Inside a Doula Training- My Oxytocin Journey

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By Mary A. Whitlock

At my recent DONA Doula training lead by the heartwarming and inspirational Doula trainer, Debra Pascali-Bonaro, I was reminded why I love my work as a doula and its positive impact on the community. It also reinforced the importance of women connecting and building supportive, loving networks in order to serve communities throughout the world.

Debra is with DONA International, an organization whose mission is to, “promote high-quality birth and postpartum support…” She is a pioneer and exemplifies what it means to be a “doula” who has dedicated her life to serving others. For the last 30 years, she has trained thousands of doulas from around the globe.  Additionally,  she is an advocate who understands the power of words to shape our perceptions of the birth experience. Debra constantly reminds people that giving birth can be full of pleasure and delight.

The three-day training took place at Birth Day Presence in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Debra’s passion and love for the work that she does are evident in these trainings. She facilitates captivating, honest, and compassionate discussions and sincerely connects with every doula she teaches.

Our dynamic group of 22 doulas consisted of mothers, grandmothers, nurses, journalists, a midwife, a few designers, and even a couple of babies were present.  For some of the attendees, it was an introduction into the doula world, and for others, like myself, it was just another stepping stone along our unique paths.

To kick off the week, we broke into groups to discuss the obvious question, “What is a doula?”  We learned that the word doula, which is Greek for a woman who serves, has evolved since the term was first coined to represent, “a mothers aid” in the 1970’s. Today, the connotation of the word doula is so much more, and the group’s responses included “nonjudgmental support, patient advocacy, to mother the mother, hands of steel, gentle birth, pleasure facilitator.”

Shirin, a new doula and yoga teacher from Long Island, writes about what a doula means to her “As a doula, no matter your experience level or technical knowledge, you are providing such a meaningful, heart-filled service, at such a pivotal time in the mother’s life. This invaluable reminder puts me in touch with my inner confidence and encourages me to put myself out there and keep pursuing my goal of helping mamas birth their way, with the most comfort and support.”

We also learned about the most recent history in our country’s birthing practices, and how the medicalization of birth has overshadowed a once sacred, natural and female midwifery model of care. We discussed the importance of handling birth with respect, love, and joy regardless of medical intervention, which in some cases can be necessary.

To guide people to experience a birth filled with respect, love, and comfort, we were taught the practical tools of the trade including how to educate and support parents in creating their birthing preferences, how to provide continual and non-judgmental support, understanding the different stages and signs of labor, how to recognize fetal positioning, preparing for cesarean birth, dealing with birth trauma, embracing your inner goddess, different birthing positions and comfort positions for optimal delivery, as well as Rebozo techniques, which was easily a class favorite. A rebozo is a woven scarf that when used properly can help mom through labor by reducing pain and providing comfort. Midwives in Mexico have been using Rebozos during labor for centuries and it is now used as a comfort technique by doulas in births around the world

Jacqui, a native New Zealander, journalist, mother of two, and an inspired doula from the training writes about her unique experience, “The birth of my second child was empowering and wonderful (the opposite of my first!), and I know that it was wholly down to the fact that I had a doula the second time around. Becoming a doula myself has taken the experience full circle. In the training, I was most struck by how much information is readily available, but not widely shared! I now feel a deep responsibility to share this knowledge with all pregnant women and their partners.”

 One of my favorite parts of the week was learning about the important role that a woman’s hormones play in the birth process. We learned that providing a safe and comfortable birthing environment along with birth support, such as a doula, encourages the release of a woman’s love hormones, like oxytocin, which naturally enables her body to labor and birth.

We also discovered that a women’s primal hormonal reaction to stress is different than that of her male counterpart. Whereas men activate a “fight or flight” response to stress, women “tend and befriend”. Research states that “Human female responses to stress…are more typically characterized by a pattern we term “tend-and-befriend.” Female stress responses have selectively evolved to maximize the survival of self and offspring…Females create, maintain, and utilize these social groups, especially relations with other females, to manage stressful conditions. Female responses to stress may build on attachment caregiving processes … the tend-and-befriend pattern may be oxytocin-mediated” (Shelley E. Taylor 2000).

This three-day doula journey was nothing short of magical. The knowledge that Debra imparted to us, the bonds and friendships that we created and the love that we all shared was so uplifting and empowering, that I was buzzing with oxytocin by the end of the training. “My tend and befriend” response must have been activated!!! This initiation into the beautiful work of a doula is one that will never leave me. I am now more inspired than ever to continue on this journey of providing the love and support that my community needs.

About the Author

Mary A. Whitlock is a DONA trained Doula and certified health coach specializing in Postpartum care and Ayurvedic wellness. She is also an active contributor and member of the Orgasmic Birth Team Family. Born, raised, and living in New York City, Mary understands and embraces the overwhelming demands and stresses that city life puts on families. 

She is inspired and passionate about providing families and individuals with the resources, empathetic support and nurturing to maintain a balanced life. Mary completed her DONA Postpartum Doula and Birth training with the renowned Debra Pascali-Bonaro, followed by an internship at Healthy Mother & Natural Birth Sanctum in Hyderabad, India. There she provided gentle birth and postpartum support to women under the guidance of Dr. Vijaya Krishnan and some of the leading midwives in the country. Mary is deeply grateful to all of her teachers and for the life experiences that have brought her to this very moment.

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