Christiana Gehrer wasn’t planning to use a doula when expecting her third child, Luke.
The Canterbury Park resident, who welcomed the baby boy with partner Neil Trudeau in early March, employed one while pregnant with her daughter Monique. It worked out well, but she was going to go without one until a chance meeting with Jennifer La Rivière in January.
"It was a completely random meeting. I ran into her at Wal-Mart. She just happened to approach me, and obviously she knew I was pregnant. She asked if I would be interested in having a doula for my birth," recalled Gehrer. "She seemed like a really nice person, so I’d give it a try again, and as it turns out, it was a really good idea to do it."
La Rivière, an East Kildonan resident, described a doula as "a birth support person" before, during, and after labour. She said she’s on-call in the weeks leading up to the due date, meaning she’s available to the parents at any time to answer questions or provide reassurance. During labour, she is a standby for the parents – "whatever they need, I do" – whether it be holding the mom’s hand or helping to alleviate back pain. She added she helps with breastfeeding, if needed, after the baby is born.
She hopes to bring the profession into the forefront during World Doula Week, held March 22-28. La Rivière said employing a doula can result in a reduced need for pain medication, labour augmention, and Caesarian sections.
Doulas and hospital staff sometimes have a complicated relationship, with some doulas gaining a reputation as overstepping their boundaries.
La Rivière stressed she stays out of the medical side of the equation, and primarily acts as a rock for the parents.
"I am basically with the mom the entire time – I do not leave, apart from maybe going to the bathroom," she said. "That’s the main part of it, is that I do not leave mom’s side at all. I do not deal with any of the medical side of things – that’s the doctors and nurses."
La Rivière received Doulas of North America (DONA) training through Wolseley-based Birth Routes, but will receive certification only when she’s attended three births with a specific set of circumstances. The biggest factor is she must be present when the mother is 4 cm dilated.
La Rivière has three children of her own, and had unique pregnancies with all three, as she had an epidural with her first child, a natural birth with her second, and suffered through intense back pain requiring medication with her third.
"I have all these different insights into what each of those processes did to me," she said.
"Granted, yes, it affects everyone differently, but at least I have an idea of how it may affect someone."
Gehrer was going to have a friend attend Luke’s birth, but when she realized that the friend wouldn’t necessarily be available 24-7, realized La Rivière’s services could come in handy.
"With this birth, with how quick it went, she had a little less opportunity at the actual birth to do what most doulas are supposed to do," said Gehrer. "But for me, she actually helped in the couple of months leading up to it. I had quite a rough pregnancy, and she was such a great support person, and so positive to keep me focused and positive on the end.
"We actually became quite good friends over the course of the last two months."
Gehrer said she called or texted La Rivière several times a day if she was feeling stressed or down.
She said while there are no plans for a fourth child, she would hypothetically employ a doula again. She recommended them especially for first-time mothers.
"I wish I had known about them," she said. "I think it would have made my first experience with my son (Andre) a lot more positive and easy."