FAMILY: Mothering the new mums

Actress Demi Moore hired one, Nicole Kidman relied on hers and Davina McCall is said to want to be one. We are talking Doulas. LIFE MATTERS meets a woman who has for all intents and purposes been a doula for some 40 yearsLinda Quinn is a warm, openly affectionate, tactile woman who has an infectious laugh and a keen sense of humour.

Actress Demi Moore hired one, Nicole Kidman relied on hers and Davina McCall is said to want to be one. We are talking Doulas. LIFE MATTERS meets a woman who has for all intents and purposes been a doula for some 40 years

Linda Quinn is a warm, openly affectionate, tactile woman who has an infectious laugh and a keen sense of humour. Had I known about doulas when I was expecting my children I am sure my journey would have led me to her door.

In the strictest sense, the word doula means woman servant or caregiver and in today's increasingly fragmented society added to the pressures on midwives they are becoming increasingly common.

Here in East Anglia, Linda has been instrumental in teaching a whole new batch of doulas who will help expectant and new mothers all over Norfolk and Suffolk. 'I remember when I was having my daughter and I wanted my heart to give out because I thought death had to be better than this,' she laughed, adding: 'I thought if I kept my eyelids shut and still for long enough they might think I was dead.

'When I got home I remember thinking I had ruined my life. The feeling of isolation was so severe. My husband was working away a lot at the time and I didn't have my parents here they were dead. I didn't have anyone to hug and nurture me at that time.'

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Being a doula is all about 'mothering the mother.'

'I love women. Anyone will tell you I am not so interested in the babies. They are beautiful of course but I am not one for cooing over them. It is the mothers I am really interested in. If you don't love women or when a new mum is crying and you want to say 'get a grip,' then you have no business being a doula. That will be my cue to stop doing this when I tell a mother to get a grip,' said Linda.

Linda became a doula after studying to be a midwife. Having seen how the workload took the midwives away from the very people they were training to help, she concentrated on bringing up her own family.

But 'doularing' was always inside her. 'Members of my family, then friends and finally neighbours would ask me to be with them during the birth of their child. I loved it. I have always been interested in birth. I remember my grandmother telling my mother she would walk out and go home if I - at the age of 11 - was allowed to watch a woman giving birth on television.

'I had always wanted to be a midwife and after my children were older I thought if I am going to do it I need to get on with it, but I didn't like the fact they spent such a little amount of time with the women. I wanted to be with the women, so I found out about being a doula. I think I have been one all my life really.'

She added: 'This is all about leaving your ego at home - in fact you really shouldn't have one because nothing about being a doula is about you. It is all about the mother you have been called in to help.'

When Linda is called in by an expectant mother she is there to offer support and guidance. She is like a midwife without the clinical training.

Doulas are trained, however in problem solving: helping women come to their own decisions and helping them to stick to them. 'It's like being a friend really, a really good friend.

'I never give advice,' says Linda, who lives in South Lopham. 'I never tell anyone what to do. They have to arrive at their own conclusions and make their own decisions. It is important that mothers come to their own decisions otherwise they could say: 'you told me to do that' and that is not how it should work. We merely help them arrive at their own decisions.

'An important part of that is presenting them with all the information. It is about being informed. I had a woman tell me how much she hated the internal examinations and I told her she didn't have to have them. She was amazed. But of course she didn't have to have them.

'With older generations there is this idea that the GP or the hospital is God and what they say goes, but now younger women are able to question more and that is a good thing, because women are not all the same. They all want different things. Some may want music playing during birth, some just want to get on with it.

'Our job is to make it as perfect an experience as it can be. It might be a difficult birth but we are there to make sure some that everything goes as smoothly as possibly and the mother is not overly stressed by things which can be sorted out by us.

She added: 'There are a lot of misconceptions about doulas; many people think we are all hippies and demand home births for women, but we don't. We go in and ask for whatever the mother wants. Whatever she wants it is our job to get it for her. If she wants an epidural we make her aware of all the risks or side effects to that - and with any drug - or the consequences concerning any of her decisions. We merely outline them and it is up to her to decide what she wants. We do that in the cold calm light of day when she is fully aware of what is going on rather than in the heat of the moment during labour.

'Sometimes it is easier for us because we are less emotional about it.

'It would be preferable for someone to have their mother or sister with them or someone they feel really close to but sometimes it helps to form a relationship with someone else who is emotionally attached and close to you in that way.

'If you have your mother going into the delivery room with you and she sees the pain you are in she might start shouting at the doctors to give an epidural, or try to persuade her daughter to have one even though she might have said before that she didn't want it. Because of all the emotions and the pain, the woman in childbirth might throw all her original desires out of the window and do as she is told.

'I am there to make sure she is aware of what she originally wanted and how she arrived at that decision and if she is OK making those changes. I'd talk to her about why she made those original decisions and see if she was happy changing them.'

Linda added: 'Women can be quite wicked creatures. There is this need to compete and do each other down. Or perhaps there is a need to hide what is really going on. We will tell our family everything is going alright whereas it is not. We don't want to be seen to be failing when all the other women in our families managed perfectly well thank you very much.

'That is why I am so hot on post natal depression. It is something I would say a majority of women suffer with, often in silence and it shouldn't be that way. I try to tell them after the birth they are going to feel teary. I tell them if they can be dressed and have had something to eat before 3pm then they are fine and if they can do it without crying - that is a bonus.'

Linda's relationships with all her clients are different and usually come to an organic end.

'I have some who still contact me, perhaps sending a card to let me know how their child is getting on.

'Quite often they will call me. I tell them I will never call them, but while they are my client they can call me at any time for help and support. I tell my students about boundaries, although I find I am not so good at keeping them as perhaps I should be,' says Linda as she looks after one of her clients' dogs as they head off for a medical appointment in London.

'Eventually they correspondence will become less frequent,' but that is to be expected and I tell them that is how it should be.

'They have grown and are ready to be a mother and a family together.

'Yes it is rather like Nanny McPhee… but with fewer warts.'

Linda can be contacted through or call 01379 688541.