Why the name Godsib?
I'm reclaiming a forgotten Chaucerian word that's due for a revival.
Godsib is short for God-sibling: a Godmother to your children. A woman chose only her most wise and trusted friends for this sacred role, since it bound them to her for life through shared responsibility for raising her children. These co-mothers would naturally be the ones to draw around her the next time she gave birth, to help her gather her courage . So the word godsib came to stand for a birth companion.
This name therefore speaks of the spiritual nature of my work and the lifelong kinship I share with the families I serve. It reconnects us with an older philosophy of birth where relationship, rather than procedure, is central — and where women are one another’s living witnesses to the fact that, in the end, babies do come out.
Questions people ask about . . .
“Doo-lah.” You’re welcome!
A birth doula is a professional labor companion, providing emotional, physical and informational support for growing families.
A doula doesn’t replace a midwife or a nurse. Each of these is an important, distinct role.
A midwife is an independent medical care provider who specializes in facilitating straightforward birth. You might hire her as an alternative to an OB, often for a home or birth center birth.
A “labor & delivery” nurse is not a primary care provider but does provide medical care under an MD in a hospital setting, checking cervical dilation, monitoring your baby, administering medications, and summoning the OB at the optimal time. However, she may never have met you before you arrive in labor, might be taking care of several women at once, and rarely has time to get to know you well.
As a doula, I don’t attend to the medical part of your care, so I can focus on your needs as a person, not just as a body. I’m a familiar friend before labor, never go off shift, and don’t work on behalf of anyone but you.
Good questions. We will discuss these issues in person during our prenatal meetings, so that you will be confident when the time comes. In short, you will be able and welcome to contact me any time you need me, day or night.
I work with a network of local doulas – women I trust and love – to ensure a that you would never be without support, even if I become ill, have a family emergency or am attending another birth. Once I get to know you, I will choose one to act as a back-up for your birth. Because I know you don’t want to be attended by a stranger, I would make it possible for your to meet with that person if it were important to you. However, I have never actually had to call another doula to a birth. It’s just good to know they’re there.
I appreciate very well that the timing of birth cannot be predicted, having myself had two pregnancies which lasted seventeen days past my due date (as well as a third which went to 40 weeks plus 3 days)! A “due” date is really a “guess” date, and the normal length of human gestation varies as much as five weeks. Because of this, my doula services come with a four-week on-call period, usually 38-42 weeks. We may want to discuss another set of on-call dates if you have a history of shorter or longer pregnancies, or if you are expecting multiples. If you go into labor outside the period we agree upon, I will still attend you if it is humanly possible. If not, I will ask a back-up to act as your doula in my place until I am able to get to you.
Will I still be there for you? Absolutely! Working closely with birth, I have come to expect the unexpected. There seems to be something surprising about every labor (it’s great training for parenthood that way). Perhaps the baby turns out to be a redhead… perhaps the woman needs a Cesarean she didn’t want… perhaps the birth pool isn’t ready in time… or perhaps she thought she’d want an epidural but thrives without.
The most basic job of the doula in an unexpected situation is to remain present and continue to offer support. Whatever your circumstances or choices, I’m there for you. Beyond that, I help my clients retain control over the choices they have, even when the field of options available seems to become narrower. Studies show that your satisfaction with your birth has less to do with what form it took than with whether you felt in control and respected along the way.
Good for you, but NO! Three reasons why:
1) A doula doesn’t interfere in your relationship but strengthens it by taking some of the strain off you both. During labor, a woman’s partner experiences his (or her) own strong emotions and needs which he may tend to dismiss or forget, but which also merit support. He can benefit hugely from simple reminders to eat and drink, cover for a short break from the birthing room, an extra brain to help balance risks and benefits, or reassurance that what his partner is experiencing is normal. So doulas are for dads, too!
2) You probably want birth to be an intimate experience between the two of you. Perhaps it seems a doula would kill that intimacy. Bear in mind that (unless you are planning an unassisted birth) it won’t be just two of you during labor. Midwives or doctors and nurses will come in and out of your space. Rather than destroying privacy, a doula helps protect your intimacy by holding the birthing space amid the scene. Closing the door, drawing the curtain, switching down the lights, setting the atmosphere with a whisper, encouraging expressions of love between you… these tasks are my quiet work.
3) Doulas do things other people can’t. We watch over you with greater impartiality (and probably more experience) than your husband, your mother, your sister or your friend could. We aren’t blinded by hidden agendas – our only wishes for your birth are your wishes. We won’t be swayed by fear – we’ve seen this normal, beautiful process many times before and don’t get rattled by loud birthing noises or a bit of blood. And we aren’t overcome by the emotion of the moment – we’ll remember to take the photos you asked for and if caregivers start to deviate from your plan, we will be sure to notice. (I’ll be honest, though: tears of joy are an occupational hazard.)
On the other hand, different partners are comfortable in different roles during birth. Some may not be comfortable taking an active role, and I respect that too. I focus on helping your partner to be the best support he as an individual can be, whatever unique form that takes.
These things happen.
That’s quite common, but perhaps some additional reading such as Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner will help him (or her) understand the size of the task he is taking on. Then I’d encourage him to come along to our initial interview. We will only be meeting casually to answer one another’s questions, so there can be good conversation without any pressure. This may help you both visualize how we could work together as a team, and things may fall right into place. To follow up, I’m happy to provide him with some phone numbers of other dads whose babies’ births I attended, who were also skeptical about hiring me to start with. In the end, these partners often express how very glad they are that they did, and go on to become my greatest fans.
I appreciate that hiring me is a significant financial commitment. Many people wonder why doulas charge what they do for “only a few hours’ work” during a client’s labor. In fact, many, many hours go into developing a good working relationship. Before the birth this includes an interview, prenatal meetings and associated travel, several phone conversations, detailed e-mails, research and constantly organizing contingency arrangements for my time on call; after the birth it includes recovering from lost sleep, a reunion with you, writing up the story or editing the photos of your birth and six weeks of postnatal support.
Around the time your baby is expected, I set aside four weeks of my life for you, during which I cannot leave town or attend far-flung events that have been planned since the time you booked me. Instead, I may need to drop everything and leave my children’s concert, a medical appointment of my own, a hot date or my bed after only a few minutes’ sleep. I may return from your birth covered in bodily fluids, not having eaten or slept properly for 48 hours and sore from having supported your whole weight for many hours… then right away be called to another birth, at which I will need to be as fully present as I was with you.
In order to make a realistic commitment to attend your birth, as well as fulfilling my primary role as a mother to my own four children, I limit my calendar to a maximum of two clients a month or twenty-four a year, turning away others with similar “due” dates to yours in order to avoid conflicts. In reality, my clients are fewer: even a one-week vacation precludes taking clients with due dates within a five-week window. Then I deduct my expenses, which include lots of mileage and wear on my car (often two cars for personal trips during your on-call time), childcare during unsociable hours, food, communications and office expenses, past and continuing education (including an Oxford degree and a two-year childbirth education diploma), self-employment taxes, library books and birth props – all of which amount to more than half my income. All told, my maximum annual profit for this work, which requires such a high level of personal sacrifice, is around twelve times what each client pays. (You can do the math!)
Finally, for the hiring family, my fee is often offset by the reduced cost of the lower-tech birth I facilitate. For example, even if my only contribution is to help you avoid the epidural you might have chosen without my encouragement and support, the expense balances out. If I help you avoid a C-section, that’s a cost savings. Studies do confirm that doulasreduce the overall costs of health care. It’s estimated that if every if every low-risk birth in Wisconsin were attended by a doula, we would save $29 million per year. And beyond that, no one can place a monetary value by the increased satisfaction levels, self-confidence and bonding experienced by families who hire doulas.
Does it still seem expensive?
Of course that’s okay! It’s a common misperception that doula services are only for people who want a drug-free birth. In fact, doula services are for people who want a good birth – and only a woman herself can decide what a good birth means for her. For some people, a good birth is one where you don’t feel a thing; for others, it’s one where you don’t miss a thing. Studies show that your satisfaction has less to do with the pain relief you have or don’t have and more to do with whether you feel in control and respected. If an epidural helps you as an individual to achieve that, I respect your choice and will get busy helping you into positions that will ease your birth (even if you can’t feel your legs!).
