This Spring marked the 18th year that I have been serving families as a doula. In attending hundreds of births, I’ve learned a few things that are important to share with each client. Parents, if you are using a doula or are considering hiring a doula for your birth, here are some thoughts to keep in mind to make the most of this important doula/client relationship.
Keep me in the loop. A big part of the support that I am able to offer begins long before labor. I’m here to be your “walking birth wiki.” I’m way less scary than Dr. Google, and I love to talk about pregnancy and birthy stuff. Please, be in touch! Pick my brain. Ask me anything. I will offer information, share my resources, give you encouragement, and lend an empathetic ear to your concerns. I want to know if you go to the hospital for any reason, or have something happening that you are worried about. Keep me posted about what’s going on with your prenatal care. Even if it’s just a text that says “Hi, saw the doc, we’re all great!” I want to hear from you. It’s never “bothering me” to call. I’m going to let you set the pace for our communication; whether you text me once a day, email once a week, or call out loud once in pregnancy – that’s up to you. Everybody’s needs are different. I’m going to trust that you know that I’m available, and that you are in contact as often as you like. My commitment is to answer when you reach out, whether that’s once, or a dozen times.
Understand my role. You are the boss of this birth, and you have hired me as your doula. This means that I don’t tell you what to do. I can make sure we’ve discussed your options, and you tell me what’s right for you. As an experienced doula, I might have good relationships with your doctor, midwife, nurses, or hospital. Our being on a birth team together is something that will enhance your experience. Providing non-medical labor support is my role on the team. I will use the tools and skills I have to help you give birth the way you want to, while respecting the roles of medical professionals and the policies of the birthplace you have chosen. I am not there as a bodyguard or a bouncer. I don’t arrive prepared for combat. I cannot throw myself between a woman and the doctor who is responsible for her health and safety. If I tried that, the staff would throw me out and never let me or any other doula come back. I support your birth, and I also want to be able to show up for the next client who plans to deliver there. So, I don’t speak to anyone on your behalf. I don’t get to tell anyone what you will or won’t consent to. What I will do is remind you of your goals. I will encourage you to use your voice to ask questions that help you gather information, so that you have clarity to make your own decisions. I stand behind you in exercising your right to speak up for what you will accept or refuse.
Set yourself up for success. If you really want a natural waterbirth that’s “as close to a homebirth as possible,” the big teaching hospital with a 95% epidural rate and no tub is probably not the best place for you. Chances are pretty good that if you choose to give birth there, the birth you hope for isn’t going to happen. Make sure that your birthplace and your birth attendant are a good fit for what you have in mind. You, as the consumer, have a choice. Look into the facilities that are available to you. Ask what options they provide, and find out what they offer to support the kind of birth you want to have. The same is true for choosing your doctor or midwife. The practitioner who says “I don’t like doulas” isn’t very likely to be into the idea of other requests you make, either. Take personal responsibility for learning the rules of your attendant and your birthplace. Though I, as doula, may wish the best for you, my presence will not protect you from factors that come with the territory of the facility or practitioner you have chosen.
Prepare yourself for your birth. Take charge of readying yourself as fully as you can for birth in body, mind, and spirit. Participate in recommended childbirth classes, educate yourself about birth options and coping skills, and take excellent care of your body and your mental and emotional health. Seek out the support that you need to do this. Your power is already your own, and is not mine or anyone else’s to give to you or to take away from you. I do not empower your birth. I do not advocate for you. I support you in learning to empower and advocate for yourself. Likewise, I know a lot about having a baby, but I am not having your baby. I can make suggestions for positioning or comfort measures, and help you remember all of the ways that you have learned to cope with the intensity of labor. I can encourage you to ask for what you want. I cannot guarantee that your birth will be easy or uncomplicated. Labor is hard work, whether you have a doula or not. Birth is unpredictable, even when you’re well-prepared. When all is said and done, you are the one responsible for giving your consent and making your decisions. You are the one who will go through this process to become your child’s mother.
You have my unconditional support. My priority is to see that you know what your options are, and that you are making your own best choice. I want to understand your hopes and fears for this birth, so that you feel seen and heard. I will offer comfort measures in whatever way I can to help your experience happen in the way that you wish for. I will remind you of the priorities you have shared with me, and give encouraging words and hands-on support when you want it. I believe in you, and I know you can do this. I will not tell you that there is a right way or a wrong way to have your baby, and won’t leave your side if you change your mind about your plan. I will not judge you for the choices that you make. This is your body, your baby, and your birth. I trust you to make the best decisions for yourself. You have my support when you feel scared. You have my support when you think you can’t do it anymore. You have my support when you are crying. You have my support when you are angry, or irreverent, or unglued, or unlovely. You have my support in your joy. This is your birth. I’m here for you.
Our relationship will change. I love being your doula. I enjoy the whirlwind courtship of getting to know you well in a short time. I like hearing your stories about your life, the births of your other children, the story of how you met your spouse, the story of your own birth as your mother told it to you. I ask intimate questions that perhaps you hadn’t considered before, about your hopes, and how you cope with overwhelm, and what makes you feel safe. More than anything, I listen. Toward the end of your pregnancy, we may be talking once a week. In the last few days, we might be checking in every day. I might not ever know the names of your siblings, or where you grew up, or any of the other things your friends would usually know, but by the time your baby is born, we have forged a bond that is close and real. Then, after your baby is here and you are settled in as a new mother, I don’t see you much anymore, and we hardly ever talk. Please don’t take it personally. Know that I still care very much, even if I probably won’t make it to your child’s birthday party. Our relationship as doula and client happens for a finite period of time. I miss you. I love seeing pictures of your little ones as they grow. I cherish the memory of the time I have shared with you. Now I’m offering that same support to the next pregnant person. I’m just as occupied with her as I have been with you, and will be with you again if there is a next time. This is what doulas do.
I will always be grateful. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your doula. Thank you for inviting me into your life, your home, your birth space. Thank you for trusting me to support the birth of your beautiful child. Thank you for the honor and the privilege of caring for you through this part of your life. Every birth touches my heart. Every birth brings a lesson, and I am grateful for the learning that comes from your birth. I am grateful for this place where our paths crossed, and our life stories are woven together for this short while. Thank you always.
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