What’s it Like to Be a Birth Doula?
Considering a career as a doula?
This is a question I’m often asked when people find out what I do for a living. If you think this might be the career for you, please go to my links page for a list of doula training and certifying organizations.
Since becoming a birth doula, my life has become unpredictable, ever-changing, exhausting and full of wonder and miracles.
As a doula, personal freedom is a thing of the past. Both my primary and backup phones are always with me because I never want to miss a call from a laboring person!
When I go out with friends, we have to take separate cars, so I can have immediate access to my own car. And I can forget about that occasional glass of wine at a party — I need a clear head at all times!
When the phone rings in the middle of the night, I have to wake up alert and cheerful, whether it’s a person in labor or a nervous expectant parent with a question. If it’s a person in labor, I need to be wide awake, fully alert, showered, with my teeth brushed, birth bag packed, birth ball inflated, and cooler packed in a matter of minutes.
I have to be on the road, having eaten a meal that will sustain me for a while, kissed my family good-bye, made arrangements for my next day’s appointments to be canceled or changed, and notified my back-up. When I attend a birth, I’m on my feet for an average of 24 hours, my hands, arms and back aching from massaging and applying counter pressure to a laboring woman’s lower back. I’ve been thrown up on, bled on, punched, pinched, bitten (three times), had my sternum cracked, been yelled at and sworn at. I’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, movies, dinners, parties, time with my grandchildren and sleep — lots of sleep!
I’ve met hundreds of incredible people and have been privileged to witness them as they discovered a strength inside themselves that they never knew they had, and that they will have forever. I’ve witnessed hundreds of amazing newborn babies’ first breath, first sight, first cry, first taste of nourishment. I’ve seen couples bond in a way that even they didn’t know was possible.
I’ve helped partners become totally involved in the birth of their child, much to the surprise and delight of the laboring person, who thought they had hired me because they wouldn’t get any support from their partner. I encourage the partner’s participation and help empower the couple so that by the time the baby is born, they are strong and bonded, working together to nurture their new baby.
I’ve heard doctors and nurses admit that a client of mine would have had a cesarean delivery if I hadn’t been there and that they (the medical staff) had never seen a natural birth in their entire careers … and that I’ve changed forever their perspective on birth.
The first time a nurse said she was amazed by the completely natural, unmedicated birth she’d just witnessed — her first in several years of being an OB/GYN nurse, I would have thought she joking if she hadn’t been so obviously awestruck. The second time I heard it, I was even more surprised because I could no longer believe the first instance had been a fluke.
And when a doctor said it, I knew that I was not only being a doula to my current client, but to all the people these nurses and doctor would work with in the future. These medical personnel now believed that a person could give birth, without any medical intervention, and that belief, in itself, would help more people believe in themselves and their ability to give birth.
So, what’s it like to be a doula? It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had plenty, from dog trainer to air traffic controller to house painter to photographer! If you’ve given birth, that will help, but it’s not a requirement. What you need is a calm and gentle presence, an innate belief in a person’s ability to give birth and a willingness to support another person’s goals for their birth, even if they don’t match your own goals. You’ll need to be able to temporarily suspend your own life and the concerns that go with it while you totally focus on a person who is working so hard to bring a new life into the world – and you are rewarded by getting to be there as a witness to this miracle!
Being a birth doula is an honor and a privilege. I feel so lucky to be allowed to become a part of another family, however briefly, during this most intimate and loving time in their lives.