Every time someone asks me what I do, when I tell them I am a doula I get one of two responses. The first is obviously, “What is a doula?” and the second is usually, “that is so amazing—you get to see babies being born for a living?” It always makes me laugh silently inside because first of all, no one can be a doula for a living—not without supplementing with other things. Like other heart jobs, we get paid little and we don’t have the option to work every day—we don’t even have the option to work every other day. Because due dates are just a guess and can swing 2 weeks (or more) in both directions, we have to leave enough wiggle room to not be called to two births at one time. It is a science, with no real evidence to support it—just a lot of counting and hoping and praying.
I know when you look at our fees, they look substantial for the hours that we spend with you at a birth. Some births we are with clients for only a few hours, and some births we are with clients for a few days—the cost to ourselves and to our families is the same. No matter how long your birth is, the prep work and planning put into every birth is the same. We interview, we do prenatal meetings, we answer calls and emails and texts, and we spend time marketing our business and learning more about how to improve our services. 24 hour on call support means that we are always ready to join you—doulas do not make very good party guests (and forget being a party host.) The swim meet next week, we might be there. Our daughter’s play on Friday—we hope so. A school field trip—can I be a maybe? An overnight weekend with girls—can it be within an hour’s driving distance? If we sat down and added it all up (and no one has because no one really wants to know) we might decide it is not really worth it, but we did not choose this job because of anything other than the fact that is so worth it—every single minute is worth it.
It is worth it to see a Mama meet the baby she has been dreaming about for so long. It is so worth it to watch a Daddy reach out and gently touch his new daughter, knowing that he holds her safety and happiness (at least for now) in the palm of his hand. It is amazing to watch a couple discover if they have had a girl or a boy, and when Mama brings her baby to her chest for the first time, and tears fill her eyes and she has suddenly found her entire purpose in one tiny human—it is beyond perfect. The tears that Mama and Daddy cry—big, giant, thankful tears—are water to our doula souls—they nourish us and make us grow. They wash away the longest nights and keep reminding us that every woman and every baby deserve to feel loved and protected in birth.
One time I spent days at a couple’s birth—I think I held counter pressure on her hips for 12 hours (her husband held pressure for the other 12 hours—it was exhausting.) The nurses changed shifts and changed again, and at some point we got the nurse we started with back (that is when doulas know they have been at a birth for entirely too long.) I was hungry, and so tired, and I was (almost) out of positions or any other helpful suggestion, but I kept going—I had no choice. When it was time to push, this sweet Mama pushed for over 3 hours and just about the time I started to worry that it was never going to end, that I would indeed spend my last days in this hospital, the baby’s head began to crown. The room went silent, and with a few more pushes, that salty baby boy was lifted into his Mama’s waiting arms and I was overcome, again, with all the emotions of watching a woman meet her baby—the baby that she had loved and cared for and worked so hard for. I knew in that instant that I was right where I was supposed to be—I was overwhelmed by knowing that as long as they remember this birth, their most treasured memory, I would be a part of it. What other job do you get to know people so intimately and be invited into such a personal and spiritual place? What other job do you get to sit in people’s homes—all different kinds of people—and hear about their wishes and desires for the most important event ever in their lives together? This is why doulas are honored and privileged to attend births—this is why we continue to work despite long hours and needed sleep. In the end, we get to see love multiplied among a family, and that is all that really matters—loving others with your whole heart.
I started writing this because I wanted to tell you about a day in the life of a doula, but I got sidetracked along the way because I started thinking about mamas and babies and how much I really love this life I am called too. I wanted to tell you about missing important hours (or days) with my family, missing nights of sleep, and countless meals. I wanted to tell you that sometimes being an advocate in a hospital with lots of rules is exhausting work. I wanted to say that having births take a turn you were not expecting is painful—way down deep, and sometimes you cry yourself to sleep (when sleep finally comes) because you wish with all your heart it could have been different. However, just like anything else, the truth bubbled up and my heart became overwhelmed—I thought of each mama’s face and each tiny babies cry. I remembered the dads laughing with joy—deep belly laughs mixed with tears—and like always, everything else just faded away and I was reminded of love. Surely, it will always be enough to keep us going—nourishment for our doula souls.