Shanay Hall is mum to 3 year old Iyla. She’s modelled for Russh, Vogue and Zimmerman, lived in Perth, Sydney, New York and Berlin, and is currently in the process of starting a birth doula agency. Oh, and she’s only 25.
In part 2 of our interview with Shanay, we chat about her work as a doula, home birthing, her own birth experience, and why she ‘wanted to do it straight again after’.
What is a doula and what inspired you to become one?
Doula means ‘woman slave’ in Greek. So as you can imagine, we are serving the labouring mother before and after birth. We help emotionally, physically and spiritually throughout birth.
I usually meet my client 2 to 3 times before the birth, then I’m on call from 38 to 42 weeks. We help during labour with comfort measures like massage, position changes and use a rebozo technique for pain management.
It’s not about what the doula wants, it’s about what the mother wants. Our role as doulas is to try make a woman’s dream birth a reality.
The aim for me in my practice is for mothers to be happy in the end, and have a good experience - it’s not about the outcome, but how she felt during the whole experience. That whatever happened, she trusted in her body and her baby that it was the right thing.
I wanted to be a doula because of my own doula. She was such a strength during my pregnancy and labour. I could just completely let go with her and she could read me. She really allowed my partner to just be there and be himself, and not be freaked out. He was holding my hand the whole way and kissing my forehead, and my doula was massaging my back for the whole 8 hours! Having a doula makes everything calmer.
Image by Denise Bodden
How do you manage the emotional aspects of birth?
You have to leave your whole personal life at the door when a mother is in labour.
If you’re stressed then the mother can sense it. I like to take a few deep breathes when I walk in the door.
Like wiping her face with a cold flannel and getting her specific oils — all without her saying anything, you just need to know.
I really think having doulas in hospitals these days brings power back to the mother. Sometimes women are left alone for hours at a time, and their partner just doesn’t know what to do.
Getting to hospital too early is the number one mistake women make and once you are admitted there’s no looking back. Having a doula come to you house or speak to you over the phone and when you’re in early labour is ideal - usually my clients go to hospital around 4-5cm dilated which is perfect!
Unfortunately, birth today is often too medicalised, which can be a cause of postpartum depression and breastfeeding problems.
Have you attended any home births as a doula and what was that like?
Yes. It’s so surreal because I think about my birth and just wanna take over and do it for them, but I can’t! I definitely try and do what my doula did while I was at home - lot of back massage and double hip squeezes! Lots of encouraging words also.
They are also in their own space which is so nice. You can really get into your own rhythm being at home and knowing you don’t have to go in the car to the hospital.
What was your birth experience like with your daughter Iyla?
It’s the reason I became a doula.
I had a homebirth in New York and my midwife suggested I hire a doula - at the time I’d never heard of them. So I did my research and they sounded amazing! I interviewed one doula and knew straight away that she was the one! She was young and from England so that automatically made me feel comfortable. My partner is English so her voice was calming!
I was 11 days overdue which was super super hard and testing!
I had an 8 hour labour, and spend most of it in the shower and the birth pool
She was born in the water. It was the best day to date of my life! I learnt so much about my self, my strengths and my weaknesses. Birth is a discovery and your own journey to create.
I just love birth! I wanted to do it again straight after. I’m not saying it’s a walk in the park, it’s hard and hurts but that’s the fun part!
For more from Shanay, check out part 1 of our interview, where we discuss nursing a newborn, looking after yourself as a new mum, aryurvedic tradition, weaning and life in Berlin.