Birthing Beautifully with a Doula

February 23, 2016

Have you ever thought of birth being something powerful, something that brings excitement, joy and a fire within whenever you think about it? Something that gives you, what I like to call, special powers. Have you ever thought of birth as being one of the most wonderful and memorable experience of woman's life? Have you ever seen a mama to be and feel she is so lucky as she will soon experience the amazing thing that labor is? Many of you, my ladies, are probably saying-- No way! However I have good news for you. It is possible. It is out there for you to reach for. You just have to make a choice. Change your attitude and perception of this beautiful experience. See it more as an intense yet amazing gift from Mother Nature, instead of treating it as a sickness. It can all be done. A wonderful person to help make it happen for you can be a doula. Doula. Sounds familiar? Not really? Don't worry. Let me introduce you to one beautiful lady Sarah Nurit Popivker, certified birth doula, known as Tambourine Ma'am.

Natalia Graziano: I heard the word 'doula' around three years ago for the first time. Many people still have never met with this term. Sarah, could you please tell us what really is a doula? Sarah Nurit Popivker: Literally, the word Doula comes from the Greek δούλη, which means “female servant”; in modern times, it refers to a person (usually, but not necessarily a woman) that offers physical, emotional and psychological support and helps making informed and evidence based decisions during some crucial times in a woman’s life (pregnancy, labor and birth, postpartum). NG: What types of doula are out there? SNP: There are several types of Doulas: Birth Doulas (like myself) support women throughout pregnancy, labor birth and the immediate postpartum; Postpartum Doulas help women transitioning to their new life as mothers, and often offer overnight shifts to allow new parents to catch some rest; Bereavement Doulas offer support in coping with fetal or neonatal loss; End of Life Doulas help terminally ill patients live in a serene way through the last days of life. NG: What is the easiest way to find a doula? SNP: There are online databases ( is one of them) with reviews and credentials for hundreds of Doulas based on location; almost all Doulas have a website and a Facebook Business Page with their contact info; networking with other women that used Doulas could be very helpful to hear first hand reviews: word of mouth is still one of the biggest advertisements! NG: What does it take to become a doula? SNP: 99% of Doulas go through a training: there are many certification agencies, some offer a workshop and some have an online curriculum, all of them require a certain amount of “hands on” experience with detailed reports, because nothing is as effective to learn how to be a Doula than practice! After completing the training, most Doulas become certified. NG: Any advice for women who would like to become a doula? SNP: Since there are so many training options, I always suggest to “shop around” and compare prices, requirements, philosophy; another very important thing is to try to connect with the local Birth Workers community, to meet other Doulas and become acquainted with the pleasures and requirements of the Doula life. Once the decision to pursue that path is made, I feel that theory and practice should walk hand in hand, because reading about different techniques is not as effective without practice, and obviously supporting parents-­to-­be without proper training will not hold the same results. Most of all, follow your passions! Doula work is hard but very rewarding! NG: Tell me about your story. How did it happen that you became a doula? SNP: I gave birth to four of my children in Italy, the country where I am from originally. Not only Doulas were not allowed at hospital births, but even my husband was kicked out of the triage/delivery room, and I was left with nurses and doctors, dealing with my fears, my emotions, and the fact that I had nobody to support me. I had a c/section with my second baby, and I still remember the feeling of despair as i was being wheeled in the operating room, leaving my husband and being “assisted” by rude and insensitive staff. Slowly, I started doing more research on the options to make birth a better experience, but I realized that there was still a lot of work to do for labor support to be welcomed. A while after we moved back to America, I got pregnant with our fifth child, and I decided to take charge of my pregnancy and birth: I wanted it to be different, I wanted to know more, to be educated and make informed decisions. The first step was to choose a midwife: she made me feel free to explore my options, she listened to me and made me feel empowered. Secondly, I started reading and learning about different birth techniques, and breathing, and positions, and meditation: that’s where my informal Doula training started. The third step was to have my husband and a friend with tons of birth experience as support team during my labor and birth, and I felt that it really made a difference: I had a short labor and a wonderful water birth surrounded by people I loved, and I decided that every woman should have the option to be supported during one of the most special, life changing moments of her life. I started training immediately, and got my Certification through Childbirth International. NG: What is your mission in life? SNP: I have several things that are dear to my heart: to live as fully as possible, make my children and my husband feel as loved as possible, follow my passions, and make sure that every woman I meet becomes conscious of her super powers! NG: How exactly do you help a woman during labor? SNP: There are more than one level of support: ● physical: I use my tools to ease the discomfort of the contractions; I always carry with me a Rebozo, a peanut ball and a rice bag. I use my hands to apply counter pressure, to stimulate acupressure points, to massage and support; ● emotional: I am a trained Aromatherapist (I just submitted my final exam for Certification!), and I see that mothers and fathers really benefit from diffusing essential oils, they create a certain aura around the labor team, and depending on the essential oils I use, the effect can be energizing or relaxing. I encourage the laboring mothers to discover their real strength, to feel empowered, to embrace their labor instead of being afraid of it; quite often, just holding a hand (or letting a mother squeezing mine) can be very helpful. ● professional/experienced: I am trained and familiar with a wide range of medical terms, interventions, drug actions and side effects, so I can guide and offer information to my clients; i have assisted many births, and I am myself the mother of five kids, so the labor process is very familiar to me, and I have been exposed to all kinds of birth experiences and outcomes, so I can offer support across the spectrum. NG: What are the real benefits of having this type of assistance during the labor? SNP: There is research that shows that Doulas are really good for you:­evidence­for­doulas/ Think of it like having by your side a reassuring, experienced figure that will support you no matter how your labor goes, what decisions you make, and will create a communication channel between you and your care provider...and will make you laugh, wipe your tears and your sweat, and show you what a goddess you are! NG: What is your most memorable experience of being a doula? SNP: I have several: an almost 3 day labor in a hospital setting (it was one of the first births I supported), where we went through the whole arsenal of tools and techniques, and little to no sleep or food, and we all cried happy tears when the mother gave birth vaginally to a healthy baby; a preterm labor, that developed into the birth of a healthy preemie that is now a thriving, nursing bundle of joy; the birth of twins, and many empowering VBACs. Maybe the most memorable moment in my Doula experience, though, was when a CNM took me aside to consult on what I thought would be the best approach with one of my clients: in that moment I realized that we were all working together, each one using her own talents and training, to support a woman in the pursuit of the best birth experience possible. And that is how it should always be: a united birth team, where each one values and respects the other.

