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Tips from the Top with doula Lauren Mishcon

This birth specialist, 41, made the headlines worldwide thanks to Meghan Markle and has found nature doesn’t wait for anyone

Do people know what a doula does?

When I first started I’d say, ‘I’m a doula,’ and people would say, ‘You’re a jeweller?’ So I’d reply, ‘No – a doula,’ and they’d say, ‘What? A dealer?’ But now people know that doulas are there to support a woman through pregnancy and birth, while a post-natal doula comes in after the birth and supports a woman. Doulas mother the mother. The NHS is so overburdened and midwives under such pressure that we’re very much needed. In the old days women would give birth surrounded by mums, aunties and sisters in their village. Now many women have no family nearby to help them, so a doula brings that traditional village support back.

How did you start as a doula?

I worked as an actor’s agent in Mayfair and was on maternity leave in February 2007 when I was stuck in London traffic and listening to Radio 4. There was a report on Woman’s Hour about doulas and it changed my whole life. I’d had two easy births with my children and I decided to change career to help other women. I trained at a private college the following month and I’ve been constantly booked ever since.

False alarm: Meghan’s pregnancy put Mishcon in the spotlight

What does it involve?

I’ve supported rabbis to rock stars. I’m on call most of the year although after 12 years I now take summer and Christmas off. I’ve had to walk out of the theatre and even my own child’s birthday party because a baby is on the way.

Babies have their own ideas, right?

Oh yes. I supported one mother through a home birth but we had to transfer to a hospital and she ended up giving birth in the back of an ambulance. I used my cardigan to wrap up the baby. One New Year’s Eve I arrived at hospital with another mum and she gave birth in the car park, just after the gongs. I’m not there to deliver babies but sometimes nature has other ideas!

What’s the most emotional birth you’ve attended?

My grandmother, June, died and because we are Jewish she was buried the next day. Then my best friend rang to say she was in labour ten days early so I went to the funeral, read the eulogy and then raced to the hospital to see a baby girl arriving. I was on an emotional roller-coaster but it really was the circle of life.

Many happy returns: Mishcon with two contented customers

What does someone need to be a doula?

An affinity to women and an interest in people. You need patience because you’re dealing with heavily pregnant women and anxious partners, so there are lots of hormones flying around.

How do the fathers cope?

I’ve had dads who have answered the door with stopwatches around their necks to time contractions. I’ve had a couple of dads faint on me — usually just after the baby’s been born and normally because they haven’t drunk enough water or eaten. One man whose wife went into sudden labour at home ran upstairs and didn’t come down until an hour after the birth because he was so squeamish.

Any scary moments?

One where a seemingly normal birth ended with a shoulder dystocia — with the baby’s shoulder stuck under the mother’s pelvis. I saw the doctor’s upper lip starting to sweat and half of me was utterly terrified but the professional doula part of me was reassuring the mum and keeping her calm. In the end, the doctor managed to free the baby but those five minutes felt like they lasted forever.

Mistakes, have you made a few?

A definite mistake I’ve made is ignoring my gut feeling at an interview and taking on a client when I knew we weren’t a great match. It was the wrong thing to do for both of us. It’s very difficult to get out of bed at 3am on a freezing cold night when you don’t click with that person, so now I always make sure there’s rapport.

What’s been your craziest 24 hours?

When newspapers around the world named me as Meghan Markle’s doula. I denied it but the story ran on more than 40 websites. The news hit the US within a couple of days and by the Sunday morning my friend woke up in Sydney, Australia, switched on the TV and I was on Good Morning Australia. My life imploded for about a week.

The facts

Salary: In London, doulas in training charge £600 to £3,000 for the whole package, which means you can attend a 36-hour birth or attend for an hour. Some clients are relaxed while others are on the phone every day.

Regular hours? You’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when a client is close to giving birth. Be prepared to drop everything and manage on little sleep.

Short and sweet advice: Be un-embarrassable (if that’s a word) because you’ll see it all!

Top tip

‘You need to leave whatever has happened at work firmly behind you when you walk through your front door at night. You won’t last otherwise’