Sarah Dimond didn’t even know if she wanted to have kids.
She was teaching yoga in Minnesota when class members began asking for prenatal yoga classes. She recognized the need and took a course that certified her to teach yoga to pregnant women. Through that, she began to hear birth stories –- those moments when women became mothers, when partners became families, when wonder becomes reality.
It started to sink in: Birth could be beautiful. The pregnant body could be miraculous.
A family was in her future.
“I started teaching prenatal yoga and began to dive into learning about the pregnant body,” Dimond says. Many of her friends were pregnant at the time, and she realized she was learning things they didn’t know. “And that’s when I became interested in being a doula. I felt like the education really needed to be out there.”
Doulas are another support member for labor and delivery for the mom. They work with obstetricians, midwives, labor nurses, families and partners to support the laboring mother.
When she took the doula training –- which consists of a weekend-long workshop, a shadowing program to attend births and continuing education on breastfeeding and other issues –- she was seven months pregnant with her son, who is 1 now.
She had a doula for her birth and was able to feel first-hand what it would be like to have that kind of one-on-one support through labor and delivery.
“I don’t think I could have done it without her,” Dimond says of her doula. “When you’re in labor, everything you learned just flies out the window. It was nice to have her there to remind me that things were going well.”
Doula always available
Now, Dimond is one of 11 doulas working on a rotating call schedule at Sanford Fargo Medical Center in North Dakota.
The program began in January 2018, as a response to requests from women who wanted the option during labor and delivery. The doulas work 24-hour shifts and are certified through DONA, which is an independent group. So far, a few dozen women have chosen a hospital-based doula for their labor and delivery, says Janelle Brandon, who manages community programs for Sanford Women’s.
“We’re trying to move the needle on public health,” Brandon says, noting that research shows having a doula can help give moms confidence and increase breastfeeding rates. Labor and delivery can be an empowering experience for women -– and taking that confidence home with them can help when motherhood –- especially those early days -– feels overwhelming.
“How do you mom through it when it’s 3 a.m. and you’re trying to feed an exhausted baby,” says Brandon, who is a nonpracticing doula.
More than expected
Kari Carlson, 34, of Fargo, was one of the first women to choose doula services with Sanford Health, when her third child was born this summer. She was induced a month early for intrauterine growth restriction and a heart condition with the baby.
“I was there early, and the charge nurse came in and said, ‘hey, we have this doula on staff,’ and I said ‘bring her in,’” Carlson says. “I was so uncomfortable, I would take anything. And it was so much easier because she was there.”
During her labor, every time Carlson would have a contraction, the doula would put her hands on her shoulders or massage her or help her change positions. She also played music and helped guide Carlson’s husband for how to help. It was more than she expected.
“With my daughter, I just curled up in a ball and nobody told me to move,” she says.
Like many moms, Carlson says most of what she learned in her prenatal classes flew out the window when labor began. The labor nurses helped and her husband helped, but it was the doula she used who connected moment by moment for her.
‘Someone taking care of me’
Doulas can be used in every kind of delivery -– from planned cesarean sections to inductions, with moms who choose to pain medication to moms who don’t. It’s a service offered to all moms and babies, Brandon says. The goal is to support the mom and help her find her best way through labor and delivery.
Some of those deliveries were her favorites.
“There’s a lot of anxiety in cesareans, and a doula can help you breathe through it,” Brandon says. “When all the machines are going off, it’s important to have someone lock eyes with you in the eye of that storm and say, ‘there’s not much more we can control beyond the inhale and exhale of our breath right now. Let’s do that together.”
That’s the kind of intimate experience Carlson had.
“It felt good to have someone taking care of me,” she says.
It feels good for the doulas, too.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Dimond says. “You’re able to be there for a new life and this new experience. You’re seeing families being made.”
More doula information
- Meet the Sanford Health doulas and watch a video with Janelle Brandon
- Learn more about DONA, which certifies doulas and leads continuing education at Sanford Health
- Labor nurses bring calm to the storm of new motherhood
- Secrets for an easier labor