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Before I had the chance to speak with Naima Beckles, doula and co-founder of Manhattan-based For Your Birth, which provides labor support, the only thing I knew about doulas was that Erykah Badu was one. Other than that, my knowledge of their work and major contributions during the birthing process was minimal.

“A doula gives hands-on physical and emotional support,” clarified Beckles during our phone conversation. She not only knows this firsthand as a doula, but also as someone who commissioned one for the birth of both of her children. The assistance provided made all of the difference, and actually motivated her to move into childbirth education and eventually co-found For Your Birth in 2014 with Michelle Arietta.

“That’s when I got curious about this whole birth support field that isn’t clinical but is educational, educational and physical,” she said. “That kind of humanity that’s attached to having a baby is literally missing in medicine and in going to the hospital. Those are like transactional procedures. But when we’re giving birth, we’re really new and fresh and we need hands and attention on us that’s going to provide a layer of support. That’s what a doula provides.”

“It’s an attempt to get back to where we were before hospitals,” she added. “It’s only been 100 years since birth has gone to hospitals, but people used to come in the home. There were also our sisters and our aunties and our mothers and our grandmothers in the room supporting us while we were having babies. We have forgotten there used to people in the room who were just there to wipe our foreheads and hold our hands.”

But there’s more to know about doulas then just the type of emotional support they give. In honor of International Doula Week (March 22-28), Beckles is telling us five things to know about what goes into their work, what services she and other doulas provide, and why at a time when Black women are more likely to have complications and receive questionable care when giving birth in hospitals, doulas are becoming more sought after than ever.

Courtesy of Naima Beckles

Doulas aren’t just for natural births in inflatable pools.

“That is a possibility, but the doulas who show up for those births are very few and far between,” Beckles said. “What’s much more common is that a doula is going to support a woman who’s planning a hospital birth and who maybe is planning to use an intervention like an epidural. And what we’re there to do is help her along the way, help her to kind of navigate the whole situation.”

In fact, most of Beckles’s clients actually deliver in the hospital. Of For Your Birth’s more than 300 clients, a dozen delivered in the house. But in most cases, doulas like Beckles go to your home to get to know you and your partner and help you figure out what your birth preferences are, in what ways you’d like to be supported and to help fill in gaps there may be in terms of childbirth education.

Think of your doula as the manager of your birthing process.

If you call your doula when your contractions first begin, the doula will time out when is best to come to you. “We’re not going to the hospital yet,” she said. “We’re going to hang around your house and walk, move, get you into a bathtub that you can relax and feel calm in. After a few hours when you say, ‘Now it’s time to go to the hospital,’ I’m escorting you to the hospital. We get to the hospital and I’m going to help you navigate going into triage, being admitted, talking to the nurses — all of these things that are like project management, that’s part of my job as a doula.”

Doulas are there when nurses and doctors are not.

Without the right support, the delivery room can feel like an incredibly lonely place. “Once you’re in the labor and delivery room, people don’t know that they’re left alone,” she said. “The nurses aren’t there to rub your back and tell you that you’re doing great. The nurses are there to check your vitals. Then they leave and monitor you from outside of the room.” Not to mention that one’s actual doctor only comes around for a short time each hour or so. Therefore, whomever you call on to bring you to the hospital and be with you in the delivery room is going to be the most hands-on. And the good news is, you can still have your mom and your partner and your doula present, as there are hospital policies where they do not count in the allowable number of people. That’s good news for men who can feel somewhat clueless about how to help. “The doula is going to be telling him, ‘Here’s what you can do. Put your hands on her hips and squeeze.’ That feels really awesome.”

Post-partum doulas are a must-have, but they don’t have to do with depression.

While post-partum depression is real, the work of a post-partum doula is not focused on that issue. Still, the assistance of post-partum doulas is major.

“Post-partum just means after you have your baby a doula can come to your home to actually help you around the house while you’re getting rest,” she said. “While you’re learning how to care for a newborn. While you’re learning how to breastfeed. She comes in for about three hours maybe every other day.” The doula helps you figure out what you need to get done, helps you get a hot meal, assists in laundry and doing whatever else they can to help you while you take a quick nap or hop in the shower. They also help with breastfeeding questions as they’re trained as patient counselors and are an asset if you’ve just given birth by Cesarean and your recovery is taking longer than planned. “Having someone there even just for nine or 10 hours in the week is just huge.”

Doulas are not covered by insurance.

The money question. For the record, doula care is not currently covered by major insurance companies. However, Beckles said it’s possible for people to pay for doulas through their FSA account, or flexible spending account, if you have one. They can usually get reimbursed if the doula or agency is able to provide a detailed invoice. But Beckles said that people can expect to pay just under $1,000 or upwards of $2,000 for birth doula support.  If you want someone in your home, hourly rates can be between $30 and $50. If that sounds like too much, she breaks it down in a different way. “I try to put into perspective for people,” Beckles said. “You can have a doula support you in the weeks before you have your baby, while you’re having your baby and during the weeks following, for about as much if not less than what it costs to buy the most expensive stroller on the market.”

And when you think about it, one can’t put a price on peace of mind and support during the most emotional, vulnerable and scary moments in a woman’s life, right?

To learn more about the work Naima Beckles does, visit For Your Birth. She’s also hosting a Twitter conversation on 3/29 to discuss postpartum support and grief at 11 a.m. EST under the hashtag #ForYourBirthNYC.


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