I hope the following articles are of interest to you.  The first article about my services appeared in the Daily Record on Monday, July 7, 2006, and the second article is one I have written for the Winter 2007 edition of Midwifery Today.



MUM'S THE WORD:  An army of doula helpers are here for new mothers, by Lorna MacLaren

Young mum Susan Roan took a long time to recover from the arrival of her first baby.  Daughter Lola was perfect, but her birth was an experience Susan describes as phytsically and mentally traumatic.  That was four years ago and, as the art lecturer prepares to give birth for the seconed time, she has called on the services of a doula to make sure things will be different . . .

From her home in Glasgow, Susan, 31, has over the past months been getting to know her doula, Leah.  Leah will be on call now 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until her client's labour pains begin.

Susan says:  "My gorgeous daughter Lola arrived in the world safe and well but I feel I missed out on enjoying her first few weeks because I was such a mess after the birth.  I had needed a blood transfusion and was left badly battered and bruised.  Although the medical staff did what they could, the birth had been full of panic and fear.  My partner Gareth and I had no idea what was going on.  There was no communication at all.  It was all about the medical procedures on my body and I didn't feel like a person.  It wasn't until a while afterwards I realised I'd been left traumatised by the whole experience and suffered post-natal depression as a result."

When Susan and her partner decided to have another child, friends in London suggested they take on the services of a private doula.  They felt it might help Susan to have a knowledgeable, experienced person at the birth who knew exactly what she wanted . . .

"I found the Doula UK site on the Internet and contacted Leah from there," Susan says.  "I thought it would cost thousands of pounds but it was much less.  Leah will be on constant call for me in the later stages up to the birth.  I think both Gareth and I wanted someone there for us.  Midwives are often so busy they don't have time for the emotional support you really need at that time.  That's where Leah comes in."

A university graduate, Leah Hazard turned her back on a promising career as a BBC researcher to learn the art of being a doula.  She, too, had had a difficult first birth with her daughter and decided to make it her mission to provide a unique support for pregnant women.  She was inspired by the skills of the doula who throughout history has been present in towns, villages and communities to aid and comfort women in childbirth.  It was an important support she thought was being lost.

Through Doula UK Leah gained advice on training and has gone on to gain skills including aromatherapy, hypnobirthing, massage, and breastfeeding . . .

Despite being pregnant herself, Leah is looking after Susan and over the next six weeks is awaiting the birth of another three Scottish babies. "I love my job," she smiles. "I am on call 24/7 for at least four weeks and ready to chat at 2am if you feel anxious.  I give emotional and practical advice and an important continuity of care during what is the most important few hours of women's lives.  I am not a midwife but I like to think that me being there lets them get on with their job while I take care of the emotional needs of the mum.  So much of giving birth is remvoing the fear."  She adds, "I'm there to help parents feel they have the space to make their own decisions, but no doula would ever interfere with the actual delivery . . . "

Leah points out that no doula does this kind of work to get rich.  Often payments barely cover expenses.  She has even taken on clients who cannot afford her full fee. "Some people may think that doulas are only hired by wealthy, middle-class suburban mums.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  My clients have come from remarkably diverse situations, some with partners, some without.  Some want home births, others to be in hospital.  I think that the desire for consistent, compassionate support during pregnancy and birth is a universal one."

Meanwhile, Susan feels safe enough to look forward to the birth of her new baby.  "I don't have an idealistic view of childbirth and Leah isn't some hippy earth mother," she smiles.  "It will be hard work but I'm not scared any more and I know deep down it can be the lovely, rewarding experience we missed out on first time around."

[Note:  Susan gave birth to daughter Ines on the day this article appeared.   She laboured in a birth pool at home and Ines was born at the Queen Mother's Hospital shortly thereafter.  Mother and baby were -- and continue to be -- well.]

SIDEBAR:  'I needed to hear I was doing really well' -- As Caroline Gordon cuddles her baby boy Eddie, she describes herself as a satisfied customer when it comes to having a doula. The Glasgow mum contacted Leah Hazard after she and husband Colin realised he couldn't be at the birth.

