What do doulas do?

For expectant mothers—and their partners—they offer skillful support 24/7

Doula Sorrell Bobrink (dark hair) offers prenatal advice to several expectant parents as doulas Amber Dayney, on her left, and Christa Cottrell, on her right, look on.

Doula Sorrell Bobrink (dark hair) offers prenatal advice to several expectant parents as doulas Amber Dayney, on her left, and Christa Cottrell, on her right, look on.

Photo By matt siracusa

Meet the doulas:
The Chico Doula Circle meets the first and third Thursday of every month from 7-8:30 p.m. at La Casita Primera Preschool, 2035 Esplanade in Chico. The event is free, and the doulas welcome you and your family to come meet them and learn more about their services. Go to www.chicodoulacircle.com for more information and contact numbers.

At 41, I thought I had dodged the bullet. But one Indian summer night last September, Julia came into my office with the words that planted the bullet right in my gut and sent me sprawling to the floor.

“I’m pregnant.”

I could tell by the bemused severity of her tone that this was no practical joke. I pulled fetal and laughed hysterically for a good five minutes. God works in mysterious ways, I heard my mother whispering in my ear. I was ecstatic and terrified. I did not know where to turn. Neither one of us did.

About a week later, Julia came to me and said she wanted a doula. The word put the wheels of my imagination in motion. What’s a doula? I thought of witches coming to a barn on a full moon and slaughtering a lamb and smearing the blood on our faces while we sipped a broth of puppy dog tails and medieval snails and a satyr played the banjo while my fiancée gave painful birth in a pile of fresh hay with an instrumental of “Stairway to Heaven” as our theme song.

Fast-forward four months, a U-Haul move from San Luis Obispo, and two OB-GYNs later.

Julia and I stood in front of the store Mother Nurture, which, sadly, has now closed, and huddled in the biting January air beneath an awning. Two women were already there, and they were talking about childbirth with the verve of two Star Trek fanatics discussing their favorite episode.

Doulas, I thought? They looked more like faculty from the Department of English.

“When are you due?” one of the women asked Julia, whose bump was more akin to a racquet ball.

Yes, these were doulas. Julia had gotten the time for the doula meeting wrong. We were an hour early. “No problem,” said the doula. “You can sit in on our pre-meeting.”

A few minutes later, another woman showed up with keys in her hand and unlocked the door. “Welcome to the Chico Doula Circle,” she said.

I had no idea what to expect. We went into the back room of Mother Nurture, and within 15 minutes all six founding doulas of the Chico Doula Circle had arrived.

Each doula introduced herself, giving her background and experience. Amber Dayney, Anne Junge, Christa Cottrell, Kim Humble, Sorrell Bobrink and Stacie Bingham immediately won my trust.

Stacie, for example, told us she’d “attended over 120 births as a doula, logged 1,000-plus hours as an educator, and helped many, many moms and babies with breastfeeding.” The others were similarly experienced.

I was in immediate awe of these women, ashamed at my preconceived notions that this meeting was going to play out like a community theater version of The Witches of Eastwick.

Stacie asked if there was anything Julia and I wanted to talk about. We had thousands of questions but were both hesitant to ask. I did have one burning question, though, so I let it fly: “We’re struggling with whether we should circumcise our child. What are your thoughts?”

Thus began an hour-long discussion on circumcision that was unbiased, intellectual, entertaining, and, most important, informational. Julia squeezed my hand. I looked at her and smiled. We knew we had made the right decision.

We sat in a circle and talked about birth the entire time. No question was a dumb question, and even though the doulas had probably answered these questions a thousand times, there was never the slightest hint of boredom in their cadence.

Three hours later, Amber asked if we had any other questions. Sure, I thought, how am I ever going to afford this? I’m an unemployed college English instructor who just moved to town. Given all of their knowledge and experience, I figured there was no way I could afford their services, but figures lie and liars figure.

I cleared my throat and asked as politely as possible: “How much will all this cost?”

“The fee for our package of birth doula services is $400,” Anne said. “A portion of this is paid at the time you sign on with our group, and full payment is expected by 36 weeks of pregnancy. And if this presents a financial burden, we do operate on a sliding scale, so let us know what you’re comfortable with.”

Labor support. Postpartum visit. Workshops twice a month. Birth plans. Breastfeeding support.

“Oh,” Christa added, “once you’re established as a client, we’re here for you day and night.”

“All six of us,” Sorrell said.

“We’ll provide you with complete prenatal support,” Kim added, “whether you just need to talk, or you’re wondering if your labor may have begun.”

We couldn’t believe it. These women were genuinely interested and put Julia’s wishes, her feelings, first. We were receiving an education. “So, a doula is, like, a birth coach?” I asked.

“No,” Stacie said with the quickness of lightening. “A doula helps promote the mental and physical health of the mother, baby and family by providing continuous emotional and physical support.”

“We’re your advocate,” Amber added. “Childbirth is a time of uncertainty and doubt. We help gather the information necessary for the woman and her partner to make informed decisions during labor and birth.”

Ultimately, the doulas offer empowerment, and want to make sure that the most beautiful and important day of your life proceeds as you envision it, not the way the hospital sees it being played out.

As I type this, Julia and I are five days late. There has been a dramatic drop in barometric pressure, rain is tap dancing on my roof, tonight is a full moon, and Julia has started to feel a strange cramping sensation.

We have the on-call calendar of doulas on our refrigerator. Amber has already called three times to check in. We are not panicking. We have no anxiety. We will let nature takes its course.

When the baby, not the doctor, decides he or she is ready to come out and Julia starts to feel the real pains of labor, we will call our doula. She will come over and comfort us, and when it’s time to go up to Feather River Hospital, she will be with us, through it all.

What’s to fear with friends like these?