NG: So far, what has been the most challenging aspect of being a doula? SNP: One of the most challenging aspects has been to be able to conciliate family life and work: I want to make sure that my boys and my husband know that I am there for them, and I definitely want to celebrate all the milestones with them, but at the same time being on call most of the time makes things tricky. NG: What else do you do? What are your other passions? SNP: I love photography (I shoot lifestyle pregnancy, newborn and family sessions); I love singing and playing my guitar, specially folk songs from the Sixties; I crochet berets and bonnets; I love to bake and prepare Italian food for my family and friends. NG: You are certified in Gena Kirby Rebozo Method. Could you please tell us more about it. How is it different from other methods? SNP: I participated in a Rebozo workshop taught by Deb Kacic (a local Doula and Massage Therapist) and got certified in the Gena Kirby Method: the Rebozo is a great tool for Doulas to help easing labor discomforts, to gently massage the pregnant belly and encourage optimal positioning, but also to help a couple bond through labor, and create a relaxed atmosphere in the room. The Rebozo is a long and wide shawl that was traditionally worn by Mexican women, and had different functions, from sling to carry their babies, to elegant clothing accent for special occasions, to head covering. It has also been used by Mexican traditional medicine practitioner as a tool for laboring women, and that’s the use that spread and got popular in the birth workers world. Some of my clients felt safer and more comfortable laboring with a Rebozo wrapped around them, almost like a Linus blanket! NG: Do you generally work with home births or hospital births? SNP: I happen to be called a lot to support hospital births, but I would love to be a Doula at more and more home births! NG: What would be the top three pieces of advice you would give to a first ­time mother to be? SNP: 1. Enjoy your pregnancy up to the very last few days, because it is a very special time on its own, and things will never be the same once you have your bundle of joy! 2. Ask questions! If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any. 3. Choose your birth team wisely: don’t stop looking until you find a perfect fit, care providers and Doulas that you see eye to eye with. NG: Any 'required' reading for the pregnant woman? SNP: Anything by Ina May Gaskin, or Penny Simkin: their load of experience is a fountain of wisdom and inspiration for any expectant mother! NG: Finish the sentence: Birth is... SNP: ...a life changing rite of passage, one of the most intense and beautiful moments in a woman’s life NG: If you could change one thing about modern perception of birth what would it be? SNP: Birth should not be treated like a sickness, but like a natural, wonderful process, and women should be encouraged to trust their bodies and to be in tune with the rhythm of the labor and birth process. NG: You are a mother yourself, how do you recollect the births of your own children? SNP: I have five children, ages ranging from 10 ½ to 2 ½, and four of them were born in Italy, while the last one was born here in the USA. My second baby was born via c/section because of face presentation, and it was a pretty traumatic experience for me, specially because of the fact that nobody was allowed in the operating room besides the hospital staff, so I was left alone with my fears, my emotional mess, and uncertainty about the whole process. Beside that, I must say that my births have been pretty easy: short unmedicated labors, no complications, and healthy babies: more than once, as we were driving to the hospital, I have been afraid to give birth in the car, and I must say that my fears were not so irrational, considering that I usually get to the hospital in transition :) My last birth was definitely special: I gave birth in the water, after a short labor, half an hour after getting to the hospital; it was almost a spiritual experience for me, because while I was feeling the baby descending and being born, the water made it almost painless, and being surrounded by my husband, my friend and a midwife made me feel “at home”, safe. NG: You are a beautiful soul Sarah. Thank you very much for sharing with us your wisdom, experience and love for the beauty of birth. For all of you who wants to learn more about Sarah and her services you can find her here and here.

With love, Naturally Inspired

Natalia Graziano