by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
You are not to leave that woman’s side. Even if it means missing class, or skipping meals or not taking bathroom breaks, because, as a doula, that’s your job.
When senior Mary Hricik attended her first birth, it lasted for 36 hours.
“The point of being a doula is giving them constant care and attention and support,” Hricik said. “I didn’t get to eat the whole time. It’s so amazing.”
Hricik and three other Warren Wilson students volunteer as doulas for Start From Seed, a non-profit that provides free and sliding scale doula services to pregnant women in the Asheville area. Hricik, Sara Hiller, Julie Larsen and Lexi Dambrosio, after completing their training to become certified doulas last spring, now take on one to three clients at a time through Start From Seed (SFS).
SFS is a program comprised entirely of volunteers (currently 16 in total), serving low income and high-risk women—women with substance abuse problems, younger and older mothers, women who have suffered from domestic abuse and more. The services that the volunteers provide include a handful of prenatal visits with the client, and a postpartum visit. The doulas are also present during their client’s birth. Throughout their relationship with the client, the doula’s role is to provide support to the expectant mothers and their partners, answer questions, and, most importantly, provide information.
“Education is a big part of what we do,” said Hricik, who is the intern at the doula program. “A lot of our clients don’t have experience raising a newborn, or know things like what happens when you go to the hospital, because it’s such a scary experience.”
The doula’s visit the expectant mothers at their homes at least twice before they give birth. It’s important for the expectant mothers to feel comfortable when they meet with their doulas.
“They’re not coming into your office,” Hricik said. “You’re not this professional with power. You’re on their turf. You’re the person that’s serving them.”
Start From Seed is an organization started by Chelsea Kouns and Cheryl Orengo, who have been working as doulas for years. They founded SFS in 2011 because they believed that every woman that wants a doula deserves to have a doula. In the Asheville area, birth doulas cost between $300 and $800 while postpartum doulas are $15 to $25 an hour. Before SFS came into being, there was no program in Buncombe county that provided these types of services to women who could not afford to hire a doula.
“I saw a gap in prenatal care services and felt that these women and their families were being underserved,” Kouns said.
According to Kouns, more than half of the women who give birth at Mission Hospital in Asheville are on Medicaid, and many of these women are not given the opportunity to do things like attend childbirth classes or have access to doulas. SFS hopes to reach these women, so that they too can have low intervention, positive birth experiences.
In the weeks surrounding the mother’s due date, the doulas are on call 24/7. The role of the doula is not only to educate and support mothers before the births, but also during. Hricik, Hiller, Larsen and Dambrosio are present with their clients while they are giving birth, and sometimes this means missing work and class in exchange for long days and nights in Mission Hospital.
One of Hricik’s clients went into labor at midnight the night before an important class. It was a fast labor though, and Hricik was able to make it back home, sleep for an hour and then attend class in the morning.
“It’s magical how it doesn’t happen when you don’t want it to,” Hricik said.
Dambrosio added how the timing of their births usually work out on their own.
“When it’s super stressful and you’re in between clients, your backup is going out of town,” Dambrosio said. “Somehow it all falls into place.”
In the hospital room, the doula’s job is to advocate for the expectant mother, listening to her and making sure she remains comfortable according to Hiller.
“You’re not a medical professional, but [the doctors and nurses] are very respectful,” Hiller said. “It’s an interesting line to walk.”
To Dambrosio, being a doula means taking on a “very humble role,” especially in the hospital room. Dambrosio, Hiller, Hricik and Larsen all hope to become midwives in the future, and they see doula work as laying the foundation for their future goals.
“[It’s funny to say] sure, I’m just going to be with you at the time when you’re most open and powerful and alive,” Hiller said. “Working as a doula, I see so much of the magic in this role.”