CONVERSATIONS WITH… A Doula

Birth companions like Angelyn Seet encourage mums-to-be who need some reassurance and a lot of support.

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When Angelyn Seet, 36, was pregnant with her first child, Jeremiah, in 2009 in the US, she attended a course on the Bradley Method with her husband Josh.

Husbands in that class were taught to help manage their wife’s labour and coach them through childbirth.

“After attending that, we experienced a natural drug-free birth with no interventions,” says Seet who also has a 4-year-old daughter, Jodie. “We were so ecstatic and amazed by the whole thing, we decided to take up the training in California and bring it back to Singapore when we relocated back here in 2012.”

On returning, Seet dipped her toes in Singapore’s birthing services field, befriending other passionate doulas and childbirth educators along the way. One such person was Diann Bustamante, who was then the director of ParentLink.

Operating since 1998, ParentLink offers childbirth classes, baby first-aid classes, doula services, home birth equipment rental and prenatal and postnatal massage services. When Bustamante decided to return to the United States in 2014, she invited Seet to take over as ParentLink director.

“By that time, I had attended a number of births in Singapore as a doula, had fallen in love with the profession and also taught quite a few couples in the Bradley Method, so it was the right fit for me,” Seet recalls.

As a doula, Seet acts as a support system for mums-to-be from the day they find out they’re pregnant all the way till baby arrives and beyond.

“I use comfort measures, relaxation techniques and physical massage and other techniques to ease labour pain. Mothers will have round-the-clock access to my advice any time before labour begins. This is usually for emotional and informational support”.

“A doula provides access to a wealth of knowledge in the physiology of labour and birth. When a woman is in labour, it feels nice to have someone to talk to and be at her side all the time.”

What do you love most about being a doula?

It’s all about the experience of being with the labouring mother, holding her hands, reassuring her, helping her enjoy her labour process and of course, witnessing the miracle of birth.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I would usually be called up in the middle of the night by a panicky husband, with a labouring wife huffing and puffing away in the background. After washing up and getting ready, I would rush to her side at her home.

I would massage her, soothe her, bring her drinks and food and reassure her that everything is as it should be. Once we get to a point where we feel it’s the right time to start moving to the hospital, we will do so slowly and calmly. At the hospital delivery suite, we settle the mother into her birthing space and allow her to surrender and give up control.

Usually, this is also the hardest part of labour and some mothers start to panic and give up while others are calm and at peace. I remind the mothers to breathe slowly and deeply, I help them to relax into the space, I show the husbands what to do to help their wives in their journey together towards parenthood.

The day usually ends with a beautiful and energetic push to ease the babies out into the world and take that first cry. New parents are born too, with cries of joy and celebration.

Why should mums-to-be engage a doula?

A doula provides access to a wealth of knowledge in the physiology of labour and birth. When a woman is in labour, it feels nice to have someone to talk to and be at her side all the time. Having a doula present has been shown to reduce the use of drugs during labour by up to 50 per cent. This usually also means better outcomes in labour and birth ― we get healthier mothers and healthier babies. We get more positive birth experiences and more empowerment of labouring mothers.

Up next, Angelyn clues us in on what most people don’t know about doulas…

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How do you work with midwives and obstetricians?

All of us work together to help mothers have the birth that they desire. Doulas are trained in the management of normality and medical professionals are trained in the management of abnormality. Together, we are very well suited to fill in the gaps and provide well-rounded support for the pregnant and labouring mothers.

What are some misconceptions people have about doulas?

Doulas are not midwives! I get calls from couples who would like to have a free birth at home without a doctor or a midwife present. This is not what doulas do and not what we support. If you decide to give birth at home, please hire a medical professional like a doctor or midwife. Doulas are not medically trained and cannot handle any medical emergencies. Also, doulas help at all births, not just natural ones without pain relief. I’ve had clients who chose pain-relief drugs or a C-section and I was right there beside them, every step of the way.

Doulas are trained in the management of normality and medical professionals are trained in the management of abnormality.”

Have there been times when you have clashed with a doctor or a midwife?

As doulas, we merely support the couple. There are always pros and cons to each and every intervention. We encourage our clients to ask, find out what their options are and make up their own minds about medical decisions. We present the facts and the options and let the couple make their own decisions.

Tell us about a birth experience you will never forget…

All my favourites are of women in the water. I would see these women turn into mermaids before my eyes. On land, they are in so much agony but once they step into the birth pool, they relax, float and slowly dance in the water. It is so beautiful. The babies birthing in the water would swim up like fishes, too. It is truly amazing for anyone who gets to experience it.

Complete the following sentences…

The one superpower I would like to have is… Special healing hands.
I am happiest when… I am with my family at the beach on a beautiful clear day.
I wish more new mums knew that… They are so beautiful.
If I could say one thing to a new mum who feels like she’s failing it would be that… Your child will forgive you and love you as long as you don’t give up on your child.

Photos: Angelyn Seet

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