If you hire a midwife, why would you want a doula, too? Here are five good reasons.
The roles have a different focus. A midwife’s top priority is the health and safety of mama and baby. Some midwives are formal and businesslike – others incorporate a more holistic role, but if they do, it’s is always secondary. At times during labor, your midwife may go off to rest in order to be clear-headed at the time of birth, or check in on other clients who are also relying on her. My priority, on the other hand, is to guard not the physical safety of two people but the experience of birth for each person involved. I serve without interruption, even while the midwife is busy with something else, and I can support all the members of the team, like your partner or other children, for whom the midwife isn’t responsible. The midwife herself might like a cup of tea, too!
My skill set will be different from your midwife’s. For example, at a Birth Center birth I attended recently, labor wasn’t progressing smoothly and the baby was posterior, so I taught the midwife the ancient Mexican midwifery technique of rebozo sifting by using it with my client.
The interpersonal dynamic between doula and client is different than that between midwife and client. There can be more of a power differential with a midwife; I know I approached those midwives who attended my own births with great reverence because I admired their skills so much. A doula, on the other hand, is more “on your level” – a sister or a new friend with experience of birth. You can share your inner world more readily with someone like that.
Unexpected situations can come up. If an emergency occurs, I can provide emotional support while the midwife is busy providing medical support. I can also stay with a family in case of a hospital transfer. After one home birth I attended recently, the parents accompanied their baby to hospital for treatment for a preexisting medical condition while I remained at home to tidy up and care for their other children.
There are plenty of jobs to go ‘round at a home birth! Is it necessary for the towels to be warmed in the dryer for you before you step out of the birth pool? No. It’s lovely, though, if someone gets the chance!
Different doulas are different, of course, and I am sure there are some domineering ones out there. But people tell me my demeanor is gentle and kind. I have no desire to take center stage at your birth or to make your choices for you. And I take pride in being flexible to different situations that arise. For example, when the situation calls for it, I am able to fade into the background, providing a calming constancy as I sit sewing in the corner, admiring your work with a few encouraging words. On the other hand, I know when to speak up. I can certainly step in assertively if needed, like when a medical procedure is about to be carried out against my client’s will or without her knowledge: I would act decisively to halt the proceedings until she is able to speak for herself; or like when, in the throes of transition a client may need direct eye contact and firm guidance to get her past the moment. Somewhere between those two extremes of involvement is my usual mode, quietly mopping brows, squeezing hips and breathing with my clients. That approach works wonderfully for the vast majority of births, which proceed wonderfully without a lot of fuss. Women are amazing that way!
Needing a Cesarean is all the more cause to benefit from a doula’s emotional, physical and informational support. Cesareans have a reputation for being an easy way to have a baby, but that is far from true for most women. A C-section is major abdominal surgery. My friend and colleague Sarah Stenson says, “I can say from personal experience it took a million times more strength to let someone remove my baby from my abdomen surgically while I lay numbed, than to push a baby out on my knees feeling every sensation.”
At a Cesarean, I can guide you through the important decisions that are still available to you, keep you mentally steady as you prepare, help you navigate the complexity of the procedures, explain what is happening, witness to all present the fact that a spiritual as well as a medical process is taking place, help you breastfeed and bond while you're still in the operating room during the longest part of the operation – the repair of your uterus – or remain with you while your partner goes off with the baby if she isn't well, and support you in the early days of caring for your baby, which is more challenging after surgical birth.
As soon as the two lines appear on the stick or as late as early labor! An early booking allows us get to know each other and ensures that I am available (because I limit the number of births I attend each month to two). These days I am often booked six months out or more.
I’m happy you asked, because my qualifications set me apart in the community. I completed two years of specialist training for this job, culminating in a Diploma of Higher Education in Antenatal Education from the University of Bedfordshire in the UK. I am really proud of this excellent education: I often say that I learned more from it than I did from my years studying at Oxford University! It included:
— writing scores of academic essays
— extensive reading
— hundreds of hours of seminars
— training in counseling skills and group facilitation
— supervised teaching practice
— development of my own materials and curriculum
— assessment of my final portfolio by multiple examiners
(Ask other childbirth educators what they did to earn their certification.)
