Childbirth Companion

Doula Care & Educational Support


The Doula and the First-Aider

Posted by Stephanie Hayes on June 24, 2013 at 11:35 AM

By Stephanie Hayes, CD(DONA), Childbirth Educator


Recently my daughter and I participated in a two-day first aid course.


“Sometimes, as a first aider, it may simply mean holding a hand. That may be the only care you can provide,” our instructor stated at the very beginning of the first day. “But know that it may also be the most important thing you will do for that person.”

Less than a week later, I happened to be at the scene of a tragic accident. As paramedics and fire fighters directed their attention and hopes to saving a life, I noticed an individual pacing the closed highway, anxiety written across his face. No one else was nearby at the moment, so I approached him to see how he was fairing. This was not the first time he had witnessed such an incident, and he commented that it didn’t get any easier to deal with. We chatted for a few minutes until he was needed elsewhere, but I will never forget his last words to me. “Thank you so much! You were a big help!”


When we envision providing first aid, our imaginations conjure up all types of emergent and traumatic scenarios and the various skills we will need to implement. But, despite the tragedy of the situation, none of my technical first aid training was of any use to that man. He had no physical injuries to which I could tend. I never even touched him, and yet somehow I had offered him something significant. All I had done was given him my undivided attention, compassion and reassurance, and an opportunity to express his pent-up anxiety.


As I mulled over this incident the following day, I began to see a correlation between my minute role at that scene and my work as a doula. Many times we feel that we need to use all the tricks in our bag when attending a birth, that if we don’t, we are in some way failing our profession and the women we serve. Studies show that when doulas attend births there is a lower rate of interventions, pain medication use, and caesareans. But, when a client ends up with a challenging birth or a surgical intervention, we often feel that we didn’t provide the type of care that was expected of us, as if we were single-handedly expected to uphold the stats. We fear that our client will be disappointed in us and lack appreciation for our profession, that it will be devalued in the eyes of those anticipating great outcomes. And yet, even in birth, sometimes the most important care we will provide is compassion, empathy, reassurance, and holding a hand.


In over a decade of attending births and teaching childbirth education, I have learned that the most important benefit that a doula provides is her continuous presence. Sometimes there is simply nothing we can do to alter the direction and outcome of a birth, but we can have a huge impact on the mother’s perspective and feelings regarding this experience that will impact the rest of her life. Our encouragement and reassurance can free her from undue feelings of guilt, disappointment, and failure. Our continuous presence can alleviate her sense of isolation, aloneness, and even abandonment. Holding her hand can provide her with an anchor and a sense of security in the midst of confusing circumstances and unknowns.


While there is so much we can offer to provide comfort to a labouring woman, I believe that meeting her emotional needs is paramount to her overall perception of her birth experience. While we often play an integral part in an awe-inspiring and even “perfect” birth, sometimes we might make “a nightmare experience bearable” or a high-intervention birth “magical”. Our goal should be to reduce as much negative impact as possible while promoting the positive, because we might be the only person to offer that mother a silver lining through which to view her birth. Might we go away from every birth knowing that, even in the small things, we were “a big help!”


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