In ancient Greece they were female servants or slaves who were experienced in childbirth.
Fast forward many years, however, and the role of the doula has somewhat changed.
In Australia the doula movement is growing and the modern day doula is not a slave. Her role is to be there during an extraordinary experience in an otherwise ordinary life.
EMMA SWAIN reports.
When Gwen Teasdale gave birth to her first child she sought the support and counsel of a doula.
At the time, doulas – also known as labour coaches – were a rare find, but Gwen had formed an acquaintance with one of Australia’s first official doulas and the philosophy appealed to her.
“It turns out my first birth went nothing to plan,” Gwen said.
“My beautiful, natural birth turned into an emergency caesarean. But it was a fantastic experience and I put that down to having really good emotional support from my doula, who helped me be in that moment and adapt.
”Following the birth of Hamish, now 11, the Maitland mother delivered daughter Maggie, now seven. This time things were different.“
My second birth was a vaginal birth and that was also a really amazing experience. Both births were very, very different but they were the two best days of my life.
”While a new mum, Gwen dabbled with the idea of becoming a doula. She then started training and before long the young mum-of-two was attending births. The work just came and now there are a handful of us in the area,” she said.
More recently Gwen has also become a practitioner of the calmbirth technique – an alternative to traditional antenatal classes.
Developed by Australian midwife Peter Jackson, calmbirth is a childbirth education program which has so far helped thousands of expectant parents prepare for labour.
Earlier this year Melissa Vassallo, 31, of Ashtonfield, became one of them.
“I actually didn’t know much about [childbirth], so when I was about 20 weeks pregnant I started to try to get prepared for the actual birth,”Ms Vassallo, who gave birth to daughter Olivia Jane two months ago, said.
“I found out about calmbirth and I went to some classes, mainly wanting some tips and strategies to get through the actual birth.
“It really helped. I felt like I had more of a plan. I practised deep breathing and relaxation and I was really able to use it through the active part of labour. And that part only lasted two hours.
“In the beginning my partner was a bit sceptical but he absolutely loved it because we discussed things that blokes don’t talk about.
”While some reports have criticised doulas – a name originating from the Greek word meaning female servant – for their strong views, Gwen steadfastly refuses to force her opinions on those she supports.
“It’s our role to support these women in whatever they choose,” Gwen said. “Your own personal opinions are completely separate. When you are supporting a couple it’s really essential to support whatever they want and to make them feel safe.
“Peoples’ experiences and desires are so diverse. My role as a doula is to help someone have a really positive experience.”
Calmbirth classes will be held in Maitland on April 6 and 7. Private classes can also be arranged. For more information phone Gwen Teasdale on 0414 952 713 or email firstname.lastname@example.org