Dirt, noise, 36-hour shifts…I love my job!

 By Simon Round
Originally source The Jewish Chronicle 29/05/2008

It’s messy, grubby work helping pregnant women through the contractions. But for Lauren Mishcon, being a ‘doula’ sure beats nine-to-five.

Lauren Mishcon has no idea when she will next be required to work. It could be over the weekend, perhaps on Monday morning, or maybe not for a week or two. When she is called upon, it may be for a few hours, or it could be a marathon 36-hour shift. Mishcon is a birth doula. Her job is to accompany women through the process of giving birth, providing comfort, support and advice.
Having qualified just over a year ago, Mishcon — one of around 800 birth partners in the UK — has already helped a number of women through the birth process. There are, she says, plenty of reasons why women turn to a professional birth partner.

She says: “Since birth moved from the home to the hospital, fathers have replaced the women who used to provide support in more traditional societies. Doulas are an old but also a new thing. The word is ancient Greek for care-giver, and that is what we do. A doula is someone who is not related to you, who has no emotions invested in the birth, and who will stay with you throughout the labour.”

While doulas are only now becoming established in the wider world, birth partners are an established part of the strictly Orthodox world. “The Orthodox community has its own volunteer group who are themselves very Orthodox women. It is hard to break in there if you are not from that community yourself,” says Mischcon.

In other respects, this is not, laughs Mishcon, a classic job for a nice Jewish girl. “There are very few Jewish doulas. It’s messy, it’s grubby, you come home covered in almost every bodily fluid going. But it’s wonderful. Having said that, I do think Jews are all about family and children. I’ve already had three Jewish couples.”

So why would anyone need a doula? After all, most people have birth partners with them at hospital and there are doctors and midwives who are fully trained to take women through the birth process. Mishcon feels that women are comforted by having someone present who knows about the process of birth, who will stay by their side for the duration of the labour and who can act as a go-between.

“We try to keep the women calm and their partners calm. The men’s anxiety filters through. With all due respect, they are not the best at waiting. They like to do rather than wait. Often the first thing they say is, ‘Let’s go to hospital’. That’s the worst thing you can do early in labour, because they’ll just send you home. Men also need a lot of reassurance — yes, those noises are normal and so is that muck.

“Some of my clients are single women, others have all their family overseas so want someone to be with them. Then there are the women who have already given birth but had problematic labours and need extra support second time around.”

Until recently, doulas have had what Mischcon describes as a “tree-hugging, hippy” reputation. But now she feels that the job is becoming more mainstream. “We don’t take the place of the midwife because although we have medical knowledge, we are not medically trained. But on the whole we are accepted by midwives. They know they are safe to leave you for a couple of hours and do more urgent things because the woman has someone with them at all times. We’re practical people, we can change sheets, wipe down and clean up. They are usually quite grateful we are there.”

In fact, Mishcon, who was an actors’ agent before giving birth to her own two sons, thinks that many midwives feel jealous of doulas. “My best friend is a midwife. She feels that midwives go into it because they actually want to do the job that we end up doing. They spend the entire labour writing things up minute by minute and don’t have the freedom to support the mother through the labour.”

Hiring a doula can cost between £150 (for a trainee) up to £1,000 — although there is a hardship fund for those who seek help and cannot afford the fees — but Mishcon feels many women could benefit. “Birth is a very mental thing. Women who are scared don’t labour as well. They labour best when they are in a safe environment and when they are well-supported.”

Mishcon has had to make a large number of sacrifices to be a doula. She is on call 24 hours a day, and during this time cannot go away, make plans or drink alcohol.

She is also dependent on her husband (who is self-employed) to take over the childcare of their two- and four-year-olds at a moment’s notice. She reckons that it can take two days to recover from working for up to 36 hours without a break.

However, she is delighted with her career choice. “When the pushing starts, you forget the tiredness and the adrenaline kicks in. It’s such a privilege to be present at someone’s birth. And it gets better every time.”