Parenting

Birth Helpers to Aid Pregnant Sept. 11 Survivors

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

In ancient Greece, doulas were women, often slaves, who helped at childbirth, and today the multiskilled doula is increasingly in demand. While midwives focus on delivery, doulas are coaches, listeners, hand-holders, teachers about motherhood.

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"We hope to keep it that way," says Ilana Stein, director of the Metropolitan Doula Group and manager of BirthFocus, a service providing labor support professionals to women who want them.

The professional doula charges a flat fee for each birth, from $200 to $1,500, says Stein, depending on the level of the doula's experience. Many doulas also base their rates on the client's ability to pay. The fee generally covers one or two prenatal visits, the birth and a postpartum visit.

She typically meets her client during the last three months of pregnancy, when the two women gauge their personal compatibility. However, some hospitals and community maternity centers provide doulas, and a woman using those services will probably not meet her doula until she is in labor. For now, though, most doulas are hired privately through preliminary meetings.

Armed with a pager or a cell phone, the doula is on call during the week of a woman's due date. The hours of labor require her presence, and the doula coaches the mother through the demanding process.

A doula might advise her client on different positions and activities to try--walking, for example, instead of lying down. She might give a massage or provide physical support while the woman pushes in the last stage of labor. And, though the doula focuses on her communication with the mother and generally avoids conflict with hospital staff, she may also act as an advocate. In addition, some doulas are specialists in post-partum work, advising on breastfeeding and other adjustments to motherhood.

"I had an instinct that Jonathan, as great as he is, would not know what to do when I would be in a lot of pain," says Pascale Roger-McKeever. Her husband, Jonathan McKeever, does not argue otherwise. She felt confident Stein would know how to help. "I just wanted her to look me in the eyes and just completely be there."

Stein decided to use doulas for her second and third births, and eventually to make childbirth assistance her own profession. "What it came down to," she says, "was being listened to," something that she insists doctors, nurses and even husbands--"they're sweet, but they don't listen"--are not equipped to do.

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Phoebe Nobles is a free-lance writer in New York.

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