Delving into a Doula's Work

Photograph courtesy of Denise Nicole

Photograph courtesy of Denise Nicole

In 2013, while pregnant with her son, wellness advocate Denise Nicole came across a life-changing book: Mama Glow by acclaimed master doula Latham Thomas. The wisdom she found in those pages resonated so much, that Denise realized right then doula work was something she was called to do in this lifetime. About a year ago when Latham Thomas herself announced she'd be doing a doula training, Denise knew it was time to pursue the dream, and that's how her training as a Mama Glow Doula came to be.

We spoke to Denise about the ins and outs of doula work and her experience in this fascinating field, you don't want to miss this delightful conversation.

Let's start with the basics, what is a doula? What type of work do you do?

The direct translation would be a "servant." It's an old word that comes from something that originally meant server,  so a doula is someone who is there to support. We provide continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to pregnant women. However, the bulk of our work is in the actual labor, supporting women with natural pain management. Even if you have an epidural a doula can still support you, some doulas may kind of shy away from that, but I feel like every birth is a natural birth.

You’ve said you believe your work as a Doula is sacred, can you expand on that? Why do you refer to it in that way?

Well in our culture and our society sometimes pregnancy and birth are looked at as inflictions, like you go to the hospital and it's treated with medicine and other things and all of that has its place, I'm not saying that there's something wrong with medication or going to a hospital to give birth, but there are a lot of women who want to listen to their bodies who don't need the interventions that are often given. Our society created this culture around birth like it’s this negative thing, you know, you see the movies, and there's screaming and yeah there is screaming that takes place, but there’s a difference between pain and suffering. Pain can bring about beautiful things, and labor and giving birth; there’s nothing more sacred, more beautiful, more natural than that process of what our bodies can do.

One thing that comes up a lot is that doulas are a resource for very privileged women, just for the 1%. What are your views on that?

I'm so glad you brought that up, because I feel like a lot of things that have been sacred and passed on for generations, especially rituals from people of color have kind of been taken out of their context, repackaged, and sold back to us –and at a higher price than what most people can afford. Doula work has been going on for generations, this is my ancestors work that I'm doing now, so the idea that it's somehow for the 1% is very infuriating to hear. But I do understand that perspective because the culture has been repackaged and repurposed.

It's a misconception though because there are free resources and discount doulas and every woman deserves to have a doula. That’s why I’m so glad that now things are happening to, for example, try and get doulas covered by health insurance. It's not a perfect plan, but the fact that it's even being recognized is amazing.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth for women around the world, what would that be?

If it were as simple as changing one thing, it would be the maternal death rate for women, definitely. It's extremely high, and it's like three to four times higher for black women. But there are a lot of things that feed into that, so it’s physicians and doctors a lot of times not believing women when it comes to their level of pain or discomfort, or knowing their bodies.

What has been the most challenging thing until now in your work as a doula?

Seeing the lack of listening to women, and the lack of respect that sometimes surrounds the process of birth. And also the fear surrounding the subject of birth!

What has been a big reward?

Everything else! Being able to witness the fierceness and power of women, their bodies and their minds go through this process, this beautiful amazing journey that is birth. Being able to witness the love of the families and the spouses, just that hug, that warmth that you get after a client tells you they couldn't have done it without you or that you really made an impact on something that's so sacred and important that they'll never forget. So just witnessing the strength and beauty of the process and being able to help in some small way with that.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Salome Gomez Upegui