Birth center volunteers recognized for World Doula Week and beyond

With the arrival of the spring equinox comes a special week that many may not know about. World Doula Week begins March 22 and continues through March 28, and Mercy Hospital of Folsom is celebrating the important role of these hidden heroes who help so many in childbirth.


What is a doula? That is not an uncommon question by any means. A doula is defined as a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a woman and her support team just prior to, during, and shortly after childbirth. Their purpose is to help new mothers and their families achieve as healthy and satisfying an experience as possible, and they do all of this as volunteers.

The purpose of World Doula Week is to empower doulas all over the world to improve the physiological, social, emotional, and psychological health of women, newborns, and families in birth and in the postpartum period. World Doula Week is celebrated all over the world, and Dignity Health Mercy Hospital of Folsom is no exception.


Currently, Mercy Hospital of Folsom has 22 doulas on its volunteer team, according to Sarah Thiel, a certified birth and postpartum doula as well as the program’s volunteer coordinator. Nine of those are experienced mentors and are currently in the process of training ten more. Mercy Folsom’s dedicated volunteer doula team has already served nearly 200 families locally to date, an accomplishment that the hospital proudly recognizes, not only during this special week, but at all times.

“We want to shed light on the vital role these dedicated professionals play in ensuring a positive and nurturing birth experience for mothers and help get the word out to garner new volunteers,” said Thiel. “It is critical, now more than ever, to promote this service to mothers in Folsom and beyond.”


Thiel has been working in the “birth world” for over 10 years now. For over two years, Thiel has been a volunteer doula trainer and the program coordinator for Mercy Hospital of Folsom. While Thiel has been involved with countless births in her lifetime, much of which she was a midwife’s assistant in the home birth world. 

Thiel finds great joy in her role and leads a team that is overflowing with that same enthusiasm and dedication for supporting and helping others through what is one of the most important days of their lives with what can best be described as a human touch.

“I always thought I would become a home birth midwife but after so many years of that, I realized I didn’t want the full responsibility of healthcare so much as I wanted to bring comfort, love, and support to my clients,” Thiel explained. “I really have enjoyed stepping away from the full medical aspect of the birthing process and caring for my clients like we do.”


Much like Thiel, other doulas enter the field for many of the same reasons. While some can be medical students looking to gain actual experience, it is a passion for families and the desire to help new mothers that drive the desire for most of them.

“I’ve been watching children since I was 12 years old, and I love children in general. I just felt my heart was really drawn to these women and to help them,” said Kelsey Fowler, one of Mercy’s doulas who spoke with Folsom Times. “I didn’t have this help when I was having a child, and I think it’s really needed. It is very special, and I am just so happy to be a part of it.”


Volunteer doula, Ashley Benjamin-Walkerpreviously worked as a medical assistant at a private practice before becoming part of Mercy’s doula program. After spending so much time with expecting mothers prior to childbirth and then not being there in the delivery room with them, she was compelled to become a doula.

“A lot of the patients were so comfortable with me they would ask me if I would be with them during delivery, and then I would have to tell them no. After a few of them had been asking me that, it got me thinking, so I looked into it,” said Walker. “I have always had a nurturing side to me, and being with the patients all through pre-birth and not being there for the actual birth, I found myself wanting to do that. Now that I am on the other side, it feels so good to be there to help them and support them and just basically be there for them at that very important time. I love it.”

A doula is one of the few in the delivery room at the time of the birth with very few others outside of the medical personnel and in many cases, the father or a significant family member of the one in labor. They not only provide support to the mother but are also there to help the father and others, communicating with them and such. When it’s all over, it’s common for them to witness the true emotion among family members and others in the room.

For Walker, one childbirth that stands out in her memories was one that took place in which it was a surrogate mother giving birth in the delivery room with the child’s commissioned mother participating as well. To this day, she recalls the emotional moment.

“It was my actual first time in the delivery room, and they actually allowed the mom to hold the baby as it was being born,” said Walker. “It was just a very emotional moment; both of them were crying together, and to be there for that was just very special. All of them are special, but that is one that is my most memorable to this day.”

Fowler too has her share of special births she has assisted with through the years. One of which was with a young mother experiencing a great deal of anxiety after coming into the hospital. This is something a doula sees often and is there to assist with.

“She ended up being able to deliver not just one, but two healthy baby girls, it was a miracle to be a part of and helping to keep her calm by talking to her, helping her breathing, and it was just a blessing to be a part of,” said Fowler. “I also had a fellow doula that was having a baby ask me to help her out, and now I am babysitting her baby for her, so that’s very special as well.”

Thiel’s years of experience have put her in the delivery room for countless births. Like the doulas on her team, she too has been part of many special moments. Out of all of them, she cites that witnessing the true emotions of both new moms and dads is something she is “honored and grateful” to be a part of.

“We have very defined roles in our culture where women are generally more emotional and men are typically the strong ones. In that delivery room, that often shifts,” she explained. “When you are in there, you have never seen a woman be stronger and more determined than ever. Then when that baby is born, you have never seen a man be more soft and surrendering to all of their emotions. Every time I witness this, I feel honored and feel so much gratitude that I am welcomed to help with this experience.”

It is a common misconception that doulas are more common in home birth and strictly for home births. Thiel’s team strictly works in Mercy Hospital of Folsom and the doula program was created specifically for their birthing patients. She explained that a doula’s role is just as important during a traditional birth where patients are medicated as it is in a non-medicated birth.

“When a patient is medicated, our role is just as important,” said Theil. “Once they are medicated it could be many hours without movement,” she explained. “We are there to insure the mom remains positioned well and there for anything she may need, even if it is just to sit with them and talk them through the waiting. We assist with all births.”

While Theil leads Mercy’s team of doulas, she also works to recruit those interested in becoming doulas. That recruitment is crucial to the continuance of the doula program. While it requires some training that the program will provide to a volunteer, the only big requirement they look for is for those that have the desire and are willing to make the commitment to help. 

“Medical experience is always helpful, but it is not required,” said Theil. “We have a training program to teach them everything. We are always looking for volunteers.” 

Selected doulas must pass a medical screening and background check before joining the doula team. Once they are signed up, volunteers agree to be on-call for a minimum of 16 hours per month. Additionally, they must attend a two-day orientation and training, as well as monthly meetings and commit to the program for at least a year. 

The World Doula Week initiative began in Israel as the first Doula Day which took place on March 22, 2011. Ruti Karni Horowitz, the entrepreneur of the project, suggested that CAPPA join the project and CAPPA agreed with great passion and enthusiasm. It has since been agreed that this collaboration should not be exclusive to just one doula organization, but instead, include all doulas and doula organizations around the world.

“What we do is very rewarding to us, but to be recognized for what we do means so much,” added Walker. “When I told the others about this interview today, they were so excited. We are very proud of what we do and to be recognized for that is special.”

Those interested in becoming a doula with Mercy Hospital can learn more on their website HERE.

Above Photo: Pictured are threee of Dignity Health Mercy Hospital of Folsom’s dedicated doulas, Left to right: Kelsey Fowler,Sarah Thiel (program coordinator), and Ashley Benjamin-Walker.

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan