This month, Maternal Matters interviews the wonderful Aliya Fazil, Mum and Bradford Volunteer Doulas Project Manager. Aliya tells us about the project and how her own experience of good support inspires her work. Thanks Aliya!
Firstly, for those who don’t already know, what is a doula?
The word ‘doula’ — pronounced ‘doo-la’ — is a Greek word meaning ‘woman servant or caregiver’. More recently, it refers to someone who offers emotional and physical support to a woman and her partner before, during and after childbirth. While doulas are not there to change outcomes there is growing evidence that having a birth or postnatal doula brings a number of tangible benefits. From reducing intervention rates, shortening labour and improving the condition of babies at birth. While this research is important, it’s the less tangible benefits of having a non-judgemental companion during a life-altering event that most women remember and value.
Can you tell us about the main aims of the Bradford Doulas Project?
Funded by Bradford City CCG, The Bradford Volunteer Doula Project offers peer support to vulnerable pregnant women, 6 weeks before the birth, during childbirth and in the first 6 weeks postnatally. Referrals are made by NHS midwives and children’s centres as well as a range of other health, social and voluntary organisations.
The Bradford Doulas support the most vulnerable women of Bradford who may be socially isolated, suffer from mental health, have had previous traumatic births, refugee and asylum seekers, misuse of smoking, drugs and alcohol in pregnancy and the general mum who may need some practical information to prepare for her birth and baby. Many women of Bradford are subject to several deprivation factors which are have an impact on their mental and physical health. This can also affect the choices they make which can create a domino effect on later pregnancies. As well as offering practical and emotional support the Bradford Volunteer Doulas assist with building a social infrastructure before baby arrives by providing ways to access local children’s centres and refer to additional services where necessary, especially for mums who may require longer and continuous support around their perinatal mental health.
“In nutshell the doula project offers a very short service over 12 weeks but it can have long term benefits for all.”
Another aspect of the project is a programme to train Bradford women (often mums themselves) to become volunteer doulas themselves.
Can you tell us a bit about the training programme that you run?
Women are selected onto a 13-week training programme which covers a range of topics from antenatal, active birth and postnatal, breastfeeding, smoking cessation and drugs and alcohol, as well as other topics.
The trainee doulas are given a lot of support to complete their work and submit a portfolio of homework and diaries in order to receive an Open College Network level 2 or 3 qualification. To date, 36 women have trained and accredited as doulas and we have supported 125 women and families. The doulas are not paid, but find the volunteer work highly rewarding.
What is your role and how did you become involved?
I am currently the Project Manager for the Doula Project but I started out as a Project Coordinator. In this role I was leading on recruiting volunteers, training to supervise the volunteers and become a trainer for future doula training courses. This ensured that the foundations of the project could be established, good relationships made and maintained, and support offered to volunteers to get through their training, which was essential in my role and to me, creating a level of standards in how we delivered the service.
It was this standard of work, that Goodwin Trust found impressive and offered us a second round of training through DoH funding. During the second round of training I submitted my own portfolio to become a doula. Although I understood the role of the doula, to offer the volunteer doulas supervision at a high level, I felt it was necessary to be active as a doula too. This allows me to constantly stay connected to my volunteer doulas on a professional level, understand the level of commitment they offer, and many other relative factors that makes and helps to understand the role of a doula. It also assists me dearly when it comes to offering regular supervision to doulas.
I have now moved into the role as the Project Manager, and we aim to expand the team along with the pool of doulas.
What are some of the rewarding aspects of your work?
My own experiences of being an active volunteer doula has developed my knowledge but mostly a passion for working with women and offering them a helping hand when in need. I have been present at 10 births so far and offered antenatal and postnatal support, and the experience is amazing, eye opening, challenging, and enlightening to see the wonderful journeys that the women go through with their babies along with the families.
“Some journeys are harder than others, and it’s a privilege to support people to make that journey somewhat easier for them.”
The rewarding elements of this project is seeing the progress families make through that journey, they recognise tough times, they find solutions, they look back and they learn from their experiences, and doulas can really encourage and support this process, for example looking back at the 6 weeks from when they first met and to where they are now with a new baby, they de-brief on their births (by being present at the births, doulas can assist women to have positive birth experiences).
“Doulas are confident to talk about taboo subjects and start conversations so families can make informed choices, such as smoking or obesity in pregnancy, family related concerns, perinatal mental health, so that families feel comfortable to approach health related services to improve their and their children’s lives.”
Another rewarding outcome is seeing doulas progress into fields they have always been interested in but perhaps didn’t have the opportunities then, up until now that they’ve become doulas and gained experience. Some have moved onto full time employment in health and social care jobs, and others have moved into further education such as health access courses to become nurses and more recently one doula has qualified as a midwife, and another will be starting midwifery in Bradford University.
What difference has the Bradford Doulas Project made to expectant and new mums in Bradford?
- More women requesting & wanting a doula at birth to encourage normal & active births;
- high rates of normal birth for women who have had doula support in antenatal and during labour;
- more women breastfeeding and for longer (6weeks+);
- more women socially engaging with variety of activities and accessing health services;
- more women supported with risk of perinatal mental health and referred for interventions;
- Family First assessment approach is used when meeting new families;
- partnership organisations work together to provide a holistic service;
- doula service filling the gap in provision.
Some of the Bradford Doulas recently met HRH Princess Anne. Can you tell us about that?
The Royal College of Midwives organised a series of visits and one was HRH Princess Anne to visit the award winning Maternity Unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary. A number of professionals were invited – commissioners, midwives, doctors and the Maternity Partnership (of which the Chair is also a volunteer doula) had recommended the doula Project be invited to the prestigious event. So myself and a volunteer doula attended and had the opportunity to speak to HRH Princess who was very interested in how the doula service had embedded within Bradford Maternity
As a mum yourself, how do you juggle your work and family life?
I have a little boy who is two and half now and is just a joy to be around. I was on maternity for a full year with him, until I came back to work, and settled him into a private nursery. It was tough at first but his developing into a really confident and intelligent boy. I work Monday to Thursday s and usually have Fridays off for just mother and son time.
I have great support from my husband and extended family (in-laws, as my maternal family are all in Birmingham, my hometown) but having the support from my husband means I can offer backup support to doulas when they need it, and sometimes it means after work hours, weekends and at night where backup doulas are needed for birth support.
“Having the support from my family means a great deal to me, because it’s an example I use for anyone wanting to become a volunteer doula. The doulas need supportive family and friends who can watch the children, do pickups etc. so that doulas can free up time to support people who don’t have anyone.”
We as volunteers work as a support group for each other, when backups are needed we rely on each other to ensure that women aren’t left on their own in that crucial moment of need.