as they prepare for such an awe-inspiring event in their lives! It makes my heart sing.


Amy @ Frugal Mama said...

You said it right, sista! I so believe in everything you are saying. Birth is a life-changing event, and having a doula for my last birth, made it the best birth I've ever had.

I can totally see why you love this profession and why you'd be really good at it. You are so warm and loving, and I love "earthy-birthy"!

I wish you all the success and prosperity from your super-important work, helping women experience and remember their births as the best they can possibly be.

Love, Amy

Doula! Liz Baer said...

Wow. I love your essay, Sarah.

Midwife International said...

Beautifully said, Sarah. Thank you for sharing your informative and inspiring take on labor support and safe, normal child birth.

At Midwife International, we work to make labor support accessible across the globe through training midwives who are equipped to work in resource-constrained regions where maternal and child mortality is high and the need for professional midwives is greatest.

To learn more about how to become a midwife with Midwife International, please visit:

Lots of love to you and your family!