When I first wrote this post, it was intended to be something like “5 Reasons You Should Hire a Doula” or “Meghan Markle Had a Doula, and Here’s Why You Should Too”, but….the more I wrote, the more I really didn’t like the tone.
Frankly, I think that pregnant people receive plenty of (read: too many) messages about what they should be doing. Everybody from grandparents and care providers to the What to Expect franchise and social media influencers has an opinion on what’s best for you (despite your uncanny ability to care for yourself and make your own decisions for most of your life before pregnancy).
Of course, I think doulas are awesome, and if you’re looking for it, there’s plenty of evidence proving that our presence can reduce unnecessary interventions and improve birth and postpartum outcomes, but I don’t want to tell you why I think you should hire a doula to support you during birth or postpartum. Instead, I’m going to tell you why I love being a doula and give you my perspective on the work we do. This work is extraordinary, and I love it because:
1) I get to be there solely for my clients
A major facet of my work as a birth doula happens during prenatal visits.
During that time together, I get to know so much about my clients – what brought them to pregnancy, their desires, dreams, and fears about birth and parenthood or adding a new member to their family, the emotional or physical trauma they may have overcome to get to this point or are still working through, their sense of humor, the role partners hope to play in the birth experience, among other things.
I typically spend hours communicating with my clients throughout our time together. I speak with them over the phone and via text, attend hospital tours and doctors’ appointments. I listen intently to what’s going on with them physically, emotionally, and mentally. That’s not to say that I’m the sole person my clients have throughout their journey, because the majority of the time, I’m not.
Often, though, I am the only person in the birth room other than a partner who has had access to all of this vital information about them.
I’ve encountered many incredible and hard-working nurses, midwives, and OBs in my life and work. They are also very busy people. They may have multiple births happening at once, charts that are overdue, or an emergency that needs their attention. Does that mean they aren’t amazing at their jobs? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that they more often than not don’t have a lot of extra time to spend with people in labor. They don’t typically have a spare moment to fill up a water bottle, squeeze hips for hours, or make sure that a partner is applying counter-pressure just right.
Because of the unique nature of my job, I get to be there through it all- no shift changes. If labor is 36 hours, I’m there for 36 hours, and if at hour 37 my client is ready to throw in the towel, I get to remind them of all of the hard work they’ve put in to get to that point. I get to help their partners find the words of encouragement they need to hear, and I get to witness the moment when they find their own power, after months of preparation.
No shift changes.
2) I get to be a walking, talking encyclopedia of all things pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
I was fascinated by the process of pregnancy, birth, and the incredibly complex nature of becoming a parent for many years before I became a mother myself.
When I was in high school, I was surrounded by young women my age who were having babies. A few times, I had the privilege of walking through that journey with them, and it changed my life. I’ve sustained a passion for supporting women in every profession I’ve had (and I’ve had quite a few in my short time- kindergarten teacher, hotel maid, grant-writer, waitress, data analyst, and middle-school teacher).
My bookshelves are filled with textbooks and research articles about everything from the racial disparities in our reproductive healthcare system and human trafficking to pregnancy and birth support and how to nurture postpartum mamas and families, and I’m always searching for more. My previous clients will tell you that if they asked me something I didn’t know the answer to, I didn’t stop until I found one.
I believe we’re probably still missing a lot of literature about how to support people who are giving birth but are not women in their hearts and don’t prefer to be called “mamas”, single parents (both by choice and not), same-sex couples, adoptive parents, and many other family dynamics that don’t fit into the very small space that exists in information about pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. As a birth worker, I get to collaborate with families constructed in all kinds of ways, and many brilliant people in my community.
3) I get to be an informed advocate both in and out of the birth room.
There’s a common misconception that doulas will only want to work with you if you’re planning an un-medicated birth or a homebirth. I’ve had clients say to me in interviews, “I don’t want to have an epidural, but if I do, is that okay with you?”
Listen, I’ve been to home births and hospital births, medicated and un-medicated births alike that were all powerful, moving, and incredible to witness. I gave birth to my son in a hospital and had a really lovely experience!
That said, I have seen some things in hospital births that I didn’t like, and they weren’t epidurals. It’s no secret that our maternal medical system has issues with poor patient care, racism, and intervention without informed consent.
Does that mean that I think you should have to give up your desire or need for a hospital birth and have your baby in your living room or a forest instead? Absolutely. Not.
It means that I believe that every birthing person deserves someone with them before, during, and after labor to empower them with information and aid them in using that information to advocate for themselves.
It means that I don’t believe that the maternal health issues we’re facing as a culture fall on the shoulders of new parents in the delivery room. My position as a birth worker puts in me in the unique position to send letters to heads of hospitals and legislators, to have real conversations and forge positive relationships with OBs, midwives, and nurses – because it is OUR job to make sure that every person in our care has their needs met with compassion, dignity, and respect.
Where you choose to give birth and how you choose to manage your pain are not what matter most to me, and I didn’t become a doula so that I could just be one more person telling you what you should do with your body. I became a doula so that I can help you be the person who tells everyone else when and how you’re going to give birth, and feel damn sure that those choices are exactly that – yours.
4) I’m just a regular mom who has given birth and navigated life postpartum,
and I was not perfect at any of it. As a birth and postpartum doula, I get to witness people during this amazing, sacred, at-times overwhelming, complicated experience and hold them when it gets hard. I want everyone who is having a baby, who just had a baby, who have lost a baby or desperately want one, to know that they are not alone.
The reality is that these journeys can be isolating, especially in our ever-changing culture. Sometimes it seems that there are lots of people with voices and hardly any willing to listen. I want to be that person. Sometimes I get to be that person, awake with a new mom at 3 AM who’s still figuring out breastfeeding a few days in and is feeling kind of over it. I fill up her water bottle, bring her a snack, and I listen. I let her know in whatever way she needs that she is not alone, just as someone did for me when I most needed it. I get to do dishes and prepare meals and let new parents get a full night’s sleep.
One of the doulas who serves as constant inspiration to me, though I don’t personally know her, is Anjelica Malone. She said in her article for Mama Glow, when speaking about accessing her deeper self and intuition in order to support a client, that “No doula training alone could have fully equipped me to serve her in the way that she needed.” This is a sentiment felt by every doula I know – that this job requires so much more than our certification and hours of trainings.
I have worked hard to study and learn and be where I am now, but there are things about this work that no book or class could have ever taught me. My compassion for my clients comes from a deep well of personal experiences, including my own journey into (and now in the thick of) motherhood.
I get to share a lot of things with my clients, and I am deeply grateful that this bizarre and beautiful and humbling experience of being a parent is one of them.
Since the presence of my doula at the birth of my son, I’ve been in awe of the passion and love in this work. Whether you’re someone who came to this post as part of your search for a doula, you’re a birth worker, or just a curious someone - thank you for reading, and I hope you found what you were looking for.