By Ziana Qaiser, Womens Feature Service
Giving birth is often a nerve racking experience, especially if you are living in a foreign country. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the majority of the population consists of foreigners, an increasing number of pregnant women are turning towards the services of doulas, or birth companions.
Doulas are trained to assist mothers before, during and after delivery. Their emotional support, confidence building skills and knowledge of natural birth contributes towards a positive birth experience. The concept of doulas, particularly in Dubai, is fairly new but has been gaining popularity over the past couple of years with information about their services spreading largely through word of mouth.
First time mother Liz Pink-Bell, who delivered earlier this year, was nervous about giving birth in Dubai. She had heard horror stories about highly controlling doctors and midwives, and especially the high rate of C-sections. “The more I looked into what a doula does, the more I was interested in hiring one to support me in having a holistic and natural labour,” says Pink-Bell, who first found out about doulas on a local online forum. “One of the main benefits of working with my doula was that she helped prepare me and my husband for what to expect. It was incredibly valuable to have her emotional support during this final week when I simply didn’t know what to expect of my own body.” Throughout the duration of her labour, Pink-Bell’s doula was by her side. “She was there to soothe me, talk me through the pain of my contractions, and to help my husband assume his own place in the labour room,” adds Pink-Bell.
Natasha Upal, Pink-Bell’s doula, moved to Dubai from the UK last year when she was pregnant with her second child. After a suggestion from her yoga teacher, she decided to have a doula for her delivery. “It made such a difference to my birth experience,” says Upal, who was so inspired that she decided to train as a doula herself. “Every woman needs a doula. There is so much need for it here in Dubai, where expat women can feel isolated living away from home,” she says.
Upal enrolled in a doula training course in Dubai, run by Nurturing Birth, a UK-based organisation, where she noticed a keen interest from women in Dubai to train. There she connected with Andrea Guy, another doula in training. For the past six months the two have been working together. Calling themselves The Doting Doula, Upal and Guy have been booked solid since, often taking on one or two clients a month and backing each other up. Previously a marketing director at Yahoo, Upal feels she can’t go back to her earlier career now. “I would love to continue being a doula and make a difference this way,” she says.
Doulas offer a couple of prenatal sessions that allow them to get to know their clients. They are then on call for a four week period, two weeks before and after the due date, and follow up with a post-natal session. “I was very pleased to receive one on one ante natal classes and post natal support in the form of home visits,” says Nicola Anderson, a first time mom, who had heard about doulas at her ante natal yoga class. “My doula was also available to me on phone at any time. She provided fantastic support for both my husband and I during labour, keeping our wishes in mind and supporting us where we may have felt overwhelmed.”
Another first time mom, Donna Thomas, from Australia, first heard about doulas at a book club. The idea of having a doula appealed to her because she didn’t have any family in Dubai and wanted to have some support for herself and her husband during a crucial time. “Usually the medical staff is primarily there for the mother and baby, so it was comforting for my husband to have someone turn around to him to see if he was alright. I can’t speak highly enough of my experience with a doula,” she says, adding that her doula’s knowledge of the general medical approach in Dubai was also helpful.
The cost of hiring a doula depends on their level of training and experience. “When I was first training, I would charge around 500 AED but now that I’m fully certified, I charge 3500 AED,” reveals Upal. She is, however, flexible with her fees. “I’d happily do a free birth if someone could genuinely not afford to pay. Trainees often work for free and we try our best to see that any woman who wants a doula is supported. For me it’s a job that’s more passion-led than financially rewarding,” says Upal, who is still in touch with her previous clients.
Samya Hall, a doula currently working towards certification, is also very passionate about providing support as a birth partner. “Any money in the future would be a bonus, but currently I offer my services for free,” says Hall, who was required to be present at four births as part of the local Nurturing Birth training course.
So far, both Hall and Upal have found the local hospital staff to be very supportive towards doulas. “I found it to be a very welcoming atmosphere,” says Hall. “Doulas don’t make medical decisions and we don’t interfere in the work of the medical staff.”
Many doula clients feel comforted knowing there is someone they can talk to if they need additional support. “My doula has also been available to give me advice with breastfeeding and sleeping routines for the baby,” says Pink-Bell. “While I have a good local support system through friends and my husband, having a doula has been a really positive experience. Without her I think that my experience of giving birth in a foreign country and away from my family would have been much more daunting.”