This is not a failing of the doula, simply a fact that doulaing and midwifery are different roles. And therefore, I believe that, rather than focusing on any ‘bad midwife’ or ‘unsupportive NHS’ stories, it is more relevant and useful for the doula course leader to keep clarifying with her students the working boundaries of the doula, to reiterate that while she is there to protect the mother’s birthing environment, a part of this includes striving to ensure a harmonious relationship with the attending midwife.
Regardless of whether she had completed a course or not, a doula may be very experienced in supporting birthing families as a lay companion. And yes, her role is to protect and promote normal physiology, but often the reason why the doula is enlisted in the first place is because the mother feels her voice was not heard during a traumatic birth experience the last time round. The doula develops a close trusting relationship with the mother and her partner through pregnancy and works on sharing resources with the parents to enable them to make their own informed choices about the maternity care that feels right for them.
If things start to deviate from the norm during labour, the birth doula can only be led by the parents on how best to support them and the midwife’s advice will also enter this equation. However, the doula also knows (or should know) that sometimes, disturbance of the birth space (through noise, lack of privacy, stressed or fearful supporters, strangers entering the room) can be the very reason why the birth process starts to deviate from the norm in the first place. If the parents also understand this and have prepared well to minimise the risk of this, then it is likely that in view of her own role in supporting the couple’s wishes, the attending midwife will be mindful of limiting disturbance in the birthing room too.
In the same way that the midwife may feel caught between her employer’s rules and regulations and the choices of mother or couple she is attending, the doula may feel caught between her client’s wishes and medical advice. Of course it is not her role to defy professional opinion, but it is the doula’s role to support the mother if the mother chooses not to accept medical intervention.
We are all only human, but one thing we do all have in common is a passion for supporting women, men and families to enjoy the best birth and early parenting experience possible. I believe that if we both, as doulas and midwives, truly have the mother or couple and their baby’s best interests at heart, most times we will do our utmost get it right between us, and doula course leaders can do much to mindfully promote this good intention.