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My doula journey

23 February 2024

Mum of five, Francesca, 41, has always been fascinated by labour and birth and has even toyed with the possibility of a career in midwifery. After 10 years of being a stay-at-home mum, she spotted an opportunity on Facebook to become a volunteer doula and a potential step onto the midwifery ladder.

In this story, Francesca tells us all about her training to become a Bradford Volunteer Doula that she recently did at SHINE West Bowling, how she loved it so much, and why she would willingly do the training all again.

Francesca’s Story

I had spotted the doula volunteering opportunity on the Bradford Antenatal Birth and Beyond Facebook page a while back, but had to put it on the ‘backburner’ as I couldn’t attend the training on that occasion. However, I did express an interest in volunteering and a while later, the Bradford Volunteer Doulas invited me to an open day. After 10 years of being at home with my children, I knew that the time was right to do something for me and this opportunity could potentially be a step into midwifery.

I learned so much and it actually changed my mindset around things such as breastfeeding.

I completed the application form and got offered an interview. I was successful and was then placed on the doula training programme at SHINE West Bowling. I absolutely loved the training and didn’t want it to end!

I learned so much and it actually changed my mindset around things such as breastfeeding. When I had my children, I had no support around breastfeeding – I simply did not have enough knowledge and there wasn’t anyone that could take the time to show me. However, when I did the training something clicked and I got it and knew that I could absolutely support new mums to breastfeed.

My favourite part of the training was the module around labour and birth as I have always been fascinated with that. Alison Brown, Specialist Midwife at Better Start Bradford, delivered the session and she was amazing – it was all so interesting.

Shelley and Wren, the amazing staff that delivered the training sessions, really cared for our well-being too. They had a check-in at the start of each session, where they checked our mental health and made it clear that if anything during the training triggered emotive feelings, then there was support and the opportunity for time-out.

I was the first from our cohort to get matched to a mum as I had the most availability at that moment in time. She was a single mum due in 2-3 weeks and had no family or support as she had moved over to Bradford from abroad.

We are normally allocated to expectant mums six weeks prior to the birth, so I had to establish a bond very quickly. She had been through a lot and was understandably anxious and worried. I was nervous at first, but the training prepared us well and I soon had her laughing with my demonstration on the floor of giving birth on all fours instead of on a bed. We connected quite quickly after that.

She was struggling, but knowing that she had my support calmed her. We have been going through her birth plan and I have been able to explain all of the options available to her. She did not realise that she could give birth in a birthing centre rather than a hospital. By the third week, I had seen her face to face five times and we have done a ‘stork walk’ (a walk around the maternity ward a few weeks before your birth) and I have taken her to a Maternity Circle (a woman-centred community session for new or expectant mums for antenatal and post-natal support).

I think everyone should have access to a doula. To have someone that is there solely to support you through your pregnancy and birth is a wonderful thing.

I am now really looking forward to supporting her through the delivery of her baby and ensuring that her birth plan is followed through on her behalf. I am expecting a call any minute from her now as her baby is due!

I think everyone should have access to a doula. To have someone that is there solely to support you through your pregnancy and birth is a wonderful thing. Community midwives are so stretched, and a doula can fill that gap of sourcing information and support with birth planning. As doulas, we have time to listen and support mothers and birthing people to explore their options.

Bradford Volunteer Doulas is just a really brilliant project. I am so grateful to have this opportunity and to meet other people going through this experience too. It changed my viewpoint, and it was such a nice experience – I would do the training again as it was so good!


Two days later…

Two days after we chatted to Francesca, the mum she supports gave birth of a beautiful healthy baby boy weighing 7lb 12. Mother and baby are doing really well, with the baby being exclusively breastfed and gaining weight steadily.

Francesca said: “In the early hours of Sunday morning, I got a phone call from the mum saying that she had gone into labour. I was thrilled that she had been allocated a bed at the birth centre and I drove her down there.

“I felt that everything that I had learned just fell into place and all that wondering about whether I could do it – well I can absolutely do it!

“I supported the mum through Sunday. By listening to mum and working with the midwives, we created a calm environment and enabled her to sleep between contractions. This worked well as she had the energy to work with her contractions when they came and she achieved the natural birth that she wanted.

“I was so proud of my mum when she gave birth – she was in the ‘zone’. I now know without a doubt that I absolutely do want to be a midwife!”

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