“It’s about community building,” Lanning said. “The Honeysuckle Tea House and Napoli are such unique businesses in our community, and we’re very lucky to be able to work with them and to be able to teach the public about our work.”
The Birth Partners program started in 2001 and has since worked to make doula care accessible to all women and families, free of charge. Lanning said the program’s services support all types of women, including those most vulnerable during the birthing process, such as incarcerated mothers, women from UNC Women’s Hospital’s perinatal psychiatric unit and women enrolled in the UNC Horizons program for addiction recovery.
“Last year we were able to care for around 200 women and families with the help of 35 volunteer doulas,” Lanning said. “However, we just can’t meet the demand and we need more doulas.”
Lanning said anyone interested in becoming a volunteer doula can register for a day-long intensive training course offered through Birth Partners. Interested UNC undergraduate students can also apply to enroll in a doula service-learning APPLES course.
Doulas are trained in the physiological aspects of the labor process, as well as in supportive non-medical birthing practices such as relaxation, massage, breathing and positioning techniques.
Senior Sarah McShane completed the APPLES course and has been a doula with Birth Partners for a little over one year. She said she decided to become a doula because of her interest in birth and the ways in which it has become a more medical process.
Mcshane said the most important benefit she gains from working with Birth Partners is love.
“It’s a love for people, really,” Mcshane said. “It’s an experience where you walk into a labor as strangers and walk out having shared this extremely intimate experience.”
UNC graduate Celia Clark said numerous families decide to request a doula as a form of outside support in the delivery room. She said doulas help birthing women navigate the labor process. She said sometimes it is easier for women to talk with a non-relative.
“No birth is the same,” Clark said. “Our job is to help all different kinds of women to have their best birth, no matter what that looks like for them.”