The Doula Experience: Guidance Through Pregnancy, Labor, and Beyond

You’ve heard of doctors, nurses, and midwives, but who exactly is a doula? 

Not to be confused with a medical provider, doulas help guide and support their clients throughout the entirety of the birthing process, using their vast knowledge of labor, hospitals, and the like. The doula is there to guide, not direct. They offer support in ways that your doctor or your partner can’t. 

“[Doulas] provide support physically through comfort and experiences; emotionally, with affirmations and ensuring the client feels confident and not overwhelmed, protecting the birth space; and by being a bridge between the client and the medical care providers,” says Sunday Tortelli, a DONA International certified birth doula and doula trainer, childbirth educator, and certified lactation counselor.

“For me it’s more heart work than business work. I do it because I love it. I am fortunate.” 

Doulas don’t just show up for labor and the birth. Beginning in early pregnancy, after meeting with the client and signing the agreement, doulas are there every step of the way, helping plan and decide exactly what kind of birthing process is best for the client. They answer questions, provide references to helpful classes, and ensure that both the pregnant party and their partner are comfortable. 

“The birthing person is, of course, the central figure, but the birth partner is a very close second. Because birth partners often feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. There is a sense that there is someone there who can help them with this. For first time parents, the partner can feel out of their element…I like to talk directly to the partner and say, “how do you see yourself participating in this experience?” explains Tortelli.

Since the early 90s, Tortelli has been running and operating her own doula business, The Doula Experience, which has served hundreds from the Greater Cleveland and Akron areas. Starting as a childbirth educator, Tortelli was lucky enough to work as a research doula and research doula coordinator with one of the founders of the doula career- Dr. John H. Kennell. 

“The term doula happened after I started doing it. As a childbirth educator, a couple began asking me to accompany me at their birth for a little extra reassurance and help. Eventually, I learned that there was a thing for this, that it was a burgeoning career. I decided to legitimize what I was doing by taking training.” Tortelli became one of the first 100 doulas certified by the now oldest and largest doula organization, DONA International.

Tortelli is also a certified doula trainer, and understands the need to individualize the experience with her own clients, encouraging her students to do the same. She says, “There is the criteria of learning the basics of what people need. What is trauma-informed care? How do we recognize when somebody might not be going through their postpartum in a healthy way?” 

Tortelli teaches future doulas important ways of addressing the things that some might not think of when they think of pregnancy, including abuse, neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, and grief and loss.

“The goal for being empathic is to try to understand what someone is going through, and to not dismiss or diminish their experience. To hold their hand and go through things with them, to be available to support and find resources.”

To contact Sunday Tortelli for inquiries regarding her doula services or any workshops and classes she provides, make sure to visit her website, .