The Life of a Doula

A glance into the world of the birther’s helper

Lena Orlova // Contributing Writer

Krysta Shore // Photographer

Every hour, at least 10,000 parents bring little humans into the world—a task taxing for both the mind and the body. Labour rooms mimic battle zones, with sleepless doctors and rushing nurses turning over linens soaked in blood, sweat and tears. At home, post-labour life promises sleepless nights, baby anxiety and routine adjustments. 

In birth, not only is the baby born, but so is the parent. They leave the comfort of an independent life to become a 24/7 caregiver to a child completely dependent on the consistent provision of nourishment, attention and safety they provide them. 

Many ancient cultures had customs around childbearing involving a community of relatives, parents and neighbours. In Mexico and other parts of Latin America, some parents undertake a “cuarentena,” which literally means quarantine. Despite how catastrophic the word sounds, the cuarentena is a period of complete rest and bonding with the baby. At this time, a helper takes over light housekeeping tasks like cooking and cleaning. 

Doulas resurrect the ancient role of the birther’s helper, providing non-clinical aspects of support for parents. They provide parents things like non-judgemental, non-biased emotional and physical care, physiological education, birth planning and advocacy. 

Since the early 1900s, parents have been birthing under the direction of doctors, nurses and midwives, who dramatically improved safety in childbearing. Since then however, the rate of labour interventions has grown higher than at any other time in history, and so has postpartum depression. Studies have shown that proper holistic care, which a Doula can provide, often alleviates these effects.

“People don’t have a community anymore. Especially in these larger city landscapes where people are literally just with their partner and the partner goes back to work and they are alone. That’s just not the way anybody intended to be postpartum,” said Shania Lane, a native Torontonian and a Doula-in-training at Bunky Bambino, a Vancouver-based business of birth and postpartum Doulas. 

A tribe of heart-oriented people make up Bunky Bambino. Their services include pre and postnatal visits, attendance at birth, access to learning materials, herbal support, guidance in breastfeeding and postpartum recovery, and baby-minding. What’s more, every Doula has their own philosophy informing their authentic style of practice.

“Bodies birth…how they want to and how they need to and that can look different for everybody,” said Lane. “I do have lots of clients who just want to go to the hospital and get an epidural and lay on their back and birth, and that’s fine, but they also have the opportunity to explore the other options of what else they can do. I think that’s mainly what people are looking for. The opportunity to find out all the options, not just one way of birthing.”

Emma Devin, the owner of Bunky Bambino, discovered her passion by chance and intuition. Before beginning her Doula education, she worked as a nanny and had already felt within her an interest for parenthood and childbearing. Devin also has a talent for building connections. She credits her association with the LGBTQ+ community for broadening her understanding of family. 

Emma Devin (right) assists a parent giving birth. Photos by Krysta Shore.

“Family can mean anything,” Devin emphasized. “Sometimes having blood relatives around isn’t an option.” At its core, family is defined by love, caring, support and nurturing. No matter the family structure, every soon-to-be parent benefits from having someone warm and understanding to watch over their birthing journey. A positive childbearing experience can have lasting effects on a baby’s mental health. Children born to parents struggling with stress and depression are more likely to develop similar symptoms later in life. Research shows that parents who receive the support of a doula are less likely to view the birthing process negatively, and less likely to have a C-section. The Doula’s role is to preserve the sacredness and significance of the birthing experience, making for a happier parent and therefore a happier, healthier child. 

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