— A mentor relationship with a qualified leader who has walked the talk
— The chance for a dialogue with others: a context for self-discovery and growth
— A community of support to feed you now but especially after your baby is born
— Assurance that the information you are receiving is high quality and evidence-based
— New ideas you might not have thought of exploring on your own
— Consistent time set aside with your birth partner to prepare for your baby’s arrival
It’s best to come during your third trimester, so that everything will be fresh in your mind when your baby arrives, but if that’s not possible we can be flexible. Please drop me a line to talk this through.
— The classes offered at hospital are typically taught by a nurse without specific training in teaching birth classes. My class has more of a parent-to-parent feel, without sacrificing any of the quality you’d expect from a diploma-trained teacher.
— Hospital classes are geared towards helping you understand and embrace the facility’s standard protocols, which may be ones you wish to question or decline. My classes will shine light on options you might not otherwise know were possible.
— Healthcare facilities do not have a profit motive to help their customers birth without medical intervention. Being independent, my classes are free to equip you with the skills you need for natural birth.
— Hospital classes are designed for those birthing at that facility. My classes will be more engaging, especially if you are planning to birth out of hospital or are undecided on place of birth.
But why not do both classes: mine and the hospital’s? Since the emphasis of the hospital class will be different, a class with me will round out any information you have already been given with a more holistic approach. None of your learning will go to waste.
A clarity session helps you align the plans you have for your healthcare with your own values and priorities. You will come away with a clear idea of your options for care and a concrete plan of action for finding the right support. Birth classes focus on preparing you for the challenges of birthing and caring for a new baby. You will come away armed with newfound confidence, information and abilities, and ready for birth.
Two people can attend the class for the single fee. They don’t have to be a couple, but only one of them should be pregnant!
Yes, they do, and they often benefit just as much as — or even more than — the birthing mamas.
Certainly, the price you pay covers two participants and you are welcome to bring whomever you like to support you. If that person is pregnant, though, they should pay their own class fee.
Perhaps your partner is shy, just plain uninterested, concerned about TMI, or thinks the classes will be too much of a touchy-feely hippyfest. Don’t worry. Every class needs a range of participants, from the careful, reserved person who only speaks when they have a real gem to offer, to the devils’ advocate whose challenging questions lead to the best discussions. By the end of the course I am confident your partner will be comfortable and enthusiastic. Often my greatest skeptics become my greatest ambassadors!
Absolutely, you are just as welcome as anyone else! Please feel free to bring a labor support person, such as your mother, sister or friend. If noone springs to mind, that’s fine: you can just come by yourself. We will adapt any partner exercises so that you can participate fully and comfortably.
Yes, it would be very beneficial. Your doula package includes two prenatal consultations, and needless to say I will share freely during these meetings, never holding back anything from you! However, there is much to chat through and any childbirth education I do will need to take a backseat to the more pressing work of developing a really comfortable relationship and strategies for our work together during your labor. My birth classes are a chance to go into much greater depth.
No, but I’m very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of all the above. My classes transcend any particular “style” to incorporate the best of many methods.
They each have their own benefits, and feel free to call me to talk the choice through, but I’d encourage you to join a group class if you can. Your cost per hour is significantly less, so you get more for your money. Also, joining a group class leaves open the possibility that you’ll meet the people you didn’t know were missing from your life!
Yes, postnatal life is fully addressed.
Yes, for group classes, you will probably be asked to contribute a dish to a shared meal, as well as your pillow. A birth ball might also come in handy if you have one. I will let you know the details before the course begins.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin) is the one book I can recommend to anyone. Otherwise…
Birthing from Within (Pam England and Rob Horowitz)
Thinking Woman’s Guide (Henci Goer)
Bump (Kate Evans)
What Mothers Do: Especially when it Looks Like Nothing (Naomi Stadlen)
New Birth Partner (Penny Simkin)
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering (Sarah Buckley)
The Business of Being Born (Abby Epstein)
This birth video
All My Babies (George Stoney)
Babies (Thomas Balmès)
(Did you notice that What to Expect When You’re Expecting isn’t on this list?)