I used to think doulas were for single moms and at-home deliveries. As I further educate myself on birth, which I think is the best way to prepare for delivery, I sought the advice of two expert doulas: Sue Osborne of Birth with Courage and Power and Trish Wilkinson of Tree of Life: Doula Services and Birth Resources. Both women are located in Champaign-Urbana.

A doula, as described by Sue, is there to support a woman physically, emotionally, and spiritually through labor and delivery. If I learned anything from my first birth experience, having a child is certainly a combination of the three.

I met Sue and Trish at the Courier Café in Urbana, where we spent well over an hour chatting about birth, pregnancy, and doulas. These women are a wealth of information. I keenly felt the passion and esteem they hold for their work. At one point in our conversation, they each got goose bumps, so powerful have their experiences been with the many local women they have attended in birth. Sue said, "I feel like I'm reborn every time I witness a birth." To which Trish added, "It's an honor to be in this space," referring to the intimacy a couple experiences during the birth of their child. Sue said, "There's nothing I would rather do..."

I can think of no better support for a laboring woman ― aside from a supportive partner ― than these two women. A doula is much more than an assistant to labor. They are advocates of women, ensuring that the needs of the mother are being met by the staff and clarifying all medical decisions and suggestions by the staff to the mother.

Regardless of how easy or difficult a labor, the experience is always intense. Even the most prepared mother can lose her focus at this time, misinterpret the information given by the staff and forget simple things like breathing! This is no fault or shortcoming of the mother or partner, only a natural side effect of extreme circumstances.

Sue [pictured at right] said, "There's one thing I know for sure: There's nothing sure about labor." Unexpected events during labor are almost inevitable and a doula can help navigate the uncharted waters of birth. They are experienced, knowledgeable, and should know your wishes well enough to help you make informed decisions.

That's not to say they replace a partner. Trish said, "I may know birth, but he/she knows you."

Trish used the analogy of a training video: When you start a new job, you aren't ready to start right after you've watched the training video; there's always someone more experienced there to guide you. The same can be said of birth — taking a class does not prepare mothers and partners to perform in unexpected situations under high stress — that's where a doula comes in.

For any woman interested, or thinking about, having a doula, I strongly encourage you to contact one of these women. They are very generous with their knowledge and time, allowing you to dictate the amount of contact you have before the labor. They also guarantee their attendance during the entire birth, barring circumstances beyond their control, in which case they find another doula to stand in for them.

What most surprised me about these women, and doulas in general, is their willingness to support a woman in labor regardless of the path that labor takes. If the woman decides to have an epidural, then the doula supports that decision. If the doctors and mother decide a cesarean section is necessary, they support that decision as well, and help the mother realize and accept that sometimes it's best for both a healthy mother and baby to not have a "natural" birth.

There is absolutely no pressure from the doula to make certain decisions about the birth. It is your birth, and they are there to support you in whatever decision you make. They will also visit after the labor to offer further support to mothers who may be suffering postpartum depression, and to ensure that all questions about the experience are answered and addressed.

For more information, Sue Osborne can be reached at 217-202-0943 and Trish Wilkinson can be reached at 217-621-6790.

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Cover photo: Trish Wilkinson