Central Coast doulas are changing childbirth experience



For most women, pregnancy is the most exciting time of their lives. 

When it comes to the act of childbirth, however, there is a perceptible change in attitude, usually one of fear, apprehension, doubt, and sometimes flat out terror, about what has been increasingly billed as the most painful and difficult experience of a woman’s life. 

For women like Michele Daniels and Heather King, both Santa Ynez Valley residents, trained and experienced labor and postpartum doulas, and charter members of Central Coast Doula Association, the approach to birth is different: one that is viewed as a natural, sacred right of passage that has the potential to positively transform a woman’s life forever. 


The word doula comes from Greek, and at one time referred to a woman who assisted and cared for postpartum mothers.

Woman attending woman dates back to the beginning of time, but around the turn of the century the American medical community spurred a new type of birth experience in the United States: sterile, quick and institutionalized.

In the following 70 years, professional midwives and birth attendants virtually went underground, while modern medicine systemically altered the natural way women have given birth since the beginning of civilization.


With the United States now following Brazil as the world leaders in cesarean deliveries, infant and mother fatalities, and a staggering rate of medical interventions in otherwise healthy pregnancies, birth attendants and midwives have found resurgence in the last decades among women who want to get back to the basics of birthing.

Unlike midwives who are medically trained to take the place of a doctor in a rural or home birth situation, the modern doula provides emotional, physical and evidence-based support wherever a woman chooses to labor. According to Daniels this type of support for the laboring mother and her partner not only promotes a positive birth environment but has proven time and again, the world over, to make labor shorter, easier and healthier. 


“In the United States, childbirth is treated as an emergency situation; but when a woman is supported during birth there is a real sense of ownership over the process.

It is her decision, her choice, and her baby.

There is a much greater sense of calm and control during labor that can minimize pain and avoid unnecessary interventions,” Daniels said.

Modern doulas, like Daniels and King, have taken on a more comprehensive roll, providing non-medical education and support to the mother-to-be pre labor, during labor and postpartum.


Mother of five, Daniels first experienced the benefit of a labor coach with her first and second hospital births, while her sister, a mother herself, attended her.  

“My sister was there and every time I felt a little panicked or unsure about what was happening she would tell me I was doing great; she would reassure me. It turned out to be a great experience,” Daniels said. 

Without knowing she was already pregnant with her third child, Daniels enrolled in a doula training workshop and became certified, later helping to establish the Central Coast Doula Association, a group of 20 women who are dedicated to the support and education of women and families to create an empowering birth and postpartum experience.


“I just knew I wanted to be around pregnant women, to hold the sacred space and bear witness to the amazing process of birth,” Daniels explained. 

Mother of two boys, both birthed at home, King specializes in postpartum care.

“Women with newborns need a lot of help.

And if you’re a go-getter type, the sudden change of long feedings and being house-bound can really take a toll on mental health, especially in the first few weeks,” King said.

“The smallest things make a difference: having someone cook a meal, do the dishes, put in a load of laundry, or just keep you company. Postpartum doulas understand exactly what is necessary to give a mother a successful postpartum experience,” she said.


According to extensive research, reported in “The Doula Book” by M.H. Klaus, J.H. Kennell and P.H. Klaus, women attended by doulas experience a 25 percent decrease in length of labor, 50 percent decrease in cesarean delivery, 60 percent decrease in the use of pain-reducing epidurals, and 40 percent decrease in the use of a contraction inducer called Pitocin.

With statistics this staggering, it’s hard to imagine any woman would go into labor without a birth attendant.

The truth is, most don’t, mainly because the concept of birth attendant is still distinctly absent from our childbirth education in the United States, and often misunderstood as a dated and ineffective tool for birthing.


And besides, what’s so wrong with modern medicine? Why suffer if we don’t have to?

The answer to these questions and countless others is addressed in a new movie by executive producer Ricki Lake, “The Business of Being Born.”

Part exposé, part cathartic research project, Lake delves into the billion-dollar business of birth in the United States by following several women during their pregnancy and birth experience, contrasting hospital with home birth, doctor versus midwife or doula attendant. 


For Daniels and the other members of Central Coast Doulas, the movie encapsulates much of why they do what they do. 

“This movie really brings to light that in this age birth is not treated as a natural process. We are subjected to doctors’ preferences and schedules,” Daniels said.

The Central Coast Doula Association is sponsoring a one-time screening of “The Business of Being Born” in Santa Barbara on Jan. 13 at 3 p.m. in the Lotus Theater at Santa Barbara Middle School. 


 “The intention is not for women to come away refusing modern birthing techniques, but rather to present options and allow women to make an educated choice,” Daniels said.

“A woman’s body knows how to labor,” Daniels explains further, “if we’re less afraid, more informed and have the support in place to remind us that we know what we’re doing, it can change everything.” 


For more information visit www.centralcoastdoulas.com.