It’s been a while since Jody Hanson and Helen Voyse saw one another.
It’s clear they have plenty to catch up on and the pair chat animatedly as Jody’s eight-month-old son plays happily between them.
It’s a comfortable picture, which is hardly surprising given that, for three months earlier this year, Helen was a huge part of the mum and baby’s life - as their personal Doula.
“I met Helen when I was 34 weeks pregnant with my son,” explains Jody, aged 27, who lives with her two boys in Norfolk Park.
“My family don’t live close by so I had limited support during my pregnancy and was worried about how I would cope when the baby was born and who would pick my older son up from school if I suddenly went into labour. I shared my concerns with my midwife and she told me about the Doula Service.”
The Doula Service is provided by Sheffield City Council and aims to support pregnant women throughout the last six weeks of their pregnancy, during the birth and six weeks postnatally. Each woman who is referred to the project is provided with a volunteer Doula who offers them emotional and practical support over a three-month period.
Just hearing someone say ‘you’re doing a fantastic job’ can be enough sometimesHelen Voyse
“At first I didn’t think it was for me, I thought I could do it all myself, but it’s honestly the best thing I ever did,” smiles Jody as she cuddles her little boy.
“My Doula came with me to midwife and health visitor appointments, she came with me to get my bloods done. There’s a lot of information when you’re pregnant and it’s great to have somebody to help you wade through everything, to help you remember appointments and generally support you.
“The day I went into labour, I called her and she was there waiting for me at the hospital when I arrived. It’s that familiar face that you can trust when everything gets going, it’s so reassuring.”
The service launched in 2011 and there are now around 50 active voluntary Doulas working in the city at any one time. Many of them - though not all - are mums themselves, who want to support women or couples and help empower them to have the best experience they can.
Helen, aged 35, has been a volunteer Doula for five years and says it’s one of the best things she’s ever done.
“I have three kids, and had three very different experiences, and wanted to be able to give somebody the support they might not necessarily have had without this service,” she says.
“Our role is supportive but also about information-giving, on issues like infant feeding, safe-sleeping, parenting, the practicalities around labour and birth, and the benefits of skin-to-skin contact. It’s not about sharing our own personal experiences, it’s about making sure parents have all the information they need to make an informed choice about what’s best for them and their baby.
“Sometimes just the praise and encouragement in itself can be invaluable, hearing ‘you’re doing a fantastic job’ or ‘you can do this’ can make a big difference.
“The feedback we get from mums is so positive. We have mums that tell us having one of our Doulas with them was like having their own mum or sister or best friend in the room with them, and that’s wonderful to hear. We have women who use this service who are from different countries and who have no family or friends around at all. For women like that, this service is a lifeline.”
Six weeks after the birth, Doulas must say goodbye to the people they’ve watched become families - something Helen admits can be tough.
“Of course it can be hard to say goodbye to someone who’s shared so much with you and who you’ve built a relationship with,” says Helen, who has worked with 35 mums in the past five years.
“But by six weeks their family unit is in a good place and it’s time for us, as Doulas, to move on and help somebody else. Of course it is lovely though when you bump into those mums out and about, in the supermarket or walking through the city centre, and they have this little two, or three, or four-year-old with them, and you think: ‘I remember when you were born.’ One mum even named her baby after me which felt amazing, it’s a really rewarding role.”
All Doulas go through an extensive screening and training programme before they’re assigned to work with local mums, and Jody has already applied to start the training in September, meaning she could be working with other mums-to-be in the city as early as January 2017.
“I’d love to do for someone else, what this service did for me,” she says.
“That would be such a gift.”
BECOME A DOULA:
The service is always seeking new volunteers for its Doula Project, which runs training programmes twice a year.
“You don’t have to be a mum yourself,” says Helen, whose own background is in nursery nursing.
“We have lots of great doulas who don’t have kids. We have some that work full time and others that don’t work at all. Doulas don’t offer clinical support and we have no medical background. Our job is simply to provide emotional and practical support, information and guidance.”
Email: email@example.com if you would like more information about becoming a voluntary doula, or call 0114 2735733.