So You Want To Be A Doula

I frequently encounter women who say “I think I’d like to be a doula.”  I get that.  For those of us who love birth, what better profession to choose than midwife, l&d nurse, doula?

It does sound like fun–emotionally and physically supporting couples during one of the most important moments of their lives; being invited to witness such a stunning event.  And it is.  I love being a doula.  It is the best job I’ve ever had.  But…let me also share the reality of the profession.  Just like any job, it has challenges.  And I don’t think I really thought about these challenges before jumping headlong.

Looking over my births this year, the average amount of time I spent with a client in labor was 12 hours.  So while that means I may have had one four hour labor, I also had a couple of 20+ hour labors.  And I have no way to predict how long I will be gone when I kiss my toddler good-bye.  And I bail on my friends all the time.  Choosing this profession means that I commit to my clients that I will be with them through their labor.  I look at it this way:  What would it feel like to a mom who has been laboring 15 hours for her doula to leave?  To call in a replacement?

I’m on call.  Enough said.  Ask my husband how he feels about that one.

I have a list a mile long of friends and family who can care for Norah.  I regularly interrupt their lives with sentences like this “Hi friend.  So I have this client who might be in labor.  If she calls me before 6am, Scott will take Norah to person A.  But if she calls after 6am, can I bring her to you?  Oh, and I don’t know who will pick her up or when.”

My job is to support women who are feeling discomfort.  For hours.  At 4am, when I’ve been there for 10 hours already, I do sometimes question why I’m doing this.

Doulas must be physically lithe.  Seriously.  I contort into bizarre positions to apply counter pressure to a woman laboring in a tub.  I crawl around on the floor, hold women carrying an extra 30lbs in a supported squat, climb on top of hospital beds, and let my hand be squeezed…really hard!

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Somewhere around hour 13. I kept sliding backward as I applied counterpressure.

We need to have strong stomachs and gracious hearts.  I’ve been kicked in the face, covered with amniotic fluid, and I’ve cleaned up lots of poop and vomit.  While I’ve not yet been cursed at, I have had a birth ball thrown in my general direction.

Sometimes (though not too often), the rest of the birth team doesn’t want you there.  Sometimes nurses don’t like you.  Or sometimes, the client’s family resents that you get to be at the birth instead of them.

Doulas must hang in there emotionally.  It is hard to not get distracted by discouragement, hunger, the need to pee, conversations between nurses or midwives, a husband asking when are you coming home, or just fatigue.  Our intuition is key and for that we must stay alert and in the moment.

Finally, after the joy of birth (which of course makes all the work worth it!), it is hard to leave.  After the postpartum care is over, it is difficult to suddenly not see this family you’ve worked so closely with over the last weeks or months.

I’ve worked in non-profit, corporate, education, and ministry.  Doula work is by far the most difficult.  And the most rewarding.  I take my definition of doula as Jesus and early Christians used the word:  slave.  The One I most want to emulate was described as emptying himself and taking on the form of a doulos–the male form of doula (Philippians 2:7).  What better role model?

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