The word “Doula” comes from the ancient Greek, meaning “a woman who serves” (http://www.dona.org/mothers/) and today, the word has been given to those woman who serve the needs of other woman during childbirth.
A couple weeks ago, our class had the pleasure of being visit by a doula, Merrill Durham, who is one of few Doulas’ in the Nashville area. Merrill most definitely embodied the essence of “a woman who serves” when presenting to our class and detailing her role as a Doula. She emphasized that Doulas function differently than midwives, in that they do not deal with medical advice or assistance, but function more as a birth coach to the mother, who commits early on to give birth at home. They aid in helping mothers connect with their bodies and their emotions during childbirth in order to aid in a more peaceful and rewarding childbirth. They are a resource throughout the entire duration of a pregnancy and serve as special birthing coach to the mother. “Research evidence shows that the quality services of a postpartum doula can ease the transition that comes with the addition of a baby to a family, improve parental satisfaction and reduce the risk of mood disorders” (http://www.dona.org/mothers/).
Merrill’s presentation was very informative and rewarding, in that it helped to debunk some myths surrounding childbirth, and one of her most important lessons was taught through her personal story of childbirth and becoming a Doula. Merrill recounted watching one of her friends give birth in her home. She describes the scene as peaceful and serene and so natural of a process that many people may forget when watching the ways in which childbirth is depicted in the media. Merrill tells of a journey of connecting with her body and realizing how strong and powerful it is and the wonders it can do. So why is it then, that pregnant woman are seen as weak, vulnerable creatures? These woman are carrying new life and hold within them the guaranteed continuation of society, however it seems they are not recognized for the miracles they produce.
Historically, pregnant woman (and woman in general) have not been paid much attention to. Woman’s bodies were merely the vessel to which new life was brought about and their needs, emotions, and wants were not greatly paid attention to. As long as a woman was able to produce a healthy babe, there was no other reason to invest in the unique health issues and other factors related to being pregnant.
Today, however, pregnancy and childbirth has become highly medicalized. From the day a mother realizes she is pregnant, she is bombarded by the health sector and in and out of hospitals and clinics for check ups. This is not to say that these services are not needed and important to the health of the baby, however we fail to acknowledge how the mother feels as immediately being labeled a “patient” or someone who needs help. Almost 99% of births occur in a hospital in which a mother is most likely wearing a hospital gown, is hooked up to IV’s and machines, and is laying helpless on a bed. Un-pronounceable medications and remedies are pushed on the mother, again, creating the message that something needs to be “fixed” and your are suffering from some kind of disease, as opposed to the natural process that it really is.
Childbirth in America is treated as a condition; one in which that has yet to be fully understood. Why is that? Why do we invest so much money in diseases such as cancer, which yes people suffer from but is not necessarily a given, but we do not take the time to understand a natural process that has been occurring since the dawn of time and will continue longer after our time on earth? This is due to the medical field being highly influenced by hetero-normative values as the larger society is as well. Because men don’t “suffer” from childbirth, it is not deemed important enough to handle in a more impactful way. Instead, this industry creates a stigma and takes power away from women. This institution labels woman as “sick” or “diseased” and minimalizes their role and importance in society. Similar to the job market where woman have been historically fired/not hired for fear of pregnancy, the medical field is fearful to promote power within these woman through emphasizing their natural ability to bring life.
Merrill’s presentation was very eye opening. For many, childbirth in a hospital is normal and natural. If you are sick and in pain, where else would you go? However, here lies the issue. Pregnant woman are not sick or diseased and their health needs should be just as understood as the health needs of men.
Why do you think the medical industry frames pregnancy in such a way, when it is clearly a natural process of the female body? How do you think these labels have an impact (positive or negative) on the beliefs and mindsets of pregnant woman?