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Doulas can ease the difficulties of giving birth

November 20, 2001

Sonja Parker, a doula, holds a book she shares with clients about teaching "birth from within" at her Durango office on Saturday.

By Jennifer Reeder
Special to the Herald

Firefighter medic Steve Stahl wanted the birth of his second child to be personal and private. But his wife, Penney, wanted to have doula and hypnotherapist Sonja Parker present at the birth because of complications in her first pregnancy. Penney Stahl said she was reading Birthing From Within when she was struck by a comment about doulas.

"It said something about how you wouldn’t climb Mount Everest without a Sherpa, so why would you give birth without a doula," she said.

Steve Stahl said his reservations evaporated as soon as he met Parker. The Stahls practiced hypnotherapy relaxation techniques with Parker before the birth, then she joined them at Mercy Medical Center when Penney went into labor.

"I was in transition, that point where most women feel they can’t go on, and she was right there with me," Penney Stahl wrote in an e-mail to friends. "(Parker) reassured me, then got cheek to cheek with me as I breathed and pushed. With Sonja there, I was able to go from screaming to breathing, and I got back in control."

Steve Stahl said that with Parker tending to his wife’s needs, he was freed up to "receive" their daughter Gretta as she was born, rather than the physician.

Doula is a Greek word that means "a supportive companion (other than a friend or loved one) who is professionally trained to provide labor support," according to the Doulas of North America Web site.

"It’s pretty awesome work," Parker said. "I love it."

Parker, a retired nurse and grandmother, offers hypnotherapy and doula services through her Durango business, First Breath. She charges a flat rate of $200 for all services related to a birth. She has also volunteered to work for free with pregnant teens through San Juan Basin Health Department.

"Every birth I go to is like the first," Parker said.

Durango resident Tracy Hay trained to become a doula after attending a friend’s birth.

"We found out later that a woman in the next room was laboring by herself," recalled Hay, a mother of two. "I thought, ‘No one should ever have to do that alone.’"

While Parker is a birth doula, Hay is a postpartum doula. Postpartum doulas assist with chores and care of other children so a mother can focus attention on her newborn.

Amy Ginn, a nurse midwife and co-owner of Southwest Midwives, said doulas are an asset in the delivery room.

"They’re the perfect complement to the kind of care we give," Ginn said.

By tending to the needs of mothers, doulas give midwives more freedom to focus on the medical aspects of the birth, Ginn said. Nurse midwives perform the role of a traditional physician but differ in their approach to maternity care, Ginn said.

"We believe pregnancy and birth are normal, healthy events in a woman’s life," Ginn said. She and her business partner, Mary Louise Walton, use Mercy Medical Center for their patients.

Dr. Richard Grossman, an affiliate of Four Corners Ob-Gyn, supports the work of nurse midwives and doulas. Grossman, whose second child was delivered by a nurse midwife, said the use of doulas in Durango is fairly new but that "the concept of women helping women has been around for a long time."

Another physician, Dr. Leanne Jordan, said there are concerns over homebirthing and coming to the hospital with a doula offers the best of both worlds.

"It’s great that doulas come here to the hospital," she said. "Mothers can have the safety net the hospital provides but with the birth as they want it to be."

Anne Grad, of Pagosa Springs, said working with Parker in August during the birth of her daughter Iris gave her the confidence to adhere to her natural birth plan.

"Childbirth can be scary – you don’t know what you’re getting into," Grad said. "But it doesn’t have to be dramatic or unbearable."

For more information on doulas visit

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