«Should only women accompany a birth and how does a doula help?»

Vera Achana

Vera Achana

Expert talk with Sandra Ackermann (certified doula and birth companion)

The doula is arousing more and more interest among many parents. The trend comes from the USA and is still an unknown term for many people in Switzerland. The term doula comes from ancient Greek and means “servant”. She primarily cares about the emotional well-being of women and couples during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. Unlike the midwife, a doula has no medical training in childbirth. The Doula CH association has existed since 2006. The association now has 175 members; around a fifth of them work in the canton of Zurich.


As part of the monthly Mamimoves expert class, I had a conversation with Sandra Ackermann, a practicing doula.

Sandra prefers to call herself a birth companion rather than a doula and describes her job as follows: “The doula is the physical and psychological support for the woman giving birth; Support can often begin during pregnancy and continue beyond birth. However, the doula does not make medical decisions. She accompanies the woman in this process, how long that takes is very individual.” Sandra always lacked practical experience in her birth preparation courses, which is why she trained to become a birth companion.

To my further question about the relationship Sandra builds with her customers, she describes it very vividly: “The nice thing about my work is that the women have very different needs and I always have to find out what the woman wants, what her partner wants and so on how I can best look after them individually.”

I was interested in how much the emotional and how much the physical level plays a role in birth. Sandra says that 60 percent is emotional and 40 percent is physical and ultimately crucial to the birth process. She also adds that “my job is not to make women dependent on me, but rather so that they can mobilize their own strengths. In the end, women give birth, not me.”

Sandra also accompanies planned cesarean births, but rarely. It happens more often that a birth begins and then a cesarean section occurs during the birth. She is always very grateful that we are able to bring the babies into the world via cesarean section.

What role do fathers play in childbirth?

We continue to talk about the partners of the woman in labor. A topic that, in my opinion, is not addressed enough. Sandra makes an interesting observation: “In the follow-up discussions, I sometimes have the impression that the men had a different birth.” This statement makes us all think. It seems as if some men perceive this event very differently than the woman giving birth and Sandra as a companion. This raises another question for me. Should we leave it like that and hope that men will simply process what they have experienced differently? Or is there a need for a more conscious approach to this event, conversations and time to process it so that the fathers don’t simply suppress the experiences.

From a psychological perspective, it seems to me that there is a danger that repression can also lead to distancing from the partner. Especially when the newborn suddenly becomes the center of attention and takes up everyone’s time and energy, it often becomes difficult for the man to take his place in this new constellation.

“Historically, men attending births are a modern phenomenon. “In the past, women gave birth among themselves, without the men,” Sandra adds. I think to myself that it could be too much of a challenge for them and that they can just put up with it. Many fathers are happy that Sandra accompanies the birth. You can then go outside, take some distance and breathe a sigh of relief. Sandra sometimes acts as a mediator in the room. She translates what the doctors or midwives say if it is not understandable to the woman giving birth, her partner, or both. It has also happened that the husband of a woman giving birth became very irritated and started giving orders. Sandra then had to intervene and make sure that it didn’t cause any stress to the woman giving birth.

What could improve for father and mother?

Personally, I would like the birth and the period afterwards to receive more attention in society. For new parents it is a jump into the deep end, which in my opinion has an impact on the later relationship between husband and wife. Friends and family can make a positive contribution by asking open questions, not judging everything and knowing better, even if they already have children of their own and have “survived” the same thing. At an institutional level, however, hospitals, birth centers or midwife practices could also take on an educational role that goes beyond a classic birth preparation course for men and informs them about the personal stress factors during childbirth and offers them support in dealing with them.

On the other hand, you can also raise awareness among women that accompanying the birth does not have to be a given for fathers, without often leaving behind unprocessed images and emotions that can also affect the later relationship with the woman.

Finally, I would like to know from Sandra how she copes with the many births. “I used to cry for two days after every birth. My children were still small then. Today I can distance myself better. I have a good night’s sleep, which helps me a lot.”

I had the conversation with Sandra Ackermann, birth companion and preparer, adult educator, toddler educator, postnatal trainer, yoga and Pilates. www.geburtundkind.ch


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