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Doula turns passion for women’s health into new business

Kassmin Williams | 6/5/2014, 10:41 a.m.
Baby Desmond was born after 31 hours of labor with the assistance of Boston-based doula Shawnda Walker. (Photos courtesy of Champagne Babies)

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(Photos courtesy of Champagne Babies)

Pictured are Walker, Carlene Laurent, Taylor Schell and baby Desmond not long after his birth.

Boston based labor coach Shawnda Walker can’t promise an easy birthing process for her clients, but she can guarantee tears forming in her eyes upon each baby’s arrival.

“I often tell my clients when I first meet them if you decide to invite me to your labor, I have to let you know right away I cry after every birth,” Walker said.

Walker has been working as a doula in the Boston area since 2001.

In 2013, Walker decided she wanted to market herself as more than “Shawnda the doula,” so she launched a website and came up with the name “Champagne Babies” to describe the high level of services she offers as a doula.

As a doula, Walker said her goal is to not only to provide labor and birth support to families laboring at home, but to also be able to provide support in the hospital.

Prior to becoming a doula, Walker worked in the women’s health field for 15 years in various areas, including obstetrics and gynaecology, infertility and labor and delivery.

“I wanted to use my hospital experience to be sort of like an advocate not just for the patient with the doctors and nurses, but also for the doctors and nurses with the patient,” Walker said.

As what Walker calls a “happy medium” between the doctor and the patient, she is able to make sure the patient understands the information being thrown at them throughout the pregnancy and birthing process and also fill the medical staff in on beneficial information about the patient to break down communication barriers.

“It’s a really delicate situation for the client,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of information being processed, a lot of people and sometimes they don’t get it right away.”

During the labor and delivery process, Walker is available to visit her client a week before the client’s due date and a week after, she said.

Aside from being available for the labor and delivery process, whether at home or in the hospital, Walker is also available for questions from clients 24 hours a day.

“You spend a lot of time checking in with each other after doctor appointments,” Walker said.

A doula may not be able to promise a simple labor and delivery experience, but a Cochrane review published last July showed that women who received continuous labor support — through a doula, midwife, nurse or a companion — were less likely to give birth with a caesarean section and use pain medications and more likely to be satisfied and have slightly shorter labors.

One of Walker’s clients, Taylor Schell, was unable to avoid the use of an epidural after spending two days in the hospital prior to being in labor and then 31 hours in labor.

Despite this, Schell said having Walker as an advocate helped bring some relief to a stressful labor and delivery process.

Walker was able to convince Schell’s midwife to allow her to go for a walk around the hospital without the monitor that she was supposed to wear around-the-clock and was able to advocate for Schell to have a needle removed until it was actually needed, Schell said.

“That’s actually something that Shawnda [Walker] did for me that I’m not sure I would’ve been able to convince them to do,” Schell said.

Schell’s mother, Carlene Laurent, was also present during the process.

Laurent admitted she thought she and Schell could do without a doula when Schell first presented the idea.

“I never could’ve done it without Shawnda [Walker],” Laurent said. “I was prepared and thought I had all of the answers, but when I was exhausted she was there for me as much as Taylor [Schell].”