Ten years as a doula…
It feels surreal to say that, but it’s true. Last week marked ten years since I attended my first birth in a doula capacity. It has had ups and downs, slow times and crazy busy times, and I have learned so much! Without breaking it down birth by birth, here is some of the wisdom I’ve picked up over the past decade. Whether you are a client, prospective client, new doula, or none of the above, hopefully you’ll find some helpful advice.
- Take care of yourself. I know, I know, this one is a bit of a cliche. There is so much wisdom in this though! In life or especially in the birth space, you are doing no one any favors by neglecting your own needs. This is why snacks are always packed in my birth bag, why I have an inflatable pillow, and why I no longer feel guilty for quietly sneaking out to the bathroom. I serve my clients so much better when I feel well in my body, which will be even more necessary each coming decade!
- There is value in sitting in silence. So often as a newer doula, I felt the pressure to always be doing something for my clients, whether that was counter-pressure or speaking words of affirmation. Those are generally good things. But. There is also a time where saying and doing less is the right thing to do. When my client is resting or hitting a good groove on their own, interjecting my voice and touch may actually be the opposite of helpful. Sitting back and observing can often be the right call.
- It’s okay to ask questions. I used to be afraid of looking unprofessional by asking staff questions while they were in the room, and it held me back. Since I’ve started asking for clarification if a term is used that I don’t understand or a recommendation is made, I have grown leaps and bounds. None of the staff have looked down on me for asking and I’m better able to help my clients!
- There is always more to learn. This ties directly into the previous point. I never assume I know everything. Even after a decade, I leave most births with some new perspective or information. I invest in training and mentorship, I read books and listen to podcasts, and I always leave myself open for opportunities to learn.
- Sleeping is a skill. This one is a joke, kind of. I have wrestled with insomnia in the past, but I have found that my “doula super power” is the ability to fall asleep just about anywhere. This skill is extremely valuable for marathon births and back to back births. I once napped on a rolling stool while leaning over my client’s bed. I woke up for each contraction, stood up and applied counter pressure, then immediately fell back asleep. We did that for an hour while her partner rested. Nothing hits quite like a car nap after a long birth!
- Anticipate and educate, not eradicate. Yes, studies show that having a dedicated support person can decrease the risks of interventions, but studies also say that doulas increase birth satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of birth trauma. Those are goals I can get behind. My goal is not to single-handedly reduce the local epidural or cesarean rate. My goal is that my clients feel able to make informed choices about their own care. Sometimes this means educating a client about what an induction can look like and what their choices are. Sometimes it means helping their partner mentally prepare for what they might see during a cesarean or instrumental birth. Always it looks like presenting information in a calm, non-clinical manner and making sure my clients have as much time to process changes as possible.
- Sometimes, there is no good choice. I see this first hand when supporting bereavements, especially. To induce or not induce, D&C/D&E or vaginal delivery… None of these are easy choices. There are times when there is no good choice. When this happens, I encourage my clients to make the choice they can live with. It still hurts and it is still hard when these situations occur. I honestly don’t even have an answer to this one. I choose to trust my clients and follow their lead.
In ten years, I have had the immense privilege to attend births both virtually and in person, in homes and hospitals, in joy and despair. I have supported families through cesareans and D&Cs, recovery from precipitous labors, inductions, and more. Each family is so special to me and each birth teaches me so much. I look forward to learning and growing even more as I tackle the next decade, this time as a doula and Licensed Massage Therapist.