Dirt, noise, 36-hour shifts...I love my job!

It’s messy, grubby work help­ing preg­nant women through the con­trac­tions. But for Lauren Mish­con, be­ing a ‘doula’ sure beats nine-tofive. By Si­monRound

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

LAUREN MISH­CON has no idea when she will next be re­quired to work. It could be over the week­end, per­haps on Mon­day morn­ing, or maybe not for a week or two. When she is called upon, it may be for a few hours, or it could be a marathon 36-hour shift. Mish­con is a birth doula. Her job is to ac­com­pany women through the process of giv­ing birth, pro­vid­ing com­fort, sup­port and ad­vice. Hav­ing qual­i­fied just over a year ago, Mish­con — one of around 800 birth part­ners in the UK — has al­ready helped a num­ber of women through the birth process. There are, she says, plenty of rea­sons why women turn to a pro­fes­sional birth part­ner.

She says: “Since birth moved from the home to the hospi­tal, fa­thers have re­placed the women who used to pro­vide sup­port in more tra­di­tional so­ci­eties. Doulas are an old but also a new thing. The word is an­cient Greek for care-giver, and that is what we do. A doula is some­one who is not re­lated to you, who has no emo­tions in­vested in the birth, and who will stay with you through­out the labour.”

While doulas are only now be­com­ing es­tab­lished in the wider world, birth part­ners are an es­tab­lished part of the strictly Ortho­dox world. “The Ortho­dox com­mu­nity has its own vol­un­teer group who are them­selves very Ortho­dox women. It is hard to break in there if you are not from that com­mu­nity your­self,” says Mis­chcon.

In other re­spects, this is not, laughs Mish­con, a clas­sic job for a nice Jewish girl. “There are very few Jewish doulas. It’s messy, it’s grubby, you come home cov­ered in al­most ev­ery bod­ily fluid go­ing. But it’s won­der­ful. Hav­ing said that, I do think Jews are all about fam­ily and chil­dren. I’ve al­ready had three Jewish cou­ples.”

So why would any­one need a doula? Af­ter all, most peo­ple have birth part­ners with them at hospi­tal and there are doc­tors and mid­wives who are fully trained to take women through the birth process. Mish­con feels that women are com­forted by hav­ing some­one present who knows about the process of birth, who will stay by their side for the du­ra­tion of the labour and who can act as a go-be­tween.

“We try to keep the women calm and their part­ners calm. The men’s anx­i­ety fil­ters through. With all due re­spect, they are not the best at wait­ing. They like to do rather than wait. Of­ten the first thing they say is, ‘Let’s go to hospi­tal’. That’s the worst thing you can do early in labour, be­cause they’ll just send you home. Men also need a lot of re­as­sur­ance — yes, those noises are nor­mal and so is that muck.

“Some of my clients are sin­gle women, oth­ers have all their fam­ily over­seas so want some­one to be with them. Then there are the women who have al­ready given birth but had prob­lem­atic labours and need ex­tra sup­port sec­ond time around.”

Un­til re­cently, doulas have had what Mis­chcon de­scribes as a “tree-hug­ging, hippy” rep­u­ta­tion. But now she feels that the job is be­com­ing more main­stream. “We don’t take the place of the mid­wife be­cause al­though we have med­i­cal knowl­edge, we are not med­i­cally trained. But on the whole we are ac­cepted by mid­wives. They know they are safe to leave you for a cou­ple of hours and do more ur­gent things be­cause the wo­man has some­one with them at all times. We’re prac­ti­cal peo­ple, we can change sheets, wipe down and clean up. They are usu­ally quite grate­ful we are there.”

In fact, Mish­con, who was an ac­tors’ agent be­fore giv­ing birth to her own two sons, thinks that many mid­wives feel jeal­ous of doulas. “My best friend is a mid­wife. She feels that mid­wives go into it be­cause they ac­tu­ally want to do the job that we end up do­ing. They spend the en­tire labour writ­ing things up minute by minute and don’t have the free­dom to sup­port the mother through the labour.”

Hir­ing a doula can cost be­tween £150 (for a trainee) up to £1,000 — al­though there is a hard­ship fund for those who seek help and can­not af­ford the fees — but Mish­con feels many women could ben­e­fit. “Birth is a very men­tal thing. Women who are scared don’t labour as well. They labour best when they are in a safe en­vi­ron­ment and when they are well-sup­ported.”

Mish­con has had to make a large num­ber of sac­ri­fices to be a doula. She is on call 24 hours a day, and dur­ing this time can­not go away, make plans or drink al­co­hol. She is also de­pen­dent on her hus­band (who is self-em­ployed) to take over the child­care of their two- and four-year-olds at a mo­ment’s no­tice. She reck­ons that it can take two days to re­cover from work­ing for up to 36 hours with­out a break.

How­ever, she is de­lighted with her ca­reer choice. “When the push­ing starts, you for­get the tired­ness and the adren­a­line kicks in. It’s such a priv­i­lege to be present at some­one’s birth. And it gets bet­ter ev­ery time.” More de­tails: Doula UK (www.doula.org.uk). Lauren Mish­con’s web­site is from­tum­my­to­mummy.co.uk

Lauren Mish­con with a baby whose birth she at­tended

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