After her own surprise delivery, Rebecca, 29, from Hackney, decided to help other women and their partners have a positive birth experience and became a doula. She is now known as 'The Hackney Doula'.
What does a doula do?
The word 'doula' actually means 'female slave' in Greek but the modern incarnation of it' really just reflects what women have been doing for centuries: helping other women before, after and during birth by offering them calm and experienced support.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I love seeing the transformation from two individuals to a family unit and feel enormously privileged to witness how amazing women are during the birth process.
What is a typical day like for you?
No day is the same! Much of my time is spent running around after my own lovely (and demanding!) toddler. I often have a preparation session with a couple in the evening where we might discuss how to create the kind of atmosphere for birth. And I'll usually have a few texts or calls from different women asking for general advice. Once or twice a month I get 'the call' to join a couple at a birth, so I change in to my doula clothes, grab my bag and head off - not knowing whether I'll be back in three hours or, as has happened, three days!
Is hiring a doula expensive?
There's a real variety in cost across the country, but we all believe everyone has the right to a doula so Doula UK runs a hardship fund that offers people on low incomes the chance to have a doula without charge. Trainee doulas can be a really affordable option as they are obliged to charge under £200, and many will charge much less than that. Outside of London a 'recognised' qualified doula will usually charge under £500, and in London, under £850. It sounds like a big chunk of money but for the amount of hours of support before, during and after the birth, I've come to think of it as a bit of a bargain.
How did your own pregnancy go?
I had quite an easy pregnancy, with the horrible morning sickness wearing off quickly, and I felt pretty energetic throughout. I did have a few scares towards the end with very strong Braxton Hicks and a 'show' at 34 weeks. After strict instructions to stop working like a lunatic these died off.
How did you plan your birth as your due date grew close?
I knew I waned a homebirth and actually felt more and more relaxed as my due date approached. I also stayed in touch with my lovely doula who was great at building my confidence and stopping me from buying too much unnecessary rubbish.
When did you go into labour?
My waters broke unexpectedly when I was 37 weeks. I rang my husband and doula (who wasn't yet on call and would miss the birth as she was in Italy) and got very excited. A few hours later we had dinner, and then went for a long walk in the rain to try and stimulate some contractions.
What happened then?
I tried to do what my doula suggested, which was to ignore it all and go to bed with my TENS machine on. But by 1am I decided to get in the bath and my husband sat next to me pouring water over my bump and helping me breathe. After a couple of hours I felt an overwhelming urge to push. My husband rang our midwife and then an ambulance just in case. Luckily it took me a couple of hours to push so the paramedics had time to come and go and leave me in the hands of two amazing midwives. My daughter Sofya was born about eight hours after I'd had my first twinge, at 6.55am, weighing 7lb 6oz.
Did you have any pain relief?
I had a suck on some gas and air that the paramedics gave me but it did nothing. I had planned to use the pool for relief, as well as the option of pethidine, but I found the bath was enough to allow me to cope.
How did you feel when your baby was born?
Shocked, amazed and in awe of this chubby little bundle - and of my husband who had been incredible!
Did you start thinking about becoming a Doula soon after your birth?
Yes I did. I felt certain that my birth had been so positive because I had been relaxed, had been encouraged to focus on my body, wasn't disturbed or distracted and had a really wonderful birth partner, who'd been well trained by our doula. I wanted to help other couples feel the same.
Have you ever looked back?
There's been the occasional moment, on the second night of a long birth, when I've felt guilty for being apart from my daughter. Knackered and emotionally drained, I wondered why I wasn't tucked up in my own bed! These feelings are very transient though. There is a moment during each labour when I listen to my intuition and do something small (like keep eye contact with a woman during strong contractions, or smile at a worried-looking father to reassure him) which makes a huge difference to the couple. And then suddenly there's a new person in the room. I get to witness three people falling deeply in love, and honestly, it's the best job in the world.