The Doula Method 

Doulas such as Susan Cortez strive to bring calm and comfort to the birthing experience.

Mindfulness is both simple and difficult. All it asks is that we be here now. And although we can achieve this with a bit of prompting while chopping onions or driving to work, can we manage it while giving birth?

Keeping mothers-to-be and their partners as peaceful as possible throughout the birthing process is the task of doulas, trained birth professionals who create safe emotional and spiritual spaces while medical professionals handle obstetrical matters. Birthing can be fraught with pain, fear, and confusion; the doula plays a role somewhere between advocate, counselor, massage therapist, and friend.

"We provide mothers and couples with undivided attention during the birthing process, help them have a more positive experience, and let them know which questions to ask their medical providers," said Susan Cortez, who belongs to the Castro Valley-based Dolphin Doula team and will participate in a doula information night at The Tulip Grove (2078 Antioch Ct., Oakland) on Thursday, June 17.

Typically, a Dolphin team member meets with the mother-to-be or couple several times during the pregnancy. These meetings include gentle "suggestibility tests" to determine which types of stimuli most effectively relax the mother-to-be. Does she become calm upon hearing certain words, visualizing certain images, taking deep breaths, and/or being touched in a certain way on a certain body part? The doula uses this individualized information to tailor birthing-room relaxation techniques just for her.

During a suggestibility test, "we might ask a woman to imagine walking into her kitchen and opening the refrigerator. Then we'd ask what she sees in there," Cortez said. "Maybe she'll say she sees a lemon — a perfect yellow lemon. So we'd ask her to imagine taking it out and holding it. Then we'd ask her to describe how it feels. Is it cold in her hands? What's its texture? How she answers reveals which part of the experience is dominant for her, the visual or the sensory."

The Dolphin team follows the Dolphin Doula Method, which was created by South Bay yoga instructor/clinical hypnotherapist/childbirth educator Jennifer Wolfe.

"What a lot of people don't realize about hypnosis is that when you're under hypnosis, you're still in control," said Cortez, a mother of two whose own childbirth experiences inspired her to specialize in helping birthing women have successful vaginal births after delivering their first babies via Cesarean section. In a childbirth context, hypnosis might appear in the form of pre-recorded scripts — based on information gleaned during suggestibility tests — to which the mother listens repeatedly before and during labor.

"The whole concept behind what we do is to keep people really present from moment to moment during childbirth," Cortez said. "Normally, they're worrying about what's going to happen a minute or an hour from now, so as doulas we're talking them through the sensations and using what we know about them to help them — whether that means doing certain types of massage and touch or saying words and phrases that resonate for them.

"Say one woman is a marathon runner. She might resonate when she feels that endorphin release. So when she has a contraction, we can tell her she's getting to the nineteenth mile of a marathon, and that she can now glide on through to the other side." 7 p.m., free. DolphinDoula.com

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