Many women who have given birth, or are planning to, consider a doula -- a nonmedical labor assistant -- a necessity. But really, in my world, a doula is a luxury. While doulas are surely not overpaid for the intensive, intimate services they offer -- from labor preparation to bedside birth assistance to breast-feeding help -- they are expensive; someone very experienced could cost you $2,000. Yes, many offer sliding scales, and relative novices can be much more affordable, but we're still talking three figures.
But for more and more young and underserved mothers-to-be, doula support is provided free of charge, thanks to the efforts of Chicago Health Connection. According to an article in this month's Fit Pregnancy magazine, CHC has not only pioneered its own community-based doula program but also offered doula recruitment and training to social service agencies around the country. Result: When pregnant women enrolled in those programs give birth, there's a doula by their side. They also get help with doctor's visits, preparation for labor and postpartum care. And that's hardly a luxury: A Chicago pilot program linked doula care to higher breast-feeding rates, lower C-section rates and fewer subsequent pregnancies among young mothers. Mothers who had doula support also talked to and held their babies more than their counterparts.
According to a spokesperson for CHC with whom I spoke briefly, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- also a fan of emergency contraception -- has also requested funding for doula support for women who are on Medicaid, regardless of whether they're participants of a particular social service program. Could be a while before that becomes reality, but in the meantime, it's good to know that more mothers who need this support are getting it. "Many are all alone," says Maria Ordaz, a doula who works with an Atlanta nonprofit. "They have to learn to believe in themselves, that they can take control of their birth, take care of their babies and be independent."