Erica Cardenas

A labor of love

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A mother’s love is sin limites – passionate, enduring and unconditional – rooted deep in the core of her identity and being. Perhaps her love can be compared to a colorful tapestry of joy, sacrifice, pain and inspiration, woven together effortlessly and without hesitation.

From the beginning, mothers have been, and continue to be, connected by this visceral masterpiece of motherhood. Those who’ve experienced the miracle of giving birth can surely attest to the fact that it’s no small feat. It’s a process that embodies purpose and determination, with a common vision for all those involved – perhaps even a doula.

Although there is no direct Spanish translation of doula, a Greek term, it is universal in its meaning: “woman caregiver” or “mothering the mother.” A doula is a trained and experienced labor companion who provides continuous (nonmedical) physical, emotional and educational support to the mother, whether she is expecting a child, in labor or has recently given birth. A doula is there to offer suggestions and promote techniques to enhance labor progress while relieving pain and coaching the mother in relaxation, breathing, positioning and other physical comfort measures.

In fact, according to numerous clinical studies, a doula’s presence at birth tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications; reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience, and reduces the need for labor-inducing drugs, forceps and cesareans, among other things.

Anthropologist Dana Raphael first used the term “doula” in her 1973 book, Tender Gift: Breastfeeding, in reference to experienced mothers who assisted new mothers in newborn care and breastfeeding. Raphael is actually credited with initiating the role of the modern doula.

Medical researchers Marshall Klaus and John Kennell were the first to conduct clinical trials on the health outcomes of doula-attended births, and adopted the term to refer to prenatal, labor and postpartum support.

So, one may ask, what’s the difference between a midwife and a doula?

It boils down to medical care versus nonmedical care.

A midwife provides prenatal care, delivery of the baby, care of the mother post-partum, and newborn care. Some types of midwives also provide family planning, annual exams, and other kinds of well-woman gynecology. In Arizona, two types of midwives may legally assist a woman with childbirth: a certified nurse midwife or a licensed midwife.

Certified doulas do not provide any type of medical care. For example, a doula would not diagnose the baby’s heartbeat, do a vaginal exam or deliver the baby. It is their role as emotional and physical support to laboring mothers that attracts them (and even nervous fathers) to hire doulas.

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