Sai Spurlock is a National Health Corps member working with us this year as a health educator. They are also a birth doula and shared their personal experience and thoughts on birth work recently.
Q. What’s your story? How did you become a doula?
A. I went to a documentary screening in Saint Louis in 2018 of Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth. I just rewatched it the other day and it still stands—it’s so good. The film’s about a trans man who gets pregnant and gives birth. Now today he has two kids, both of which he carried himself.
The documentary follows him from trying to get pregnant through his home birth. It was my first exposure to queer/trans people gestating- getting pregnant and giving birth. It literally changed my life on the spot. I realized how magical pregnancy and birth can be!
I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna become a midwife, this is my career!” Then I learned becoming a midwife is a four-year degree and I was less excited about it! But then I learned what a doula is and I sort of made a compromise with myself that “OK I’ll try to do this doula thing instead.”
I trained in Saint Louis as a doula in the fall of 2020 with an organization called the Purple Lotus Doulas. It’s been difficult to start practicing during the pandemic, but I just recently joined Chicago Volunteer Doulas and will start doing births with them soon.
Q. Did your experience becoming a doula impact your decision to join us as a health educator?
A. Part of being a doula is educating people and I really love doing face to face work with people. Something that carried across from being a doula to this position is that I get to sit down with people, learn about them and their lives and share knowledge with them. Also, I came to do sexual health education [as part of the Family Planning Program here] which I do at HHC-Wilson and several high schools and middle schools, which is obviously related to reproductive health as well.
The Family Planning Program helps people access essential sexual and reproductive health care, so birth control, STI testing, pap smears. It’s for all ages, but it has a focus on including young people which is so needed and so important. It is also free or low cost.
Q. What is a doula?
A. A doula is a birth companion—a trained professional who is knowledgeable about pregnancy, labor, and birth who can support you and assist you through pregnancy, and be there with you while you’re going through labor and birth. Your doula can help with:
- making sure you’re getting up and moving around,
- using techniques to get you comfortable and to make sure the baby is in a good position to come out,
- encouraging you to drink water,
- and helping a partner or family member or friend who is also at the birth to feel involved.
Doulas can advocate for you and try to make sure your birth is the way you want it to be as much as possible.
Q. What is the difference between a doula and a midwife?
A. A doula is more of a support person whereas the midwife is more of a medical professional. A doula is trained on how to accompany someone through labor and birth and make the experience as positive as possible. A midwife has gone to school for several years and has more scientific/medical understanding about bodies and birth. Also a doula will be hands-on in the earlier stages of labor, whereas a midwife doesn’t come in until later in labor.
Q. Anything else you want people to know about doulas?
A. Every pregnant person deserves a doula, whether it’s their first time being pregnant or they’ve given birth multiple times. It can be so beneficial and can impact labor and birth so positively for everyone. They can be free, too. Chicago Volunteer Doulas, where I am involved, offers free or low-cost doula services.
Also there are many different kinds of doulas. In addition to birth doulas, which is how I’m trained, postpartum doulas offer more support after birth which I think probably most people could use. There are also abortion doulas, or very similarly, someone who recently experienced a miscarriage can also hire a doula to help support them through that process. All of those different kinds of doulas exist here in Chicago, so I would definitely recommend people look into that and share that with their patients.