VERNON-While the value of providing a laboring woman with continuous emotional support and physical comfort has long been recognized, traditionally it has been the partner or a family member who have been present at the birth to offer this emotional support. But now there is a growing trend among expectant mothers to have a "doula" present at the birth to make the birthing process more comfortable. The word doula comes from ancient Greece and means a woman's servant - a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and after childbirth. "Most of my clients have not been first-time mothers, and I think that is because they are looking for the birth experience that they want but may not have had, because after all it is a memory that lasts for ever," said Paula Porter, the only Doulas of North America-certified doula in Vernon. A doula assists the mother and her partner in preparing a birth plan and helps them carry out these plans, stays by the side of the woman throughout the entire labor and facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and health care providers. "I meet with the women about four months into the pregnancy and help them to set up a birth plan, which basically helps them recognize their wishes on how they would like to give birth," said Porter. "I am not there to separate the expectant couple but to bring them closer by making the whole process more seamless." After the initial meeting, the doula will keep in contact by phone and will meet the mother-to-be at least one more time before the birth. During the labor, the doula will be a constant presence, there to help the woman in any way that she can. "As wonderful as my husband was, he really didn't understand the fears that I had about giving birth," said Sharlene Pizza of Warwick, who used the services of Porter at the birth of her third child, Isabella. "Because I felt more relaxed having a doula there, I think that he was happy for me, and he in turn felt more comfortable. "Paula was in tune with my fears and helped me to stay focused. She was there when I had to have an epidural, and I would certainly recommend a doula for every woman," she added. Porter lives in Vernon with her husband and four children and offers her service to all pregnant women at a flat fee which includes everything from the first consultation to a postpartum meeting. "This is not a luxury," she said. "There should be a doula for every women, and while it is not covered by insurance at the moment, DONA is trying to get insurance providers to consider it because of its positive effects on birth outcomes such as shorter labors, reduced rates of Cesarean sections and fewer complication." For more information, call 973-764-5534 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.