When Gila Shire worked as a nurse in Germany for 14 years, she felt in many ways like she was exactly where she needed to be. But reflecting back on that season of her life—in what now seems like a lifetime ago—has helped her to see that, similar to so many people in the medical field, she was simply “programmed.”
As the medical approach to pregnancy and birth has become more normalized over recent years, the process has also managed to become more technical—with a greater focus on the logistical elements that go into delivering a child, rather than on helping the woman understand why those elements matter or how they’re affecting her body in the process.
It wasn’t until Shire became pregnant in 1990 that she began to explore other options, particularly becoming more interested in holistic approaches to health and wellness. Her desire for a career shift led her into roles as a massage therapist, and later as a yoga teacher. It was during this transitional season of her life that she was first introduced to the work of a doula.
“I always worked with pregnant moms, but I had no idea about the work of a doula—the word, the profession, nothing,” says Shire. “Because I was doing prenatal massages and teaching prenatal yoga, my clients had asked me if I wanted to attend their birth. So, I did—I observed and learned. And that’s when my unofficial doula work started. It’s been 15-plus years since I started working as a doula.”
A doula is a trained companion who supports another individual through a significant health-related experience— such as childbirth, miscarriage, induced abortion or stillbirth, or even non-reproductive experiences such as dying.
While they’re not regarded as trained healthcare professionals—nor do they have the certifications to act as one—the supportive and intimate relationships that they build with their clients helps women to make sense of the changes that are happening within their body, and ultimately guide them through a healthier childbirth experience. An experience that—according to Shire—doesn’t have to be medical at all.
“Birth is a rite of passage, and it’s an opportunity to not only get to know yourself but to get to know your baby—long before your baby is even in your arms. It’s an opportunity to tap into a place of empowerment. When women give birth, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is: ‘I did it.’ And you would wonder, why do we all still say that? It’s because we didn’t really believe it prior to the experience, and because there aren’t enough people who tell us that we can do this.”
According to the Journal of Perinatal Education, doula-assisted mothers are four times less likely to have a low- birth-weight baby, two times less likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby, and significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding.
“The overall health benefits are undeniable. It is just so imperative that women know—and I mean really know— who their caretaker is, particularly in a system that just doesn’t support the normalcy of birth.”
For Shire, she believes that birthing doesn’t have to be a painful experience, let alone one that so many women fear. They simply need a support system beyond family that can champion them through this season.
“This is where doulas and midwives work hand-in-hand. We can offer the supportive, intimate, companion-oriented approach to pregnancy and childbirth that most hospitals and medical professionals—to put it respectfully—simply lack.”
For more information on Gila and her work as a doula, visit www.yogila.com.
For more information on the greater doula community, visit www.wholemamawellnesscollective.com.