Cherokee set to run international doula organization
Cherokee Nation citizen and DONA International President-elect Melissa Harley, standing, conducts a training course for women wanting to become a doula through the organization. A doula is another layer of support for a mother and her family during pregnancy. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Melissa Harley, left, conducts a training course for doulas and shows how to properly position an expectant mother during labor contractions. Harley is set to assume the presidency of DONA International, an organization that trains and certifies doulas. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen and DONA International President-elect Melissa Harley, left, serves as a labor doula to a new mother. A doula is someone who supports a pregnant woman through pregnancy, labor and birth. COURTESY
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After attending the birth of her nieces nearly 20 years ago and providing a family member labor support, Cherokee Nation citizen Melissa Harley knew she was meant to be a doula.
As a doula, Harley is a trained professional who supports a mother and family through pregnancy, labor and delivery.
There are two types of doulas: birth and postpartum, according to DONA.org
“A birth doula typically works with a client from the end of the pregnancy through labor and birth and then shortly after. A postpartum doula provides support once the family goes home and is settled up until about 12 weeks after,” she said.
She said when a family is preparing for a child’s birth, a doula can come into the home and familiarize themselves with the family and answer any labor and birth questions.
“They’ll just familiarize the family moving up to the labor, maybe help with creating a birth plan and then just answer any questions along the way. Doulas are not clinical providers, so doulas work with a medical team. Typically, the family has a midwife or doctor. The doula is just another layer of support for that family,” she said.
Harley has been a doula since 2002, starting out as a labor doula. She became certified through DONA (Doulas of North America) International in 2003.
On Jan. 1, Harley is set to assume the DONA presidency, saying it’s a “big responsibility.” DONA has certified more than 13,000 doulas worldwide.
“As someone who’s been in the organization for 18 years and been a doula, I’m also a doula trainer. This next month I will have trained over 500 doulas. I find the fact that I’m in this leadership position to be a big responsibility because things are really changing in maternal health care right now and the doula work is becoming much more mainstream. People are starting to learn more,” she said.
She added that with the maternal health care and maternal mortality issues that African-American and Native American women face, when a doula is present and collaborates with a medical care team, those moms have better outcomes.
“They have extra support, and they have access to someone who can encourage them to seek out medical guidance whenever they’re having an issue, or maybe have some resources available. It’s just having that guiding person there to bounce something off and that guiding person can give them ideas and suggestions,” she said.
Harley said DONA’s vision is having a doula for every person wanting one.
“Our goals all kind of revolve around that. How do we create more doulas so there is more access to doulas per family? If finances are a barrier, how do we open up access to those that maybe can’t afford a private pay. I think it’s a big responsibility to kind of work toward that vision,” she said.
In addition to her DONA certification, Harley became a childbirth educator with Lamaze International in 2005, received an advanced doula designation from DONA in 2016 and was a Fellow in the Academy of Childbirth Educators and a Lamaze Fellow in 2017.