"Colin not only can't stand the sight of blood but he hates everything about being in a hospital," said Caroline.  "He felt really guilty about it, but I knew it would be better for me if he wasn't there as I'd just worry about him passing out.  I think more couples are being honest about whether it's the best thing to have the man at the birth if he can't cope with it."

Caroline, 35, who works in PR, contacted Leah through the Doula UK site.

"She was incredibly supportive to me and Colin . . . It could have been scary without her as Eddie's heart was slowing down at some points.  But Leah kept me positive and calm and explained what was going on around me.  I gave birth to Eddie with just a Tens machine and gas and air for pain relief.  She suggested easier birth positions and kept telling me I was doing really well.  You need to hear that.  At one point, I squeezed Leah's hand so tight I thought I'd broken her fingers, but she didn't flinch.  I love the fact we got to know Leah before the birth.  It made it much more personal and special."

[Note:  It was a privilege to support Caroline again during the birth of her second child, Lucy, in September 2007.]



 This is a preprint of an article accepted for publication in Midwifery Today, Copyright © 2007 Midwifery Today, Inc.





“I want a home birth but my husband’s not too keen on the idea.”


“I want a home birth but my husband says it would give his mother a heart attack.”


“I want a home birth but my husband says no.”


These are the kind of comments that have been repeated to me time and time again during my work as a doula for the past three years.  The clients reciting this litany of dashed hopes are usually intelligent, assertive women who wouldn’t hesitate to make up their own minds; they are scientists, artists, teachers, nurses.  More often than not, they have been let down by hospitals during previous, traumatic birth experiences, and a home birth seems to hold out the promise of autonomy, dignity, and safety.  So why are these strong, well informed women backing down from home births simply because hubby says no?  We are all too familiar with the way in which birth has become managed (and damaged) by a patriarchal system, but when we think of the “bad guy” in this situation, we usually envision a white-coated consultant who books c-sections in between golf games and cruises.  Since when did Joe Average Dad, slumbering on the couch with the remote control in one hand and a flat beer in the other, become the gatekeeper to an empowering home birth experience?


The Mother-In-Law Question


Janine was a prime candidate for home birth if ever there was one.  Several months before she contacted me regarding doula services, she had miscarried her first pregnancy at fourteen weeks.  Usually vivacious and chatty, Janine’s voice sank to a whisper as she curled up in an armchair and told me about her treatment at the hands of her local hospital.  “I was bleeding heavily, totally distraught, and the midwives put me on a ward with women who were in early labour.  They offered me diamorphine but there was no way I was going to stick around listening to those other women having their babies.  I decided I’d rather lose my baby at home, so off I went.”  Janine stopped to stroke her belly, now curving deliciously with a new, healthy pregnancy.  “And I think I’d rather have this baby at home, too, because just the thought of going into a hospital gives me a panic attack now.  But Les says his mother would never let him hear the end of it, because if the hospital was good enough for her, then it’s good enough for me.  And what if something happened?  Les asked me how I could live with killing his mother’s only grandchild.”  For Janine, the clear decision to birth at home had been muddied by her husband’s endorsement of his mother’s fears.


Of course, it’s only natural that a man’s first point of reference – indeed, anyone’s first point of reference – for birth is his own mother, and all of the clients I have met were born in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, when medical management of birth was seen as a great advancement and home birth as a kind of antiquated throwback.  Go back a generation, though, and most women in the west of Scotland, where I live and work, had their babies at home.  Ask any granny at a bus stop where her “weans” were born, and she’ll likely launch into a rose-tinted story involving one-room flats, locally known midwives, and good humour all around.  Go a bit further back and you’ll reach a time when the west of Scotland had a rich home birth culture served by “howdies” – lay midwives who were known, trusted, and respected by their communities.  Sadly, most men (and women) in the country are now unaware of just how deep their home birth roots really are.


Complicating the issue is this question of “ownership” of the baby – when does your child stop being your child and become simply your husband’s mother’s grandchild?  And when do your mother-in-law’s ideas about home birth subsume your own?  Sadly, it seems that men are sometimes complicit in allowing the mother-in-law’s often misinformed opinion to dominate plans for the birth.  If the pregnant mother remains resolute in her wish to have her baby at home, this often sets up an uneasy triangle of conflict between mother, father, and mother-in-law, and the emotional wounds incurred in this conflict can remain long after the birth itself has come and gone.  One can easily see how a mother might change her plans simply to avoid such friction in her relationship with her partner and, by extension, her mother-in-law.


