Tamiya Griffin is a birth and postpartum doula, a member of the Ovia Health Clinical Team, and a mom of four. We talked to her about her work as a doula, what attracted her to this role, and how to find support.
As one of the first in her friend group to have a baby, Tamiya remembers moments from the early weeks with her son and the appreciation she felt for a friend who came over, took the baby, and told her to take a long shower. She learned about doulas shortly after, but didn’t think to train as one herself until three years later at a community meeting where community members requested doula services from the health department and advocated for the ways doulas can impact outcomes. She knew at that moment that she wanted to be a doula. She completed her training the following summer.
Tamiya had always felt called to help others navigate pregnancy and the tender, early months of parenthood. By the time she got her formal training, she’d supported so many through these stages that the doula certification felt more like confirmation of the role she was already playing, than an entirely new one.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and why you decided to train as a doula?
In college I studied Family Science, with a focus on maternal and child health. I also got pregnant with my 7 year old son, Kaiden, during my senior year of college, so everything I was passionate about learning, I was also experiencing.
It wasn’t until after I had my son, when all the visitors had come and gone and I found myself alone not knowing what to do with him or how to care for myself, that I started to think about how to help other mothers in similar situations. That’s when I found out about doulas. And so, in summer of 2018 I trained with DTI as a birth and postpartum doula.
Can you tell me a little more about what birth doulas and postpartum doulas do?
The Greek term for doula is “servant, or a woman who serves.” At first this definition rubbed me the wrong way. It sounded like doing meaningless work for another person, but as I dove deeper into the doula world, I realized it was the complete opposite. Doulas provide emotional and physical support, offer education, and advocate for the birthing person. A birth doula usually helps create birth plans, teach comfort measures, and discuss labor and delivery. Postpartum doulas provide after birth support for the birthing person by discussing the birth experience (especially if it was traumatic), helping with the transition into parenthood, and providing breastfeeding guidance, newborn care, and community resources.
What do you think people misunderstand about doula work?
People often confuse doulas with midwives, and although the philosophies surrounding birth are very similar, doulas do not provide medical advice or support. But doulas and midwives do work very well together – their philosophies around birth (especially labor and delivery) are aligned. The hospital environment on the other hand wasn’t always welcoming to doulas, but I’ve definitely seen this change over the last few years as doula care has become more universal. There isn’t the same power struggle in hospitals that there used to be between hospital staff and doulas.
I also think people have a perception that doula work is more fun than work, and it’s far from that. Holding space for others is a huge task to take on, and can be a really heavy load to carry. Lastly, with so many positive statistics surrounding doula care, there is added pressure on us, as if we are the ones deciding a birthing person’s experience.
Who could benefit from working with a birth doula? When should they start looking for one?
Any and every birthing person, but I especially think women of color regardless of education or socioeconomic status, benefit from having a doula. With the horrifying statistics surrounding Black mothers and babies, on top of a history of people of color being dismissed in medical and healthcare settings, having a doula can really change the trajectory of one’s birth experience. And while it isn’t the responsibility of the doula to correct this, doulas have been known to save people of color’s lives.
You can start looking for a doula as soon as you start to plan for a baby. Support may not start that early, but finding a doula can take some time and the more time you have, the better the chance you’ll have a strong connection with your doula.
Who could benefit from working with a postpartum doula? If they hire a birth doula, should it be the same person?
Every birthing person could benefit from a postpartum doula. To have support through such a huge transition is so beneficial. Especially during the pandemic, when family interaction and support is limited and PPMDs are at an all time high, a postpartum doula can identify signs and symptoms and encourage people to seek support. Postpartum doulas can help if families have older children. They can also simply hold space so the birthing person doesn’t feel alone.
How should someone go about finding a doula that’s a good fit? Do you have any questions you’d recommend Ovia members ask?
Before getting to the point of thinking about what questions to ask your prospective doula, I would advise you to consider what you hope to gain from having a doula with you. This will help guide the questions you ask. Some people are birthing alone and are looking for support, some people are afraid of being mistreated and want an advocate, some people want to know how to manage pain. Once you figure out what you are looking for in a doula the questions to ask them will come naturally.
There are multiple ways to find a doula. Some doula organizations have directories, some hospitals and OB offices have doulas who they can recommend. There are websites like DoulaMatch and facebook groups. I have even seen doula speed dating events!
Doulas are not one-size-fits all, so the earlier you start looking, the better chance you’ll have to build a relationship and connection with them.
What do you do to help spark a connection with the client?
I try to include everyone who wants to be a part of the birth. A lot of misconceptions come from people thinking that the doula is replacing the partner. So including the partner in the process is essential. I give them the techniques to use (for example how to hip squeeze during a contraction) and I can give the family the language to speak for themselves. I’m not there to take over anyone’s role, but to support the family in the way that they choose to be supported. I also share my own experiences to show them that I’ve been where they are.
How do doulas get support themselves? This is intense work – is there anything the Ovia community can do to support doulas?
This is very intense work, its emotional labor. Some doulas form collectives where debriefing from births is a standard practice. Others have individual mentors or talk with their own therapists as well. Doulas are pretty good at gaging the number of births we can take on and giving ourselves breaks to rest and rejuvenate.