Monday, August 1, 2016

Birth of a Doula

Over the weekend, I had the honor of attending my first solo, professional birth as a doula. It was a tough birth for the birthing person, forcing them to confront their beliefs surrounding birth and the medical system, and their own self doubt. In those challenging moments, I was forced to confront those things, too. Was I helping? Was I doing any good at all? Could I really handle this?

Ultimately, nothing prepares you for your first birth, whether you're the birthing person, or a birth worker. You have to trust your instincts, and think on your feet. Inevitably those first few births teach you A LOT. Some of the things I learn include:

Eat whenever you get the chance.

A BIG part of your job will be doula-ing the birthing person's family members. Your extensive knowledge of birth will enable you to ensure them that all is well, even when it seems like things are not. Get all the phone numbers, do all the texting, and enjoy having someone genuinely interested in all you learned in doula training!

Don't. Make. Assumptions. You will pass them along to your client, and your client will think something is wrong if you are mistaken.

Don't let your client see your doubt. They need your calm, confident presence, no matter what.

You will astound yourself with your stamina...but you are a human. Don't wait till you're breaking down to ask for help. There's no shame in calling in your back-up. This is not about you. You need to make sure the person attending your client is alert enough to do the job.

A lot of routine medical interventions are not necessary for most births, and they have side effects, so they should not be used if they are not called for...but they are an absolute God-send when they are called for. Not needing or wanting them does not make your client a better person, or their birth a better birth.

Sometimes the thing your client will need from you is for you to disappear. You may very much want to be involved at this moment, you may feel useless, and want to start pacing, or fidgeting. Again, this is not about you. Sit the feck down and relax. Your client may want you in their line of sight, or they may not. You'll figure it out.

Don't stand in the light the doctor's using to see how things are going during second stage.

The medical care provider(s) may ask you for help: roll that table over here, hold the birthing person's leg, go get more ice chips...make yourself useful! But remember who hired you, and who you are there to serve. Their opinion of you means absolutely nothing as long as you know that what you are doing (perhaps being invisible, which looks pretty useless from the outside) is what your client needs.

You will be overwhelmingly touched by the moment when that brand new person enters the room, and the family through a rather unusual door. You will want to be aaaaalllll up in there! One more time: this is not about you. The client may want to show off baby to you, or express their gratitude, or they may have questions about the immediate newborn procedures, or if they should put the baby on their nipple right away. If they aren't asking for you, stay in the room, take pictures only if they've asked you to, and get out of the way.

You will experience the weirdest blowback after you leave the birth: after hours of attending single-mindedly to the needs of another person, the slightest concern for your needs will move you to tears. Just roll with it. Yay, excessive gratitude!!!

There's more, of course. Every time I reread my notes I consider what I might do differently if I could. But my client, her partner, her father, the midwife...they were all blown away at the level of support I was offering, and the difference my presence was making in their experience of this birth. So, I'm off to a good start. ;-)

 Live Omily,


  1. Wow, Em! This sounds like you got the hang of it very quickly! Yay, Emily! How amazing that you are doing what every woman in labor needs by advocating for her. So proud of you for making a difference in this way.

  2. Thank you!! I am so proud to be doing this work!