Questionnaire for Labor Doulas
Name: Colleen Goidel
Age: Old enough to know better
City you live in: Atlanta
Number of children you have: 2 daughters: Emma (26) and Alexa (27)—and a 16-month-old grandbaby!
What drew you to the labor doula work?
I had two wonderful births with a progressive midwife group (one of which was Margaret Strickhauser) that practiced with Dr. Richard Stewart (now retired) at Douglas General Hospital in Douglasville, Ga.—back then they were just about the only group in Atlanta that practiced a midwifery model of care. I loved breastfeeding and everything about raising babies and being a mother. I felt a strong pull to work with birthing mothers and their partners, although I wasn’t sure where or when or how. When my girls were in middle school I resumed the lucrative but soul-sucking marketing career that I abandoned when they were born, and I vowed to work in birth as soon as I could afford to make the career move. In 2010, Kay Johnson CNM introduced me to the concept of becoming a doula, and I immediately knew that was what I wanted to do. The time was perfect for our family and everything just fell in place after that. I became certified with DONA that year.
What do you remember about the birth of each of your children?
Both of my births were fast and furious! Alexa, my first, was breech, born vaginally, thanks to the judicious care of Dr. Stewart. Emma was OP position and was born relatively easily. Both were very empowering, amazing experiences. I was grateful to have experienced a midwifery model of care.
Every profession includes “techniques” people use on the job. Describe some of the different “techniques” you use in your work.
My most vital “techniques” are flexibility and intuition. My approach varies with each client, and it evolves as labor progresses. I take time beforehand to understand each client’s expectations and personality, listening and asking solution-focused questions. I request that they not be shy about telling me if something I’m doing isn’t working at any given moment. During labor, women often react differently than they anticipated, so much of my work is intuiting their needs in the moment. For clients who want physical support, I apply massage, sacral counter-pressure, acupressure and/or gentle touch, depending on what they respond favorably to at any given time. If the birth partner is taking an active support role, I adjust my contribution accordingly. If my client and her partner have been laboring on their own at home and have good momentum going together, I support them with minimal interference. Some women want verbal affirmation, some want silent support—I tune into what they need at the moment and respond accordingly. Ultimately, my goal is to create an environment in which my client feels free to do whatever her body tells her to do to move her baby down and out.
Describe one of the most joyful experiences you can recall in your work as a labor doula.
The amazing thing about my work is that there’s immense joy in every birth! Witnessing tender moments between partners, the indescribable look on new parents’ faces when they first glimpse their child, the palpable feelings of love and joy when baby is first placed on the mama’s chest… it’s all a miracle, even though it happens 340,000 times a day! When it’s over and I’m driving home from a birth, I almost feel high. The transition from maiden to mother is profound, and I’m grateful to see it happening.
As a labor doula what does it mean to “mother the mother”?
To me, mothering the mother means giving her whatever she needs—physical support, emotional support, sacred space, silence, information—to help her cope with the uncertainty of labor and childbirth. And above all, to remind her that she is surrounded by unconditional love and support—she is not alone. If a woman cannot afford to hire a labor doula, what would be your advice to her and her family as she prepares for her birth? I am always willing to consider reducing my fee if the need is there, or I can help her find another doula who will work for a reduced fee. And read! “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” by Henci Goer. “Birthing From Within” by Pam England. Take a Birthing From Within childbirth preparation course from emerge… Read everything by Ina May Gaskin. Have your partner read “The Birth Partner” by Penny Simkin. Think about what’s important to you about how you’d like to labor and birth. Ask your OB the right questions to determine whether he/she is the right caregiver for you. If you have doubts about your OB, consider changing to another practice that is better aligned with your birth ideas. Practice your right to informed refusal. Let go of expectation and allow your body to work its miracle.
Tell one thing you think makes you uniquely qualified for the work of a labor doula.
I can nap just about anywhere on demand—including in a hard hospital chair. It’s one of my super powers, and it comes in handy during a long labor.
Is there one thing you think every mother should do during her pregnancy to prepare her for labor?
Stretch every day. And take a 15-minute walk every day. (That’s two things, but they’re important.)
What is the longest birth you have attended?
50 hours (with a 2-hour break from a back-up doula).
What is the time you remember being most surprised during a birth?
When a laboring mom vomited, then immediately smiled and asked for some chocolate.
Describe the setting of the most unusual, unique, calming, or other unlisted quality of a birth you attended. How did the mother and her support team create this unique environment?
My granddaughter’s birth was outdoors, on a deck, in a birthing pool, in the mountains, in the fall. As the sun came up and my daughter’s labor intensified, we heard the cows mooing and the roosters crowing at the nearby farm. As she transitioned, her vocalizing seemed like a call-and-answer to the farm animals. Birth is never easy, but hers was relatively peaceful. She was surrounded by trusting professionals. No cervical checks, no blood pressure checks, just a vigilant midwife team allowing birth to unfold, as has been done since the beginning of time. Medical intervention can save lives, for sure, but it’s good to be reminded that women can birth without intervention, as their bodies intended.
If you could tell a mother one thing to meditate on as she prepares for her birth what would it be.
All you have to do is breathe.