What it's really like to be a doula

We talk to a birthing guide

(Image credit: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

We talk to a birthing guide

Words by Faith Cummings

Though the world is increasingly moving towards new uses of technology in almost every sector of life, there is a shift away from innovation and reinvention when it comes to one of the most basic life forces on the planet: giving birth.

Doulas are women trained to assist mothers-to-be for the duration of their birth cycle and often afterward and they are becoming increasingly prevalent for women from all walks of life, and celebrities especially. And the calling is nothing new as they were first used in the late 60s.

Lori Bregman is one such doula who happens to cater to the celeb set with over two decades of experience under her belt. She has assisted in the pregnancy journeys of Molly Sims, Kelly Rowland, Jessica Biel, and many more.

Bregman was actually on call for seven births at the time we spoke. And like the many entertainers she calls clients, she’s also a multi-hyphenate herself: working not only as a doula, but also as a life coach, healer, and author.

We caught up with Bregman to talk about how she juggles a jam-packed schedule, her recommendations for how we can all boost our spiritual health, why therapy isn’t necessarily right for everyone and more...

You're on call for seven births right now. How do you begin to juggle such an important moment for so many women? I don't just do the birth, but I take her through and support her and her partner on the whole journey. I have been working with these seven women for months and months — educating, preparing them, building and cultivating a deep relationship. The more I know them, the better and more easily I can tune into their needs. And the more they can relax and let go because they trust me and know I have their back. The actual birth is the grand finale of all the work we have done together throughout the pregnancy. Seven are a lot. I usually don't take this many in a month: normally three to five births are my maximum. Also, since due dates are an estimated date, I always block out a window of time: three of the seven already delivered all before their due dates.

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You describe being a doula as a calling you always had to work with pregnant women and mothers. Is spirituality something you believe is at the foundation of your work? There is that Steve Jobs Quote: 'You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, and karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.' I so resonate with this quote. My dad sent it to me years ago when he saw the path that I am now on. I am a living example that babies can feel in the womb and are imprinted with that energy. The way you feel, the foods you eat, the products you use, the way your child comes into the world and the way they attach, are loved, and cared for create the foundation from which they will grow on for the rest of their lives. You believe that the relationship between mother and child in the womb is crucial. What are the techniques you use to make that connection healthy and loving from the start? I am big into planting seeds of consciousness, mindfulness, and awareness into the mums and dads I work with. I love seeing how the seeds sprout and grow throughout their pregnancy, birth, and into parenting. When studying with my teachers, they always told me a good teacher will lead you to find the answers within. Most of the seeds I plant question them to dig deep inside to find what feels right and works for them. I have been a doula for over 15 years now and have never seen the same women, pregnancy, child, couple, or birth that was the same. I don't think there is one right way to do anything. I educate my clients about their options and choices and then encourage them to go within and follow and do what feels right to them. I do a lot of baby bonding meditation and breath work to help clear and move energy. I teach my clients that by taking care of themselves, they are in turn mothering that child within as they are as much apart of them during pregnancy as their liver, or kidneys are. Teaching them about the food, the quality of the product, and their stress level all goes into the foundation from which their baby will build on. I do prenatal massages, life coaching, yin, and restorative healing yoga for body awareness and to help ease pregnancy ailments. I also work with my clients on how to stay present and hone in on and follow their intuition as well as teach them to follow their truth and not get swayed by the protections of others.

In what stage do you start working with women? I start working with people at any point, but rarely will I take on a person towards the end of their pregnancy. I'm all about the journey, not just the birth. I can't imagine going in the birth space and supporting them without knowing them. It's so incredibly intimate and sacred. I offer birth packages where I see them a lot before the actual birth. Often people book me the minute they find out they are pregnant, others after the first trimester is over. Some I have worked with pre-pregnancy and we just keep going.

What is the day of birth actually like? No two births are the same and you can't predict birth. I live my life pretty much always on call. A birth day might go like this… Earlier in the day; we speak as I check in daily towards the end with my people. She says she is feeling a little crampy on and off but nothing consistent so she’s not sure if it is anything. I say ok, let's see if it turns into anything. Cut to, I am sound asleep and my phone rings at 3AM. Let's say she is going all natural, drug-free and birthing at a hospital. My client’s partner calls and says that his/her wife has been having contractions and they have been timing them for about an hour and a half: now they are 5-6 minutes apart lasting 50 seconds long. I can hear her in the background and I can tell by the way she sounds; it's time for me to go to them. I get up and pour myself some coffee and head over to their house. Labour at home for a while depending on their birth plan and how far they are from the hospital. At home we will walk and may put her in the shower or bath. Then at some point (maybe a few hours later), we will head to the hospital. Once there, I get her back into the zone, create a sacred space, go over the birth intentions and wishes with the nurses, and finish the labouring there. Then the baby will be birthed. I stay for a few hours after and make sure they are all ok, hold space for them to bond and connect with their baby in peace, and then eventually leave. I go home, take a shower, and sleep hard! I could be with clients for five hours or with them 56 hours…I don't leave their side until their baby is in their arms.

Did you have any trepidation for your first birth? My first birth was my best friend’s baby. I had no idea what I was doing. I felt more like a supportive and encouraging friend than a coach or advocate. I lacked the confidence and experience that I now have from the years and years of emerging myself in birth. Even though I took my doula training and learned great tools, I feel like the real learning was just getting out and doing birth after birth after birth. Each one is so different—even three births ago, I was a different doula then I am today. I always set aside time to process and go over it—often journaling about each birth: including what I learned, what might have worked better or something my client, her partner, a nurse, a midwife or a doctor did that I could add to my bag of tricks to be used at another appropriate time in birth or while prepping someone for labour. Like I said earlier, you never stop learning.

What is an ideal birth like? A healthy mum and a healthy baby. When my clients walk away saying it was the best day of their lives. I want them to remember that day as something so special, not ever something that they look back on and disliked.

What's the craziest experience you've faced in your line of work? I once did a home birth in Vegas. Her water broke before labour started and apparently sometime since the midwife had checked her the night before. During early labour, her baby flipped and went breech. We didn't know until she was eight centimetres dilated and the midwife came and checked her: the baby's behind was where the head should be. My girl was deep in labour and we had the option to either go to the hospital to do a C section or the midwife would deliver at home while the baby was in breech (in Vegas, midwifes can do that). She chose to do it at home. The midwife called another midwife to assist her. It was July 4th and as soon as the fireworks started the baby’s behind came out, then a leg, another leg, and her torso. Then the midwife had her do one big push and her head came out and she took her first breath—just as the grand finale of fireworks blew up the sky! It was amazing, but that one gave me a few grey hairs - I won't lie.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far? Living my life on call is hard along with the long hours, staying awake all night and often for days hasn't been so easy on my body. Sometimes working with nurses or doctors who aren't doula-friendly can be hard.

And the biggest reward? Watching all the work we did over the past months and seeing a new mother, her baby, and family thriving and knowing that their child came into this world healthy and loved will always be amazing to me.

Delphine Chui