The Boys at Work


It was coming up to Christmas, and I’d just negotiated twenty-odd miles of iced roads and pitch-black darkness to get to Bob and Carrie’s house.  Carrie, now six months pregnant, had been fighting tooth and nail to have a home water birth after a previous (and extremely traumatic) caesarean section.  Bob was sceptical; as well as the most recent baby, his two children from a previous marriage had been born by emergency caesarean, and he had come to associate birth with disaster.  I was hoping to help Carrie talk him round to a home birth, but as I took off my hat and gloves in the warmth of their kitchen, Bob scuppered my plans.  “I’ve told the boys at work that Carrie’s planning a home birth, and they think I’m crazy,” he announced with cheery finality, as if that would send me scurrying back into the cold Scottish night.


What does Bob’s statement really mean?  Does it mean that the “boys at work” think he’s crazy to be planning something as allegedly dangerous and unpredictable as a home birth, or – more odiously – does it mean that the “boys” think he’s crazy to allow his wife to make such a reckless decision herself?  Either way, one has to question why the opinions of a man’s workmates should even enter into a conversation about his partner’s birth plans.  Admittedly, none of us is immune to the need for peer approval, and it would be naïve to suggest that men won’t seek such approval from their colleagues on a variety of topics, both professional and personal.  However, one must remember that when the day of birth comes in all of its laborious, bloody glory, the “boys at work” will be nowhere to be seen.  They won’t be filling the birth pool, or breathing through the toughest contractions, or reasoning with a scalpel-happy consultant.  So it is, and so it should be – those workmates should be kept out of birth, and out of the discussions leading up to it.


Rachel and Co.


When I was pregnant for the first time, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston’s character from the TV show Friends) was pregnant too.  In spite of lying flat on her back in a hospital bed mere feet away from another labouring woman, Rachel still managed to pop out a baby in half an hour – with her immaculate makeup, perfectly sleek hair, and witty repartee unharmed.    


I knew when I watched Friends that Rachel’s glamorous hospital birth was unrealistic, but would most men come to the same conclusion?  Women are bombarded by these false images too, but many women at least have access to more realistic birth stories from female friends, relatives, and coworkers.  Inevitably, a few of these women will have figured out that the hospital is not always the bastion of safety and comfort that Hollywood would have us believe it to be.  Some women may have even been present at a birth themselves, but for most men, TV characters like Rachel may be the only labouring women they have ever come across.  Safely ensconced in hospitals, with their legs firmly planted in stirrups and machines beeping “reassuringly” in the background, these fictional women show men some of the only representations of birth they may ever have seen.  Personally, the only home birth I’ve ever seen onscreen was in a Western drama, when a white-nightied heroine flailed hysterically on her four-poster bed while her husband was off “fighting the Injuns”.  With such painfully outdated portrayals, can we blame the average male viewer for thinking that home birth is a thing of the past?


Changing Attitudes


When we think about some men’s negative attitude towards home birth, it’s all too easy to fall into a round of man-bashing, which is neither positive nor productive.  After all, the men who object to home birth usually do so out of concern for their partners’ safety rather than any wish to be uncooperative or malicious.  This concern may be misguided, but it is valid nonetheless.


As birth practitioners, it is our duty to respect the fears of the diverse families we serve.  These fears multiply freely in the vacuum left by our society’s general ignorance of gentle birth at home, and this is where we can make a difference – by providing information.  Whether we are speaking to our clients, partners, friends, brothers, or fathers, we have a duty to welcome men as potential keepers of the sacred birthing space.  Ideally, we can even inspire them.  It may take a cultural sea change to increase the number of home births in the medicalised West, but a few enlightened men could help us make some serious waves.  I anticipate with joy the day when a client says to me, “I really want a home birth . . . and my husband thinks it’s a fantastic idea!”


** Please note:  All names have been changed.










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