June 27, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN


Joshua Fetty was born two and a half years ago. He was delivered by an obstetrician in a traditional hospital setting.

Joshua's mother, Sonya Fetty, says it was fine, but her first birth experience made her want something more.

She believes she has found that in the services of a doula, a person who provides continuous emotional and physical support before, during and after childbirth.

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Fetty and her husband, Mitchell, of Stephens City, Va., are planning the birth of their second child, who is due July 26, at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va. A certified nurse midwife will deliver the baby, and doula Laura Newberry, a member of the staff at Shenandoah Maternity Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., will be there. Sonya Fetty is hoping for a positive birth experience - something more than just waiting for it to be over.


The word "doula" comes from the Greek word meaning slave or servant, according to information on the Web site of Doulas of North America, an international nonprofit association of doulas.

"We do nothing medical, but things we do have positive medical outcomes," Newberry says. Studies published in medical journals have shown that emotional support in labor can significantly shorten first-time labor, reduce the need for a Cesarean section, reduce the use of labor-stimulating drugs, forceps-assisted birth and requests for epidural anesthesia.

doulas aid expectant mothersChildbirth can be one of the most special moments and memorable things in a woman's life, says Gail Chapin, a certified nurse midwife who has delivered about 2,000 babies since she came to Hagerstown more than 10 years ago. A doula is "kind of like a mother," she adds.

Especially in home deliveries, Chapin has seen doulas coordinate the whole social structure of the birth - including bringing a casserole and barbecued chicken.

The doula is with the laboring woman from start to finish. Unlike obstetricians and the nurses, she has no other patients. Her "shift" doesn't end until the baby is born. A doula can make the woman feel empowered by getting her to believe in herself, Chapin says.

"She was there for anything," says Denise Reeder about Newberry, who attended the Jan. 16 birth of her son, Carey.

Reeder's labor was difficult. Newberry was by her side to tell her what to expect, suggest more comfortable and effective labor positions and to help Todd Reeder provide counterpressure for his wife's painful back labor.

Because Newberry was there, Todd Reeder was able to take breaks.

Elizabeth O'Shea, a doula who lives in Boonsboro, believes that "way too much" is thrust on fathers who are supporting their partners in labor.

Sonya Fetty agrees. Although she and her husband had attended childbirth classes and felt prepared for the birth of their first child, when hard labor pains came, she panicked.

"The pressure for the whole event was on him," she says.

They expect their next childbirth experience to be different with a doula present. Mitchell Fetty won't have to remember everything. He can be there to do more of what he's good at - being a husband, providing support and love, Fetty says.

A doula doesn't tell her clients what to do; her role is to make sure her client's choices are well-informed, Newberry says.

Dr. James E. Brown, the Martinsburg obstetrician/gynecologist, who was the physician on call for Denise Reeder, is familiar with the concept of doulas from working in Europe where they are a lot more common. He considers having a doula present a real benefit and has found that it helps to have someone there to be supportive. He believes they help laboring mothers keep their focus.


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