With five children, Ashley Plett has more experience with birthing than most. But it’s her skill as a doula she is anxious to share with Pictou County families.
A doula is a trained non-medical professional who provides information and support during pregnancy, labour and following birth. The support ranges from alleviating the aches and pains of pregnancy through massage and exercise, to various birthing techniques, to helping establish breastfeeding. It also includes moral and emotional support.
Certified by Doula Training Canada, Plett, who is raising her family with her husband in Hopewell, spent two years studying online, attending workshops and job shadowing with a view to helping others through the birthing process.
“I have delivered naturally, experienced belly births, have had high-risk pregnancies and coped with various complications pre- and postpartum so I have my own experiences. I often wished for another woman with knowledge and a heart for birthing mothers to be there for me as I sensed a gap in our community when it comes to birthing.”
Plett added it was not a family member or a medical professional she yearned for.
“I wanted someone who could be there throughout, helping and supporting with a solid base of knowledge and a strong focus. The more I looked into the role of a doula, the more passionately I’ve come to believe in its importance.”
She acknowledged labour support is often the role assigned to fathers and she wants to take nothing away from them.
“A doula is certainly not a birth interloper but she comes with a background of knowledge. Fathers may not remember all they have learned when the time comes. The doula is there for family support, to support and assist the mother but also to spell him off when he needs a food or bathroom break, to hear his concerns and to answer his questions.”
With that in mind, while it is usually the expecting mother who contacts her, Plett makes a point of inviting the father to be involved in the first conversation.
“I want him to know he is not being pushed to the sidelines, that I will be supporting him, as well, and that his questions and concerns are all valid with me.”
To date, Plett has been involved in four births, all of them to women who had previous deliveries.
“I feel I’m just getting started. Each experience has been different, and each has been really encouraging for me.”
Plett is quick to point out doulas are not midwives.
“I do not participate in home births. Right now, that is outside my scope of practice. I could participate if there was a licenced midwife involved but we don’t have any practising in the area. Without a midwife I cannot attend a home birth.”
She has felt welcomed by nursing staff for all four births at the Aberdeen Hospital.
“It is not my job or my personality to want to be in the way of the nurses and doctor doing their work but while they are in and out of a labour room and have responsibilities to other patients I am there continuously. Having a doula on hand was a new experience for the staff but I met with the head nurse and found her open and helpful so from my point of view, it has worked out very well.”
Plett’s first meeting with a mother or a family anticipating a birth is a get-to-know-you consultation.
“It is really important that we feel comfortable together. If, for any reasons, that level of comfort does not develop, I would encourage them to contact another doula.”
That first meeting is generally followed by two prenatal appointments where doctor visits, physical and emotional comfort and a birth plan are discussed.
“I think it is really important to lay out what your wishes are but it is equally important to know that plans can change. I make a point of running through a few different birth scenarios and answering related questions so if things do not go according to the first plan, there is a higher level of comfort with what may happen.”
While Plett has studies that suggest having a doula can decrease the likelihood of a Cesarean birth, she also noted it can be the only option.
“I use the term belly birth rather than C-section. Sadly, I’ve known mothers who were made to feel a C-section was something less than a natural delivery and I don’t like that at all. A mother has a long recovery after a C-section and she should not be feeling any guilt. We all want what is best for the baby.”
She sees her job as providing information rather than judgment.
“I may have a mother who wants no pain medication whatsoever or one who wants every medication the hospital can offer. My job is to discuss these options in advance and provide all the information I have but the decision is hers and I abide by it.”
Plett pointed out the information available to pregnant women over the past two generations has changed drastically.
“We’ve gone from having virtually no information to having so much we can’t sort out what is valid and what is ridiculous. In the last generation we’ve also gone from most families taking prenatal classes to none being offered in Nova Scotia anymore, in person or online.”
While providing continuous care during labour, a doula has the time to try various techniques to help with birthing, she noted.
“There are double hip squeezes that almost instantly relieve the pain of contractions. There are peanut balls women can straddle. There are massage rollers that can alleviate various pains and rebozos (Mexican scarves) to alleviate pressure and shift the baby a bit.”
While a happily nursing newborn is a beautiful sight, it does not always happen naturally, according to Plett.
“You have exhausted mothers and babies that may or may not be motivated so it can take time. Breastfeeding has been the postpartum issue my mothers have needed the most help with. Initially there can be a Iot of frustration and it’s such a relief when the baby finally latches on properly.”
As with delivery, Plett’s approach to breastfeeding is practical and informed by her own experience.
“I always hope it is going to work out well, but I know it may work well in the long term and it may not work as well as we hope. If it doesn’t, I have no issues with a happy mother who is bottle feeding a healthy baby. There is no reason for feeling guilt in that case.”
Although her home life is busy, Plett said she can respond quickly when she knows a baby is on the way.
“My husband is an architectural designer with his own business and his hours and his support allow me to be at births at the drop of a hat. I homeschool my children so if a baby comes on Monday we’ll make the time up on Saturday. Our schedule is always flexible.”
While her first consultation is free she charges on a sliding scale for further services.
“I don’t want payment to be a hindrance so I’m always willing to work out the terms.”
Plett can be reached on Facebook at Ashley Plett Doula or at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most.