You Can Now Doula Your Entire Life, From Birth to Death

Photo: Stocksy/Hillary Fox

In our latest The Plus Factor, we're taking a new look at doulas—and why more and more women are calling on the pregnancy pros for everything from creativity ruts to end-of-life issues. So, why not just hire a life coach? We dug in to the trend to find out. 

For a growing contingent of moms-to-be, doulas have become just as essential to the childbirth experience as taking omega-3s and getting down with hip-opening yoga squats. There’s a good reason for that—studies have shown that by enlisting the help of these trained pregnancy pros, mothers are more likely to deliver healthy-weight babies and successfully breastfeed, while being half as likely to experience birth complications.

So what, exactly, does a doula do? “A doula provides a constant presence of emotional support, education, advocacy, cheerleading, and hands-on guidance for expectant mothers and couples as they approach and enter into the birth process,” explains Well+Good Council member and Mama Glow founder Latham Thomas, who says client Rebecca Minkoff refers to her as “a producer for your birth.” And if that sounds like the kind of ally you could use outside the delivery room—say, when it comes to your side-hustle or your dating life—many modern doulas are ready and willing to assist with that, too.

It makes sense: If a doula’s job is to help you move gracefully though something as major as having a child, she’d also conceivably be able to guide you through other kinds of big life events with her insight and support. “The evolved doula is a space holder—for me, that means holding love, neutrality, and non-judgment for someone else and whatever it is they’re going through,” says Paula Mallis, doula and founder of WMN Space in Los Angeles. “Before, it was very much like, 'Let’s set up a birth plan together.' But I feel like I can fully step into the role of a doula when I’m working with a woman through all of the transitions of her life—being single, finding a partner, preparing her body for pregnancy.”

“I feel like I can fully step into the role of a doula when I’m working with a woman through all of the transitions of her life—being single, finding a partner, preparing her body for pregnancy.”—WMN Space founder Paula Mallis

Indeed, women are seeking Mallis out for those reasons and more, from writing a book to navigating empty-nest syndrome. LA-based entrepreneur Chloë Drimal enlisted Mallis’ doula services while transitioning from a corporate tech job into launching her own business. “I would compare it to getting my psyche ready to birth so I could really could be the mother to this business,” says the founder of Yoni Circle, a story-driven media platform and event series for millennials. “The session was all about was connecting to the business as if it were a child and understanding her needs—and also learning what I needed to do to prepare myself to birth this enterprise.”

Drimal says that working with a doula provided her with a totally different experience than her past meetings with business and life coaches did. “This work pushes you into your true intuition,” she says. “I find some coaches can come at it with this sense of ego, telling you [their] way is the only right way.”

What is a doula
Photo: Stocksy/Brkati Krokodil

Thomas also works with women seeking a creative boost, a practice she calls “vision doula” work—think of it as life coaching fueled by a potent, divine-feminine power source. “It’s hand-holding for those who are in the process of expanding on a vision, dream, or goal,” she explains. “All of our creations spring forth from the metaphorical womb space. I see this as a natural evolution that brings softening to the coaching world and offers the emotional intelligence required to support people who are birthing the next version of themselves.” (You can get a sneak peek of the process in Thomas’ book, Own Your Glow.)

Doulas can also help women navigate health issues that don't immediately involve birthing a baby. The doula crew at Loom in LA offers 90-minute “period coaching” sessions to assist women with menstrual woes like cramps and mood swings, while those at Carriage House Birth in New York City are regularly working with women as young as their early 20s, guiding them through everything from egg freezing to choosing an OB/GYN.

Latham Thomas works with women seeking a creative boost, a practice she calls “vision doula” work—think of it as life coaching fueled by a potent, divine-feminine power source.

There are even doulas who can help usher people through the biggest transition they’ll ever experience—the one from life to death. As the Rev. Olivia Bareham of LA's Sacred Crossings puts it, death doulas and birth doulas have many of the same skills, from natural pain management to emotional processing. “The death doula sits bedside with somebody who is dying and helps them put their things in order so they can relax into the experience,” says Bareham, who's an experienced geriatric nurse, in addition to being an ordained interfaith minister. (She actually bills herself as a death midwife, as she’s involved with the funeral and burial or cremation process as well.) “The birthing mother needs to deeply surrender into the process, and those are the same words I’m giving the person who’s dying.”

Of course, as with most things related to personal development, one-on-one doula services come with a fairly precious price tag. While there are lots of programs, like The Doula Project and The Joy In Birthing Foundation, that help low-income and otherwise disadvantaged women gain access to birth doulas, the same clearly doesn't apply for those looking to birth, say, a screenplay. (Those clients can expect to pay up to $250 an hour, sources tell me.) But that may be about to change—after all, the ranks of newly minted doulas seem to be growing in an unprecedented way. There isn't an official organization that tracks doula data at the moment (and let's face it, the US Census probably has its hands full), but Thomas’ Mama Glow doula trainings regularly sell out within days of being announced and Carriage House Birth trainings are seeing the same high demand, with women flying in from around the world to get certified as a doula.

And in an era when women are facing some pretty big challenges at work, in relationships, and with our health, this calling among us to serve our sisters isn’t happening a moment too soon. “Women are waking up to what it is we really need, and we really need each other,” says Mallis. “It’s important to honor that women need support in all transitions in their lives. Yes, pregnancy to motherhood is a big one, but it’s not the only one women go through.” And if you're struggling with those big changes, a doula may just give you the, um, gentle push that you need to get to the other side.

There are tons of other great ways for women to empower other women these days—for instance, you could join a ladies-only coworking club or get in on a new moon circle.

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