Some of the women from the pregnancy circle with An (centre). | Vicki McLeod - Phoenix Media

It’s a fresh, blue winter day in Portixol when I arrive at the yoga studio where An Bleu is holding her regular Pregnancy Circle. There are pretty dream catchers hanging from the ceiling, and cosy-looking chairs gathered together. A group of women are sitting with cups of tea chatting to each other when I enter. I get a warm welcome from them all before they return to the topic in hand: babies and giving birth to them. They are speaking in English, but the women hail from various European countries, Germany, Britain, and Belgium it would seem from their accents. After the circle is finished and the women have left, An and I sit and talk about her work supporting international women who are having a baby in Mallorca.

An Bleu.

You describe yourself as a birth coach or doula, what do you do?

AN: Some people don’t know the name “doula”. That’s why I say birth coach, because it just describes what I do. For five years now I have been supporting mothers and families during pregnancy, birth, and right after in the postpartum period..

What was your decision to become a birth coach?

AN: I have two children, and when I was pregnant with my son, we lived in Belgium back then. I found everything super interesting. I started reading up a lot and getting very knowledgeable. I thought every pregnant woman would be like that, really fascinated with it all, but then I found out it was just me! Then we moved to Mallorca, and I had my daughter and this is when I first started to find out about Doulas. I didn’t want to study to be a Midwife or a Nurse, and I discovered this role of Doula which was very interesting to me. I started looking for a course and by surprise, there was a course here on the island, a very good doula course, which is only run once every four years and I discovered it was starting the following month! The course was a year long with a lot of practical work before you can receive your qualification, but I was only three months into my studies when people started to hear I was doing it and started asking me to support them! So without a lot of effort people just came to me, and I realised that there was a need for this on the island. Especially doulas who speak other languages because there are already a few Spanish speaking.

You are filling a very important role, especially for young couples who move to the island but don’t speak Spanish.

AN: Yeah, it works two ways. A lot of people who are new to the island don’t know the system. They don’t speak the language. They don’t have their families here. So they need some extra support. But then it’s also a global trend where doulas are getting more and more popular, because in fact, it’s something that women supporting other women during birth has always been around. It’s actually rather recent that births happen at a hospital. So pregnant women got left out of the care, they have their doctor, who checks on the baby, but who is checking on them, making sure that the women are okay? Doctors don’t have the time to go into that so much. So that’s where a doula comes in, to give them that emotional and physical support that they don’t get in the system.

So what’s your experience within the Spanish system? Are you as an independent doula allowed inside the delivery room, for example?

AN: Well, we’re working on it. Mallorca is actually a great place to have a baby, I am always very positive about it, because you have a lot of different options. You have great private hospitals, and we do have a really great public system here as well. You have private midwives that do home births as well. So you have different options. For a doula to enter the hospital, this is a little problematic at the moment, because they have this protocol where they say that a mother only can have one birth partner. And obviously, usually that’s her partner or husband or father as a child. But slowly, it’s changing because a lot of mothers are saying, “I want my Doula there, I want to have this extra support there”. And depending on which hospital they are a little bit more open to it. But there’s nothing written in stone yet. What we are doing from our side as doulas, is we are actually at this moment setting up an Association for professional doulas to work more closely together with the hospitals. If the mothers also ask for Doulas then we will see more change and quicker.

What is your job during labour and birth?

AN: Every mother is different, and every birth is different. I’m there to support them on an emotional and physical level. First of all, just being there, as somebody that knows about the birth process and knows what’s going on, I can reassure the mother, but also the father a lot of times, and say “This is absolutely normal, what she’s going through”. I spend time explaining what is going on, especially also in the hospital, like medical terms or interventions that need to be done, and explain them in a more human language. I am also very physically active if the mother needs that: giving her a massage, contract pressure during the contractions, and helping her to find different positions, but also just making sure she drinks water and goes to the toilet often.

How many births would you say you typically are attending in a year?

AN: For a doula it’s very different than for midwife, for example, in the hospital because if a midwife works in a hospital, she does her shift and during her shift, she might have six births if it’s a busy night, but she just sees part of the birth where the women are coming in. Usually, a big part of labour already starts when women are still at home. So as a doula you stay with a mother throughout the whole process from the beginning to towards the end. So sometimes I have births that take three days and I can be away from home for all of that time. Or sometimes I have births that take a few hours so we never know. So I don’t take on many births in a month, ideally I take two or three per month.

An with a happy client, Beth and her baby.

What are the pros and cons of hospital versus home birth?

AN: It’s not that one is better than the other one. It depends where the mother feels best and feels safest and can let go. Because during birth, that’s the most important thing. If you are somebody that saw a home birth on YouTube, with the candles and the pool, and thought, “Oh, that’s nice”. But you’re super afraid because you need that medical assistance close to you, then a homebirth is not going to work for you. You will feel a lot safer and better in the hospital. But if you’re somebody that is afraid of medical interventions, or doesn’t like hospitals, or is very much in touch with her own strength and trusts her body to do it, then maybe a home birth will be better for you.

You can contact An on her website She runs Pregnancy Circles twice a month which are a great way to meet other pregnant women and find support and information about having a baby in Mallorca.