Her idea proved popular. “Demand has outstripped supply in recent years,” says Tang. “We can only accept one third of the applications [from parents for the services of the doulas].” After she got the programme up and running, Tang says the doulas took over the operation themselves and formed a social enterprise called Healthy Mothers-to-be Association Limited. They now have 90 doulas and have been helping 500 to 600 parents every year since 2005.
For first-time parents without experience of taking care of newborns, the reasons for hiring a doula are obvious.
Winny Chow gave birth to her first baby in October 2011 and hired a doula for two months. Chow says she had no experience of taking care of infants at all. “I’ve read about how to take care of babies. But when there is really a baby at home, you just don’t know what to do,” says Chow. “It is better to have someone experienced [to help out].”
Chow’s mother lives far away while her mother-in-law does not live in Hong Kong, so they were unable to offer her much help. “It is essential to hire a doula when your mum can’t help you,” she says.
Chow and her husband say they learnt skills such as how to bathe and dress their baby from their doula.
Or Chow-hung, a 52-year-old mother of two grown-up children, has worked as a doula through the Healthy Mothers-to-be Association Limited since 2003. After helping dozens of families, Or has noticed that a lot of parents are “completely blank” when it comes to taking care of infants.
Many of the parents Or has helped are couples who have just had their first baby. Most have not looked after babies until they have their own. Any contact they had with children in the past was probably limited to playing with them rather than taking care of their daily needs.
It takes time for new parents to adjust to life with a newborn. They get nervous and panic easily. “They don’t know what to do when they hear their babies crying, and just wonder whether they are sick,” says Or adding that doulas always have to explain things to parents in order to calm them down.