What Doulas Do, Part 1

So what do doulas… you know… do?

The World: So what did your doula… you know… do?

Me: Do?

The World: Yeah, do? Did she massage you? Positions? Bring a unicorn?

Me: HA! Not much. Not like that. I mean we called her and she showed up about 3-4 hours before the baby was born. She was there. Mostly I remember her sitting on a chair. And then I remember her hand somewhere on my body during pushing. And then *I* don’t remember anything else.

The World: Wow.  So…. You’re not really selling this doula thing

Me: Let’s chat:

We didn’t hire a doula for the first birth. I mean, they’re expensive, and what do they do anyway? They don’t do any medical stuff. And how much support does someone really need, plus, my husband would be there. And my mom. And I even wanted my BFF to be there.

Here was our team:

Me – Never had a baby before. Never been a part of a birth. Thought birth was scary. Wondered who gave me permission to have a baby in the first place. Felt like a fake adult.

My Partner – Never had a baby before. Never been a part of a birth.  Thought birth was scary. Wondered who gave him permission to have a baby in the first place. Felt like a fake adult.

My Mom – Had three kids, but never had been a part of a birth… And I’m her oldest child, only daughter, and this was to be her first Grandchild.

My BFF – No kids, never been a part of a birth, her mom was dying (so she was emotionally so thin), and this was a complicated time.

The Hospital – We had never had met any one of the people who were providing me care before. They were there on the day(s) I was in the hospital because they were scheduled to be there. It was their job.

Needless to say, it was a bit of a shitshow (in my opinion – to hospital staff, it was a pretty normal birth). A COMMON shitshow. I mean, my birth was nothing new. I could tell my story to any other mom in the neighborhood and there would be common threads: Didn’t know what we were doing. Harder then I expected (which is hilarious. I mean, everyone told me how terrible it was going to be, even with all that it was still harder then I expected). Thank god for epidurals. Needed pitocin. Blood pressure dropped (this was always told with a bit of drama like I had a very unusual experience and I was a medical marvel for needing it and surviving it), but at the end of the day, thank god the baby was healthy.

I’ll admit. We congratulated ourselves on the money saved by not hiring a doula. I mean, what could she have done anyway?


18 months later I’m pregnant again. This time though… I don’t want the same experience as before. I’ve heard different stories since I became a mom. I’ve heard positive birth stories. I’m curious. I hire a doula. I don’t care about the money.

So what does my doula do?

She is there for my whole pregnancy. I call her, email her with questions, worries. She’s a confidante for me during the process. I’m still scared of birth. But she reassures me and tells me stories about birth, and gives me recommendations of books to read. She encourages me and fills in the blanks for me about my expectations of what my hospital can do.

She’s part of my tool box. I feel better because I know she is there.

And then we get to the birth. And you know… did she DO much? Nope.  And I’m so glad she didn’t. Because she saw that I was doing what I needed to do. And she stayed there. Quiet. Holding space. Ready to jump in if I needed it. I didn’t. But she was there.

Did we spend a lot of money for someone to sit on a chair while I labored?  Sure if you want to look at it that way. I know where that money went though. That woman helped me feel sane for six months. She was on-call for me for weeks around my EDD. While I didn’t need a lot of contact with her during those weeks, I know that she stayed local, she let her friends and family know that she had a client. She helped my husband be a rock star. I know she gave him thumbs up and gentle suggestions during the birth when he would glance over at her (he randomly told me this later – he didn’t see the value in it frankly, but I did.) Behind the scenes I know she got washcloths and ice for me and handed the cold washcloth to my husband to put on my head.

Even more so, I trusted her in that I knew she cared if I had a good experience or not. No one else in that room did. Even my husband. He cared that the baby and I came out of it, but not if it was good for me.

Now that I’ve been a professional doula for over a decade I know that a lot of people struggle to understand what it is that we do. And sometimes we struggle to find the language that will provide accurate expectations of what we do as well as express the value. I’ve learned that there isn’t a particular kind of person who gets it, but the people who do, really do.  We don’t ever sell doula services, because if I have to “sell” you on me – you are going to be let down.

Sometimes doulas are hired for first births, and do their job so well, that the parents aren’t sure what the doula “did”. Usually not until they have a second birth without the doula. (Which is heartbreaking for us to hear about.)

Sometimes parents are like me after the first birth. Didn’t hire a doula, couldn’t imagine what difference they could have made, and are pretty vocal and opinionated about how doulas couldn’t possibly be worth the money.

(I only changed my mind after some very compassionate people told me that I was full of shit about what doulas do. It was life changing obviously. Not just because I eventually became a doula, but I learned to stop listening to people who acted like experts about something they had never experienced. This has proven invaluable)

The people who have a good experience with doulas are usually people who know, somehow, that they are out of their element with this new experience. They are usually people who tip generously. They value experiences over things. They don’t hesitate to reach out for support in other areas of their lives. We are not a good fit for everyone obviously.

But if you are on the fence about what a doula does, I hope that this post has helped a little.

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