Interview with Melissa Danielle: Private Health Coach, Women’s Health Coach, and Full-Spectrum Doula
I used to think of a doula as a sort of hippy-dippy nurse, a midwife-junior who helped set the zen vibe at a home birth with essential oils and meditative music. When I sit down to chat with Melissa Danielle, an Oahu-based doula and health coach, she quickly dispels that notion.
“A woman giving birth at a hospital has even more to benefit from a doula,” Melissa explains, “because the doula acts as the mother’s advocate, supporting the mother in a setting that is not always focused on her wellbeing. The more relaxed the mother is during her birth experience, the fewer interventions will be required. In a hospital, there is overstimulation, there are too many people poking and prodding, and the mother is discouraged from moving around, eating, and drinking. Mothers are not treated as central to the experience they are undergoing.” As a result, some women feel alienated from their childbirth experience, and their higher stress levels can lead to real health consequences. The American Pregnancy Association (APA) concurs, noting that women aided through their birth experience by doulas are less likely to require pain medication or undergo cesareans, and more likely to report having had a positive delivery.
women aided through their birth experience by doulas are less likely to require pain medication or undergo cesareans, and more likely to report having had a positive delivery
If many people have a fuzzy, distorted idea of what doulas actually do, it could be due to the fact that historically, doulas have worn so many hats in their support of maternal health. (Note: a doula is not a midwife; a midwife is a medical practitioner whose training resembles that of an obstetrician.)
“The word ‘doula’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘woman’s servant,’” Melissa says. “Typically, the women of the village or community would fulfill this role, but in our modern, fractured world, ‘doula’ has become a vocation in and of itself.” While all doulas concern themselves with supporting, empowering, and educating mothers, and also facilitate communication between the mother and her medical providers, “contemporary doulas have widely varying specializations and levels of experience,” Melissa notes. She suggests that expecting parents interview at least three prospective doulas before deciding on their best fit, since each doula will bring her personal energy and expertise to the role. As a health coach, for example, Melissa is especially attentive to the lifestyle choices and medical profiles that women bring to pregnancy or efforts to conceive. She is especially keen to assist women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a metabolic and endocrine disorder that disrupts normal ovarian function, having suffered from the condition herself. And to add to her doula toolkit, Melissa is currently completing certification as a massage therapist. “Physical touch, which is not incorporated into traditional hospital birth experiences, has so many benefits for laboring women,” she says. “Massage actually aids in the production of oxytocin, which stimulates contractions and relieves stress.” According to the APA, it can even raise a laboring mother’s pain threshold.
Physical touch, which is not incorporated into traditional hospital birth experiences, has so many benefits for laboring women
Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum are monumental experiences in a woman’s life, and ones for which they too often lack adequate preparation and support. “You should put at least as much thought into planning for a baby as you did into planning your wedding!” laughs Melissa, nodding to the fact that our society places so much emphasis on the consumer aspect of new-parenting -- do you have the right baby gear?? -- while neglecting the very real financial, physical, and emotional concerns involved. Though nearly everyone becomes a parent at some point, modern pregnancy and parenting can feel terribly isolating, with so many relying on the rabbit hole of Google Search as their primary source of information and support. Having a doula - a seasoned, dedicated maternity coach - on hand quite literally brings a human touch to one of life’s most profound experiences.
modern pregnancy and parenting can feel terribly isolating, with so many relying on the rabbit hole of Google Search as their primary source of information and support
Melissa’s Guide to Choosing a Doula
Melissa recommends that all expecting parents looking for their doula “match” interview at least three candidates, and ask the following questions:
Why did you become a doula?
What services do you offer, and through which stages of pregnancy (pre-conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum)?
What are your base and add-on costs?
Do you have a backup doula in case of emergency? Who is it?
Do you have any specializations or skills that you bring to your practice? (These could include massage, partner counseling, financial planning, photography, placenta encapsulation, lactation consulting, cooking and cleaning…)
Do you have experience dealing with (your unique situation)? I.e. twins, VBAC, history sexual abuse, unmedicated birth, placenta previa or other medical conditions…
Do you have any core values or ethical positions with regard to vaccination, pain relief, circumcision, etc?
Additionally, consider the personality fit between you and your prospective doula, because trust is of utmost important in the doula-patient relationship. Her raison d’être is to be your advocate and supporter, and she cannot fulfil that role if you don’t feel comfortable communicating openly with her.
Melissa is currently offering Birth and Postpartum doula support for 2019 due dates; you can learn more at doulainparadise.info. She also runs a community group, Oahu Mothercircle, which offers many of the support services of a doula, but in a group setting that encourages information-sharing and community-building.
Recommended links for further learning: