The popularity of doulas, professionals who provide pregnant mothers and fathers with physical, emotional and informational support through the childbirth process and beyond, is on the rise in Turkey, where a new wave of natural childbirth is being born. As this weekend celebrates World Doula Week, which is a series of worldwide events to promote the benefits of doulas, it is due time you met our own fellow expat and pioneer in the world of doulas, Julia Steils Paçacıoğlu, a California native who has been integral in the furthering and training of a new generation of doulas in Turkey. Steils Paçacıoğlu, a beautiful, blond, glowing goddess, who has been in Turkey since 2003, is based in Istanbul and is fluent in Turkish. She is the creator and trainer for İçsel Doğum (Inner Birth), Doula and Childbirth Preparation Guidance Training, which connects potential mothers with doulas and potential doulas with the training and experience they need.
"A doula is a non-medical professional trained in providing physical, emotional and informational support to birthing women and their families before, during and after birth," she explained, adding that "in this modern birth culture, the doula may be the only person providing continuous support for both mother and father throughout labor and delivery." Differing from a midwife, who has medical training and expertise in the technical aspects of labor and delivery, doulas are there to provide more intimate support, which nurses and midwives often do not have the time to provide due to the sheer number of women under their care.
"A doula meets with both mother and father before delivery and works intensively with them in exploring their hopes, fears and desires for birth and parenting," she explained, pointing out that they also help parents develop a pain-coping mindset and tools to cope when things do not go as hoped or planned.
"Doulas may utilize massage, knowledge of the physiology of labor to suggest positional changes, give encouragement, help with breathing and meditative techniques and help parents to understand common hospital procedures. Doulas may play a prime role in labor support or may simply stand ready should the need arise, protecting the birth space," she said, adding that with their understanding of the effects of procedures on laboring mothers and their babies, they can provide women and their families with an objective viewpoint of suggested interventions.
I asked Steils Paçacıoğlu when in the pregnancy a potential mother and doula should connect. She said: "The second trimester is an excellent time to find a doula. This allows plenty of time to become acquainted and to become certain that she is the right person to work with and to introduce her to your doctor. It is really such a benefit when parents, doctor and doula can work together as a team."
In addition to assisting a mother's post-partum transition, doulas also offer guidance to fathers in their role of supporting the mother and on their own path to fatherhood. They are on call for the weeks surrounding the pregnancy's due date, and also stay with parents after the baby is born, until mother and baby are breastfeeding or sleeping comfortably, and are also available for visits in the weeks and months following birth.
She described how she became a doula herself: "My first experience with birth was that of my nephew when I was 21 years old. I was a massage therapist specializing in prenatal massage at the time and aided in my sister's birth experience for support. I was both touched by the process and concerned about the conduct of the nurses and doctors. While my sister was coping quite well, the staff seemed to be undermining her great strength and effort by constantly insisting on pain medication, which she did not want, but eventually agreed to. I felt so sad seeing this powerful birthing woman shrink into a compliant patient. I felt that there must be a way to support women in maintaining their strength and self-worth in labor, and that is when I learned about doulas."
Her training experience reads like a who's who list of the natural birthing world. She started off by undergoing Doulas of North America (DONA) training followed by the Heart and Hands Midwifery Program doula training with renowned midwife Elizabeth Davis. "It was after moving to Turkey in 2003 and attending my first birth here that I saw how little my training had prepared me for the psychological trauma caused by unwanted developments during such a delicate event. This is what led me to seek training through Birthing from Within with Pam England. The skills I have learned over my nine years of continuous involvement with Birthing from Within have enabled me to continue the work that I do and to help parents prepare for both the birth they hope for and for the birth they eventually experience."
Now, she is the founder of İçsel Doğum Doula and Childbirth Preparation Guidance Training, which is one of the most comprehensive training courses in the world for doulas. "I have blended the elements of physical labor support I have mastered in my years as a prenatal massage therapist and doula together with the psychological and spiritual aspects of birth and parenting preparation I have gained from my work as a Birthing from Within mentor to create a truly holistic doula training program." She described the training as involving four modules, each focusing on a different aspect of working with women.
"Completion of the foundational module, which focuses on exploring one's own beliefs about birth and how these beliefs affect one's work with women and families, is required for continuing onto any of the other modules. The second module covers the role and practices of the birth doula and includes pain coping practices, massage techniques, basic anatomy, physiology and terminology and a code of ethics for doulas. The third module focuses on the postpartum doula, and therefore includes basic information on helping women and families to process their birth experiences, supporting breastfeeding, adjusting to the postpartum period and maintaining a healthy marriage. Finally, the fourth module utilizes all of the information from the first three modules in creating a holistic childbirth preparation series for parents."
The next İçsel Doğum Doula and Childbirth Preparation Guidance Training will begin June 18-21 at Inanna Kadın Farkındalık Merkezi in Şaşkınbakkal. Julia also holds meetings prior to enrollment for people who want to ask questions or to meet in person. The first will be this Saturday, March 28 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 4 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
In addition, today, Saturday, March 28 from 2:00p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Julia will be on hand at a special event held at the Akmerkez Shopping Center events area in honor of World Doula Week, introducing not only what doulas do, but also offering the public an opportunity to meet first-hand with many of the doulas trained in Turkey.
Check out www.icseldogum.com or www.fullcirclehealing.org, her English-language sister site to discover the world of doulas, meet doulas trained in Turkey and learn about what the training entails. Julia also offers Birth Story Healing sessions in English and Turkish in person and via Skype for mothers who have unresolved issues from their birth or postpartum experiences.