Women In Unusual Occupations: Doula

Working women in India are signing up for new and unusual careers. Who is a Doula and what's it like being a Doula in India? Meet Anika Puri!

Working women in India are signing up for new and unusual careers. Who is a Doula and what’s it like being a Doula in India? Meet Anika Puri!

Pregnancy and labour is a challenging phase for every woman. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a supportive, informed and reliable woman to help you along the journey to motherhood? That is precisely what Doulas do! Anika Puri tells us about her work as a Doula in India.

How did you become a Doula?

I think there are very few women, if any, who grow up thinking they want to become a Doula. It is usually their own pregnancies or births that inspire women to support other women during labour and birth. My journey as a birth professional began while I was pregnant with my first child in London. It all just kind of happened to me. I studied Media and then Marketing and worked in those areas for quite a few years. When I got pregnant – everything changed. I realised how much support, pampering, information women need and deserve during this very exciting but tumultuous time and I got incredibly interested in learning more about how I could be part of this process.

In the last ten years, one qualification has led to another and it is the needs of my clients that defined what I needed qualifications and experience in. First as a birth educator, prenatal & postnatal massage therapist, reflexologist, lactation counsellor and then I added energy systems like reiki and pranic healing to the mix.

As I began working more and more with women supporting them during conception and during their pregnancies, we developed strong bonds and they started asking me to be there during their births as well. That began my unofficial journey to be a Doula until I realised I needed more information and education to support my clients better.

The concept of a Doula is new to India, although midwives and women supporting family/friends during childbirth at home was common earlier. Could you tell us a little about what a Doula’s role involves?

Doulas have existed through all of time in some form or the other – as mothers, friends, sisters, ‘sage femme’ which means wise women, ‘witches’ known for their use of potions and herbs which eased birth for women and of course in India as Dais. We are not medically qualified like midwives but we are qualified and experienced to support women during their pregnancies, labour, delivery and the postnatal period through information, encouragement, love and using a breadth of birth support tools which make the whole process easier.

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Our role begins during pregnancy when our ‘bonding’ with a couple starts; regular meetings and getting familiar is crucial to a Doula’s work being successful because the whole point of having a Doula in labour is for women to feel secure and safe enough to let their bodies take over and birth their babies.

In 1975 two obstetricians John Kennel and Marshall Klaus conducted a study of women in labour who were supported by other women and those who were not. They found that having another woman’s support in labour helped to raise oxytocin levels and helped labour to progress more smoothly than those who didn’t. Thus ‘Doulas’ were born. Our role ranges from massaging a woman in labour, helping her work with active birth positions, breath work and visualisation to providing loads of encouragement, ensuring all basic needs like food, drink and washroom visits are taken care of, liaising with the medical staff and keeping dad motivated as well. We have found the most comforting factor for women about having us in labour is the fact that we are there constantly from start to finish; because doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are in and out.

How does one become a Doula?

There are three institutes that certify Doulas – DONA (Doulas of North America), CBI (Childbirth International) and CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Association) and you are required to have both theoretical knowledge as well as practical experience completed in order to get certified. However, there are women who have supported multiple women during labour and birth and even they without certifications are Doulas in the making.

I feel the main qualities of a Doula should be genuine interest in women and supporting their choices, empathy, passion (to be able to stick around for those 48 hour labours) and determination (to be able to stand your ground in India today where Doulas are a new concept).

What is the scope for Doulas in India?

We are shocked at the number of women we meet today who want to have Doula support during labour! We thought the concept would take a while to catch and perhaps yes, the majority of people don’t really know who we are or what we do. But the word is spreading and when they hear that there is someone available with you for your entire labour and birth, we find women loving, needing and willing to enlist that support.

Nuclear families are increasing and couples want their own information, their own set up and are not willing for extended families to be so involved anymore. In fact, in my last few labours, I have had the couple request even mom and mom-in-law to leave the labour and delivery room. So, in my opinion there is a huge scope for Doulas in India.

What advice would you give to women who want to become Doulas? 

It is the most consuming, emotional, passion-inducing job you could ever do! Be ready to adopt every client as your sister, every dad as your brother and fall in love with every baby. Be prepared to be on call most of your life and live with the unpredictability that you could be in labour for the next few days without being able to go home and see your own family – so make sure your end is taken care of.

Doctors and nurses are still just about getting used to us as we are a team who work at Fortis but we are on our own really, trying to carve a niche for ourselves so it is important to be resilient. Beyond that, my only advice is that it is the most rewarding career so as long as you are ready to take on a turbulent few years till we make our mark in India. It is a career choice I would recommend for any woman, especially one who is already a mother.

Tell us about a memorable incident from your experience as a Doula.

This is hard. Every labour has been so meaningful and every couple has meant so much. I feel my own oxytocin levels rise every time I am in a labour room with a couple! For me, I suppose the most memorable part of any labour, not just one specific is right before pushing. The momentum has built up. We have been waiting for this for so many months and suddenly the mom-to-be is gathering all her energy again; the whole room reverberates with ‘push’ ‘push’ ‘push’. We are visualising her vagina opening and the baby’s head coming out. Our eyes meet and that one powerful eye contact silences the room. Every core of my being is telling her she can do this. She overcomes her own doubts and anxieties and encompasses her power as a woman, as a mother and pushes her baby out. And I am part of it. Wow.

Anika Parashar Puri is Head of Maternity Services at Fortis Healthcare Ltd and can be reached at [email protected]

*Photo credit: Anika Puri.

Previous interviews of ‘Women In Unusual Occupations’ series:

Praba Ram – Storyteller

Jaya Narayan – Life Coach


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