Chavie Lieberman of Hempstead, pregnant with her seventh child, is on all fours on the floor of the Petri School of Irish Dancing in East Northport. She's volunteered to be the subject during a recent workshop sponsored by the Long Island Doula Association, which, among other things, offers continuing childbirth education. This session is demonstrating positions to offer physical comfort to the mom-to-be and to help labor that's stalled to restart.
Now, for the first time, the local doula organization will also offer training for people who may have no previous experience but want to become a birth doula -- also called a labor doula. A birth doula's job is to offer nonmedical relaxation and pain-reduction techniques to women as they are giving birth. "We have a bag of tricks -- we have a bunch of comfort measures," says Sharon Penn, a birth doula from Dix Hills.
A three-day session Nov. 7, 14 and 15 in Roslyn Heights will launch participants into the birth doula certification process that gives them the stamp of approval from the Long Island Doula Association, a nonprofit umbrella group whose members support women through their childbearing years.
Doulas aren't regulated by state or federal guidelines, so there isn't one standard for certification, but the requirements set by the Long Island Doula Association involve the initial workshop, attending three births, completing assigned readings and more, says Celeste Rachell of Roslyn Heights, a birth doula with 28 years of experience who will be the workshop instructor.
"You do have the option of doing a two-day training if you have childbirth training behind you," says Debbie Rotunno of East Islip, president of the Long Island Doula Association. All these requirements can take from six months to three years to become fully certified, she says.
TWO DOULA TYPES
Two types of doulas work on Long Island -- birth doulas and postpartum doulas. The latter help during the first weeks with a newborn, and the doula association plans to offer training for postpartum doulas in the spring.
Previously, local doulas who wanted to be certified by a professional organization needed to undergo training offered by a national or international group, such as Chicago-based DONA International, Rachell says.
"What's most appealing is we're offering a mentor program -- it's called Big Sister, Little Sister," says postpartum doula Katherine Koncelik of East Islip. Each new birth doula will be paired with a more experienced local member of the association for support, she says. Rachell says she's never trained a man who wanted to be a doula, but if a man were interested, he would be welcome to attend the training.
The first day of the training is childbirth education basics, Rachell says. "We really lay down a foundation of medical terminology," she says. The other days teach physical and emotional comfort measures, labor strategies, business practices and ethics, she says.
Christine Ruggeri of Northport has signed up. "I'm a nutrition coach and I wanted to get my doula certification so I can pair the two, so I can help women during their pregnancy and labor, not only with the emotional part but with the nutritional aspect of it," she says.
DEVOTED TO MOM
While doctors and nurses may be in and out of the room during the birth process, a labor doula is by the mother-to-be's side the entire time, devoted to her needs, helping with meditation, positions and natural oils. Rachell says the term doula originated from handmaidens in ancient Greece.
"We've always given birth with our sisters around," Koncelik says. "It's our anthropological history."
But the doula doesn't just focus on mom. "Doulas 'doula' the dad, too," says labor doula Shanon McKenna of Centereach. "We're there as much or as little as they want us to be." Often, the dad may not be sure exactly how to best help at any one moment. The doula might coach Dad, "Put your hands here, this is what she needs."
A labor doula can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000, depending on level of experience, Rotunno says. Rachell charges $1,200 for a birth on Long Island, for instance. In most cases, insurance won't cover the cost, Rachell says. The association is having its 10th annual fundraiser on Nov. 15 at The Victorian Room in Bay Shore to raise money to offer doula services to women who can't afford it, Rotunno says.
DOULAS NEED STAMINA
Women thinking about becoming labor doulas need several prerequisites. They must have solid child care of their own. They have to be ready to drop everything and go at a moment's notice when a client's labor starts. "If the phone rings at 2 a.m., at 3 a.m. we're by the mom's side," Rachell says. Doulas have to have transportation to get to the hospital or birthing location. And they have to have stamina, because a birth can last 30 hours, Rotunno says.
While 20 years ago hospitals may not have welcomed a doula's presence, times have evolved, Rotunno says. "There's not a hospital on Long Island that will not let us in," she says. And while some individual practitioners might balk at the idea, women determined to have a doula usually will switch obstetricians in those cases, Koncelik says.
"The way I look at it, anything that is going to enhance the experience for the patient, we're all in favor of," says Dr. Seth Plancher, a Garden City obstetrician who delivers babies at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola.
The joy of helping to bring a baby into the world and have the birth be a memorable experience for the parents is an enormous reward for doulas, Penn says. "One of the biggest enjoyments we have is when the couple looks at us and says, 'I did it my way. This is what I wanted,'" Penn says.
WHAT Long Island Doula Association Birth Doula Training
WHEN | WHERE 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 7, 14 and 15 at a private home in Roslyn Heights; Long Island Doula Association will add additional training classes if this one fills.
INFO 631-574-2205; LIDoulas.com