It is 3:20 am and the phone rings. I am asleep in the guest room so this call, which I have been anticipating since dinner last night, will not wake my husband. I am showered, dressed and in the car by 4:05 am. When I arrive at work, the door is ajar. I silently step inside, slide off my sneakers and make my way up to the bedroom. There, standing by the side of the bed, is my client. Her breath is rapid but soft. She looks up at me with a quiet look of fear, now tempered with relief and hope. I am a doula. This is how my work day begins.
As a doula, I am constantly explaining what I “do”. Rather than one stock answer I find I have different definitions that I dole out depending on who is asking. My shortest answer goes like this, “I provide physical and emotional support for the mother before during and after her birth experience.” The reality is so much more involved.
I am reminded today, on Mother’s Day, that being a doula means I have the privilege of watching women become mothers all the time. But it also means my daughters have begrudgingly learned I have an unpredictable schedule. I often tuck them into bed with a kiss and, “Mommy might have to go meet a new baby tonight. If I am not here in the morning please be good for Daddy.” This can place a huge toll on family life. My husband may need to work from home. After school activities become more complicated with one car. Our RSVPs are tentative at best. I am the doula, but my family is too. I never take their sacrifices for granted.
My relationship with most of my clients begins months prior to their due date. Perhaps they are taking my childbirth class, or a friend has referred them to me. After a woman and her partner decide to hire me we both sign a contract. A doula’s contract works as a retainer. Once it is signed I am hers for any consultation she made need: phone calls after a stressful doctor’s appointment, emails asking how to relieve back ache, editing birth plans, reviewing breathing techniques, the list goes on.
As a baby’s birthday approaches the contacts are more frequent, even daily. Some mothers need reassurance with every cramp. Others just need to discuss logistics. While each client receives an in-home prenatal appointment, my accessibility is limitless right up until the birth. Which brings us back to our opening scene.
I arrive at a clients home and I immediately work to help mom and her partner settle into the reality of labor. Assurances are whispered, mom relaxes into a comfortable pattern, and we wait for the intensity to increase. I will stay with a family until they are settled, anywhere from 2 to 4 hours after the birth of the baby. This means I have spent any where from 5 - 48 hours with a couple as we wait for the baby to arrive. There is never any way to know how long I will be “at work”.
During those long hours, when days and nights flow together in a swirl of position changes, nourishment, massage, varied breathing patterns, showers, baths, and words of encouragement I wait and smile patiently. Moms always want to know how much longer? I always have to answer with, “I don’t know. But I do know you are doing great. You are strong and we are here for you each step of the way.”
I love my job. I am a doula.
Why use a doula:
Clinical studies have found that hiring a doula:
- tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications
- reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
- reduces the need for pitocin (a labor-inducing drug), forceps or vacuum extraction and cesareans
- reduces the mother’s request for pain medication and/or epidurals
Research shows parents who receive support can:
- Feel more secure and cared for
- Are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics
- Have greater success with breastfeeding
- Have greater self-confidence
- Have less postpartum depression
- Have lower incidence of abuse
Resources to find out more and hire a doula: