A labor of love: Young mother organizes doula training in Belfast

Posted July 09, 2011, at 1:21 p.m.
Last modified July 10, 2011, at 3:36 p.m.
Belfast mom Alessandra Martinelli is aiming to become a professional doula, or birth helper.
Photo courtesy of Alessandra Martinelli
Belfast mom Alessandra Martinelli is aiming to become a professional doula, or birth helper.

BELFAST, Maine — When Alessandra Martinelli gave birth to her two daughters, she remembers wishing that she had a doula present — a person whose only job is to support the mother through childbirth.

“The midwife is worried about the baby,” the 24-year-old from Belfast said Thursday. “The doula is just there for you.”

As her babies have grown — they are now 1 and 3 years old — Martinelli has not forgotten her feelings about how important it is for birthing mothers to have knowledgeable, confident help.

She has decided that she will become a professional doula, and toward that goal is helping to bring a three-day doula training workshop to Belfast later this summer.

The workshop will be facilitated by Therese Hak-Kuhn, executive director of Virginia-based association ToLabor, or the Organization of Labor Assistants for Birth Options and Resources.

During the three days, participants will learn how to create a safe birthing environment, conduct prenatal and postpartum visits and how to support the family when the birth doesn’t go as planned, among other points.

“You have people coming to these trainings with all different kinds of backgrounds,” Martinelli said. “All different kinds of birth experience.”

When they are through and have completed all requirements, the students will earn an internationally recognized certification, according to the website ToLabor.com.

A certified doula can earn compensation that in the Boston area may be as much as $800 per birth, Martinelli said, although that number is lower in Maine.

She feels that with a rise in women choosing to give birth at home and making informed decisions about the birthing process, doulas will be more and more important.

“Doulas are not a new concept,” she said. “There are just people out there who feel really drawn to the whole process of helping women.”

In the past, that role often was taken by mothers, sisters and aunts, she said. But birth in the United States has changed in the last 100 years or so, and so has the role of birth helper. First, more and more women had births in hospitals, attended by doctors and nurses. Now many are starting to return to their homes and often choose to have a doula attend them.

According to a May study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, home births increased 20 percent from 2004 to 2008. They now account for 28,357 of 4.2 million U.S. births.

In the 1970s, moms who gave birth at home tended to be “hippies” who were part of the counterculture, according to The Associated Press. But the trend is changing as home birthing becomes more mainstream.

Experts estimate that in 1900, 95 percent of U.S. births took place at home. That number slipped to half by 1938 and to less than 1 percent by 1955.

Today, most midwife-attended births take place in hospitals in the U.S. and many midwives are licensed nurses. But there are nearly 1,700 midwives who practice outside of hospitals. Certified professional midwives can legally attend births in 27 states, including Maine.

Martinelli reiterated that even with a midwife, mothers can benefit from having a doula, who does not need to be a mother herself. A doula does not even need to be a woman, Martinelli said.

But doulas do tend to share some qualities.

When asked what those qualities are, the young mom didn’t hesitate.

“Soft hands,” she said immediately. “To rub your back. To hold your hands.”

According to Martinelli, other important traits include being able to listen in order to give the mother or her partner the help that they need; being informed about labor, birth, women and babies; and being patient.

“It’s also always, always different,” she said of the childbirth experience. “There are times when labor is really slow. And times when you’ve got to think on your feet.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The ToLabor doula certification workshop will be held Friday, Aug. 12, through Sunday, Aug. 14, in the Belfast Free Library’s Abbott Room. Tuition is $365, with previous doula training discounts and payment plans available. For information, contact Alessandra Martinelli at 949-0077 or at dancintomatoes@yahoo.com.

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