Going through pregnancy and childbirth can be a physically and emotionally draining time for a mother. Some women are choosing to employ the services of a doula, a person who assists up to and through the mother’s labor.

"A doula is helpful whether a mom has a lot of support or no support," said Judy Shaw of Footprint Doula Service in McPherson. "It's just thrilling that you can be of service to women because a lot of people don't even know it's there."

Shaw began her career as a doula by assisting her daughter when she gave birth. Shaw herself has had six children, including a set of twins, and said she wishes she could have had a doula present each time.

"It would have changed my life if I had had one," Shaw said.

Expecting mothers usually hire doulas a few months before their due date and meet with them to discuss whether she wants to have her child born in a hospital, birthing center or at home.

"I'm there to talk, answer questions and help with a birth plan," Shaw said.

Doulas check in with mothers after they visit a doctor or midwife to receive medical care during their pregnancy.

While not required, some doulas have medical training. They focus on supporting the emotional and physical wellbeing of pregnant women.

"I can suggest certain exercises and diets," Shaw said.

What a doula does depends largely on their client’s wishes. Some women want to ask their doulas many questions during pregnancy, while others prefer to just have them on hand as needed. Shaw noted she often shares resources, such as information on birthing classes and packing lists for the hospital stay.

Two weeks before the baby's due date, Shaw goes on 24/7 call status.

"My bags are packed; my car is gassed," Shaw said.

Shaw travels within a 100-mile radius to be present at a baby's birth. Once she arrives, she rarely leaves the mother’s side.

During labor and delivery, Shaw said she suggests movements, exercises and positions to both relieve pain and speed up the process. She fetches blankets, water and trash cans as needed while reminding the mother to breathe.

“I’m not super sweet, but I’m encouraging,” Shaw said.

Shaw takes a bag of care items that her client might use — Ziploc bags, hairbands, chapstick, honey sticks, bendy straws, a hand fan and massage oil.

“You never know what you’re going to need,” Shaw said.

She also brings a rebozo, which is a shawl that can be used to support abdominal muscles and aid in comforting a woman in labor.

The most important items Shaw takes are always with her.

“I take my hands and my voice,” Shaw said. “I am there with calm ears listening so that I can help them.”

By being a listener, a doula can assist in giving expectant mothers the information needed to make medical decisions.

“What we are for is not to speak for her, but to educate her,” Shaw said.

Shaw emphasized that a doula does not take the place of the woman’s partner or husband, but allows them the chance to take a break to eat and rest.

“It is a team of three, in most cases,” Shaw said.

Doulas also work with single mothers or those who cannot have their partner or husband present at their child’s birth.

As a doula, Shaw is prepared for any outcome, from the birth of a healthy, full-term baby to a premature stillbirth. Doulas can even be hired to work with mothers who are giving their child up for adoption.

Doulas can guide mothers in breastfeeding, and then will typically visit with their client once more a few weeks after the baby’s birth.

Shaw takes notes during the labor and delivery and turns them into a short birth story she gives to the mother.

“It’s a blast to write those down,” Shaw said.

To learn more about Footprint Doula Service, visit https://www.facebook.com/judyshawdoula/ or call 620-755-0843.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.