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  • Traditions

  • Orthodox Women Turn to Other Orthodox Women During Pregnancy and Childbirth

    Observant mothers-to-be hire doulas who share their religious practices and understand their specific needs

    By Kylie Jane Wakefield for Tablet Magazine

    Orthodox DoulasMiriam Shapiro was on all fours in her hospital bed reciting Tehillim—Psalms—when she felt another contraction. She summoned her doula, and together they placed a quarter into her tzedakah box. After that, she knew that the baby was ready. She took a deep breath and started reciting prayers. “Right when I was pushing Adina out, my doula reminded me, ‘It’s a good time to pray,’ ” Shapiro told me in a recent email interview. “When you’re pushing a new life into the world, it’s like all the gates are open upstairs.”

    Doulas, who offer women advice and companionship during their pregnancies and then coach them through labor, have been growing in popularity among pregnant women for several years—and Orthodox Jews are no exception. But since Orthodox women have a unique set of needs during childbirth, they’ve been turning to doulas who are themselves Orthodox women, to provide mental, emotional, and spiritual support before, during, and after they give birth.

    For these women, Orthodox doulas are preferable because they understand what the mothers are going through from a halachic perspective. For instance, when an Orthodox woman gives birth, her husband cannot touch her because she is niddah, or bleeding, and it would go against the laws of family purity if her husband held her hand or rubbed her back. If a doula is present in the delivery room, however, she can massage the woman, do breathing exercises, adjust her tichel (headscarf), or fix her clothing to ensure that she is still upholding the laws of modesty, even during childbirth.

    According to Chana Barak, an Orthodox doula in Texas, observant doulas understand the distinct rituals surrounding birth, especially family purity. “It can be hard to explain to someone that your husband won’t be nearby for the birth or that he won’t hold your hand when you are in pain,” she said. “A Jewish doula already knows these things and respects [them].”

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