I have heard this line a ton in my career. And I have to say, I always feel the same way about that statement. I respect and understand that, many times, these roles can offer great support to the mom during labor and birth. I believe wholeheartedly that the mother should only invite into her birthing space those whom she wants there. There is so much wisdom and love in a woman-centric birth.
But, with all love and respect intended, these roles (friend, sister, mom, chiropractor, midwife's assistant, etc..) are not doulas. They are friends and sisters and moms and chiropractors and midwife's assistants. And although the support can be great and 'enough', the research supports that a family member, friend, or other support professional does not provide the same support as a doula. ( see here at Childbirth Connection).
You already know my feelings on how a doula can come to be a doula, and how they support in different situations, but this post is about how a doula is different from any other support person. And how these other individuals may not be able to, and most oftentimes don't, provide the same care as a doula.
Yes, a mom can be a great emotional comfort, but can she provide unbiased information and options during labor? Yes a friend who is also an L&D nurse can be a great source of information and perspective, but can she look you in the eye with unwavering belief and tell you 'you don't need it' during transition when you think you want to give up? Your sister can be great at being your stubborn voice of reason when the going get's tough, but can she help translate the terminologies of birth and facilitate true informed disclosure during the event? And your chiropractor is a great body worker, but do they know normal physiological labor and birth and what to expect?
A doula is someone who devotes their time and energy, study and skill to this craft. They have (hopefully) trained in some capacity, attended a number of births, studied (and stayed current in their studies), and honed. They have a multitude of skill sets and tools, education and information to bring to a birth. And they truly cannot be replaced easily. What does a doula bring?
- Education and skills, experience and a network of support. Your doula will be current on medical, holistic, maternal/fetal, and breastfeeding research. She will have a vast bucket of knowledge to help you walk through any situation that may arise in your birthing time. And she will have a network to fall back upon when her knowledge, skill, and experience reach it's limit. Additionally, she understands the boundaries in any setting, and how to work within her scope and skill in any setting.
- The ability to move easily between the different members of the birth team, helping and meeting needs as they arise. A doula is hired for the laboring woman, yes, but she is also hired to support the woman's choices - and some of the choices she has is who is at the birth with her. So a doula's job is also to help the other members of the team by intuitively knowing how to serve them as well.
- She can put her ego aside, as she knows that this birth is not about her, but about the woman and those who she has an intimate relationship with at the birth (friends, family members, partner). She has no biases, personal agendas, or conflicting affiliations. She's there for the mom/her support team alone.
- She understands the intricacy of each level of birthing. She protects the space of undisturbed, physiological birth. She is knowledgeable of every choice, every word or sound, the ambiance of a room, the energy of a person - and how it can affect birth.
In closing, yes, a friend, your mom, your sister or chiropractor, those are all wonderful additions to a birthing room, and all of those roles are a great asset to any birthing chamber - if you want them there - but it is a very rare person, outside of a trained and professional doula, that can fulfill the role of a doula.
So please, know this as you prepare your birthing team. And please don't tell your provider that they are a doula unless they truly are one.