Don't get me wrong, I love being a doula. In fact, I'm not sure what I would do if I lived an entire year old my life not waiting for a little one to arrive. On call life is hard though, seriously hard.
My children know that if a baby call comes in, their day may be different the next day. They are old enough now to 'get it' but it's still something they deal with because of my career passion. I sit with women and hold their hands as they worry about their own child, I worry at the same time about mine. Is it a soccer day? Did the half time orange slices get there still? Is it Brownie night? Should I be calling home to check?
A midwife once told me, "A baby is coming to come when and where a baby wants to come". It's true. I love watching a mom achieve whatever birth vision they had in mind when labor began. I comfort moms and dads whose plans veer off the track and they deal with the reality of a birth that wasn't exactly how they planned.
On call means 3am phone calls and texts. It means calls about contractions, nausea, pains, aches, doctors who need bedside manner lessons, confusion about hospital protocols, and finally, it means the call about grabbing my birth bag, trusting my family to handle my daily duties and walking out the door to meet the laboring family.
Doula life is not glamorous. There are various ways that partners and groups handle the stress of on call life. I don't believe that any are perfect. We vent to each other. We laugh with each other. A doula sisterhood is one that I truly cherish. We aren't midwives, we aren't doctors, but we are on the front lines of some of the family concerns that maybe next filter up to the next level.
I see the journey from couple to family often. I enjoy every grueling minute. Now, if I could figure out why the birth calls always come in the night I have procrastinated filling my gas tank, that would be awesome.
Every once in awhile a Dad will ask me, "How long do you think this will take?" when his wife is in labor. At the begininng of my doula career this question annoyed me. It leant itself to a question based in anxiousness and boredom. I would try to hide my frustration that the most important member of the birth team was clearly bored and anxious to get labor over with.
Now that I have been a doula for over ten years, I realize this question is not a Dad asking out of boredom. He isn't trying to figure out if he can watch the football game later. The Dad is typically trying to find out how long his wife must endure the contractions she has had during labor.
Laboring women often have a. "I can't do this" moment in labor. This moment is a milestone that labor and delivery nurses, doulas and care providers know well. In a textbook labor, this signals the end of transition. The woman is almost ready to push her baby out. This moment is often met by a reassuring, "Yes. You can." by her birth team as they know, the end of the contractions is near.
A woman is not alone in having a, "I can't do this" moment in labor. A Dad has this moment too. It can manifest in a Dad asking, "How long is this going to take?" or the less obvious sign of, "You don't need to do this. Can you do anything to make this easier for her?".
Dads are the most important person on the birth support team during a woman's labor. A Dad also needs support. As a doula, I am the support for the birth team when they reach their, "I can't do this." moment. I become the assurance that birth is normal. That their laboring loved one is coping well. She is safe. She is cared for and she can feel their support and belief that she CAN do this.
Prenatal education - including the dreaded videos - can help the entire birth team learn about the sights, sounds and smells of labor. Being familiar with the phases of labor and what a woman may sound like or need during each phase can be the game changer when trying to help her renew her confidence and strength during her, "I can't do this moment." .
With the support of her loved ones, her doula, and her careprovider, a woman and her partner can have an amazing birth experience.
As a doula, I support women who have birth visions all over the spectrum of “naturalness”. From women who don’t want a single intervention and will go to Herculean efforts to avoid them to women who have a birth vision which is centered around a positive birth experience regardless of interventions. I welcome the challenge of “holding space” and empowering these expectant couples regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of natural birth.
The woman I worry about is not the one who wants to Birth at home in a tub with music playing, or the woman who wants to Birth in a hospital with an epidural. I worry most about the woman who is trying to be perfect at childbirth. The woman who wants to achieve the validation and approval of those in her life by birthing the “best” way.
No one gets an “A” in childbirth. Birth is individual and spiritual. It’s about bringing a new life into the world and becoming a mother.
Whether you decide to schedule a c-section, manage the waves of labor with an epidural or power through a birth without interventions, it’s your baby’s birth and the rite of passage into motherhood.
Let the worries of doing it “right” go. This is a path you walk in your own way. Let the people around you support you and hold space for your journey.
You are strong and able to birth without anyone holding you to their standards or ideals. Your journey is yours to walk. No one is grading you on this most perfect accomplishment.