It is written in Torah about the Hebrew women in Egypt, "For they are like midwives, before the midwife comes to them, they have given birth." (Exodus 1:19) Although this might be true occasionally for some women even today, it is also written, "I will greatly increase your suffering and your pregnancy, in pain shall you bear children." (Genesis 3:16). According to Jewish mysticism as explained by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg, the rectification for the sin, which caused pain in childbirth, is JOY.
How can women today provide themselves with an atmosphere during birth that will lend itself to increased joy? A return to the ways of Shifra and Pua, the supportive, comforting touch and instinctual calming demeanor of trained labor support professionals (a doula), allow women to find their own inner strength during birth. In accessing their inner strength to complete a challenge as great and awesome as childbirth, women increase personal joy. Finding and utilizing personal strength and G-dly intentions during birth can decrease the sensations of pain. The scope of professional labor support to Jewish women addresses their unique needs. Every woman in labor is deserving of the valuable and precious support of a doula, enabling them to fulfill G-d's will with Joy.
Most labor support professionals help educate women about their birthing choices. They help devise a birth plan, advocate with and for them during their labor and provide loving support, both emotionally and physically. The purpose of labor support to Jewish women encompasses the above, as well as the spiritual and ritual aspects of birth, protecting modesty and assisting in the relationship between husband and wife. Implementing all of these supportive measures help ensure that each woman will be as relaxed and comfortable as possible so she may have a blessed and joyous birth experience. The exuberance of a woman who has given birth to a healthy baby with joy is invaluable!
Labor assistants serve as a bridge between husband and wife, especially when the couple is Orthodox and the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha (Family Purity) are being observed. According to Jewish Law, whenever a woman's womb is open, she and her husband do not have marital relations nor any physical contact. After her bleeding has ceased and after the proper preparations, she has immersed in a kosher mikvah (ritual bath), the couple is reunited in physical, marital harmony. These laws set the rhythms of a Jewish marriage. Labor support is important to every birthing woman, but it is vital for the those adhering to the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha who are without the physical support of their spouse.
Religious men honor and value the work of labor assistants. They feel secure knowing that their wives will have the additional emotional support and the closeness of physical contact that they themselves cannot provide at this time. A professional labor assistant provides instructions, information and direction to expectant fathers as well. Her professional behavior helps ease any anxiety or insecurity many men may have about the birthing experience and the safety and well being of their wife and child.
Women do not feel alone or abandoned, aware that their labor assistant is there to support them one hundred percent. The family unit is not split due to separation, but linked with respect by the labor assistant.
Labor assistants act as advocates and protectors for women in labor. At times this advocacy is with the hospital staff, where her experience is of valuable assistance. At other times she helps communicating with family members, protecting both the wishes and modesty of the Orthodox woman during this special time. "The beauty of the King's daughter is within" (Psalms: 54), this translates to the intentions of modesty. A labor assistant helps maintain a level of modesty during birth that will cause the least discomfort at a time which by its very nature, makes modesty difficult. She helps each expectant mother retain her dignity and honor at this vulnerable time.
Labor assistants help create an atmosphere conducive to labor and birth, protecting the environment for the newborn soul. The Lubavitcher Rebbe instructed women to bring the Shir Lama'alos with them to the hospital to ensure protection of both mother and baby, bringing an awareness of G-d's divine hand in every birth. A labor assistant strengthens the Rebbe's directives by protecting the spiritual sensitivities of birth. This becomes especially important in hospitals where routine procedure sometimes supersedes the sanctity of labor and delivery and the fragile energy of a newborn.
Labor assistants are trained to support women through all aspects of their journey through childbirth. They can assess each stage of labor a woman is experiencing, guiding her through each transition. They are educated in all processes of labor and delivery, medical procedures and interventions. Their knowledge, coupled with their objective opinion can be invaluable during stressful times of indecision during the labor process. Their skills encompass a wide range of training: massage, acupressure, breathing, relaxation and visualization techniques, hydrotherapy, optimal positioning, breastfeeding initiation and smooth postpartum transitions.
Every woman in labor is deserving of the valuable and precious support of a doula...
There are many rituals a labor assistant can help facilitate during labor and delivery: reminding women to give charity during birth, praying for the sick and barren during "crowning", saying special blessings after the delivery, saying the Shema with the newborn, helping mother and child with the ritual washing of the hands post-birth, and in general creating a beautiful, spiritual environment for this momentous occasion, regardless of any medical interventions or unforeseen obstacles a woman could face. How valuable is a professional labor assistant? What is her purpose? It is written in the Torah that every baby born brings the Redemption closer. With each child, a Jewish mother lights one more candle for the Sabbath. Judaism teaches that each individual is vested with great power, able to reach beyond the boundaries of the natural world and self-limitations to ensure that goodness and truth reign throughout the world. Each baby born is another light in the world, another soul with boundless possibilities. The labor assistant is a link in the Divine plan to help women become partners in creation, help them fulfill their G-dly mission with purpose and joy. The more beautiful and safe a woman's birth experience can be, the more honored and joyous she will be to participate in this vital task of bringing beautiful babies, holy souls into the world.