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soothes women, aids during birth
Aug. 26, 2002
Special to the Observer-Dispatch
Time was when a woman’s companions during childbirth
were doctors and nurses, period.
In recent decades, fathers and significant others have
become fixtures in the delivery room. Today, many babies
are delivered not by obstetricians but by midwives —
licensed professionals qualified to handle “normal”
All these people bustle around the laboring mother-to-be
with the goal of safer, happier childbirth.
But a growing number of women see a role for one more
kind of caregiver in the process — a woman to soothe,
comfort, instruct, encourage and stick up for the mother:
The word, according to Doulas of North America, comes
from the ancient Greek and means “woman’s servant.”
doula is a woman, a caregiver trained to provide physical,
emotional and informational support to a woman and her
husband before, during and after childbirth,” said Heather
Allen of Deansboro, a certified doula. “A doula’s part
of the labor support team, not a replacement for a midwife
or a doctor.”
There are a handful of doulas in Central New York. The
profession is not licensed by the state, but organizations
such as Doulas of North America offer certification
based on study, experience and positive evaluations
by doctors, midwives and mothers.
For a fee ranging from $300 to $600, Allen will be on
call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the two
weeks before and two weeks after her client’s due date.
She’ll make one or two pre-natal visits and will be
ready to be summoned when labor begins. Often, she will
join the mother at home in the exciting but nerve-wracking
early stages of labor, before the trip to the hospital.
She’ll help the mother know what to expect and even
help her write a “birth plan” — a statement of the mother’s
preferences about things like whether to use drugs for
pain, whether to use medicine or non medical means to
speed labor, and keeping the newborn with her for a
time after birth. And in the delivery room, she’ll make
sure the medical team knows the plan and adheres to
Perhaps most important, she will not leave the mother’s
side throughout the process. That makes her a source
of comfort to both the mother and the father, giving
a level of attention that nurses, doctors and midwives
simply can’t match.
get through the pain, you have to relax,” said Carolyn
Hsu, a professor of sociology at Colgate University
who employed Allen during the birth of her daughter
Lin Henke in October. “Now if something is basically
ripping your guts in half, the last thing you would
think to do is relax. ... Heather was there and she
would say, ‘OK, now relax, unclench your jaw.’ She was
watching me and knew what was happening.”
just don’t know how I would have done it without her,”
said Hsu, whose husband, Christopher Henke, also teaches
at Colgate. “All together, our feeling after the whole
thing was we didn’t pay her enough.”
Allen sometimes has to leave her own family on short
notice and be gone for as long as 24 hours. “Having
a support system is key,” she said. “Especially if you
have children and a family, you have to be able to find
someone to take over for you.”
Allen used a doula during the birth of her second son,
Eddie, on the recommendation of her midwife. She was
so impressed that she became a doula herself, and is
now certified by DONA and has attended upward of 30
births in Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Hamilton and Cooperstown.
She generally has between one and four clients per month,
though there are months she takes off for time with
her own family.
Amy Falvo of Trenton said Allen made labor more bearable
— and more efficient — when she gave birth to her son
Joseph in March 2001.
was going slowly because I wasn’t relaxed,” said Falvo,
a director of United Cerebral Palsy. “Heather helped
me relax and let the contractions do their job.”
Allen helped prepare a birth plan for Falvo and her
husband, Gene, president of Falvo Manufacturing in Utica.
She stayed in the picture as Joseph and his new parents
got to know each other.
the birth, she came to the hospital the next day to
check how things were going, and she also came to the
house a few days later to make sure everything was going
all right,” Falvo said.
Allen said she expects the demand for doulas to rise
because they provide an economic benefit as well as
an emotional one.
have been scientific studies done that show doulas reduce
the cesarean section rate by 50 percent,” and reduce
the use of expensive epidural pain medicine and risky
forceps births, Allen said.
For those reasons, more than 100 hospitals nationwide
now offer doula service at little or no cost, and even
insurance companies are starting to cover the service.
realizing that, ‘If we pay $400 for the doula, we’ll
save $3,000 on the hospital bill,’” she said. “So as
that picks up, I think doulas are going to be much more