I have been a childbirth educator, breastfeeding counselor, doula, and student or assistant midwife for about 4 or 5 years now. It’s my passion. I have had my own natural births, some at home, some at the hospital, and even got to witness #5 being brought into the world. Birth is amazing. It’s natural and powerful and life changing. Every single time.
For those that don’t know what a doula is, here’s a brief elevator speech: Doula is Hebrew for “woman servant”. I say I’m like a personal assistant, only at your birth. My job at a labor is to encourage, support, and advocate for the mom’s wishes in her birth. I do everything from educate, inform, research, help with birth plans, and listen, listen, listen; to helping them decide when to go to the hospital, breathing with the mom, boosting dads confidence, back rubs, and calmly telling mom she isn’t really going to die and this will be over soon. I’m on call for 2 weeks before and after the due date, ready to be at the mom’s side day or night. I might be at a labor for 2 hours or 36 hours. Then I help them transition into their new family roles. The best part of being a doula is being there to support the parents, but I have no medical responsibility. I almost always doula hospital births, as moms prefer more advocacy to feel confident.
I also was a student midwife but gave that up for now about a year ago. I still assist on occasion. I work for the home midwife in town. We attend home births in our town and nearby. I help her take vitals, monitor the baby, chart, and be a cheerful gofer for whatever she or the laboring mom might need. The big difference is that while a doula is hands-on, constantly supporting and encouraging and cheerleading, a midwife usually has a hands-off approach, quietly supporting with physical presence, only stepping up to help if the mom asks. The more we can leave the mom and her partner be, the smoother labor goes when one is at home. We focus on the medical, and are there to guide the baby and mom through the process safely. We monitor mom and baby, are trained to watch for emergencies for transport and are also trained to handle most, though very rare, emergencies at home. The thing I love about assisting is that home births are calm and peaceful and amazing, but there’s a huge element of responsibility attached.
The best part about birth, is like I said, it’s almost always at night. Most births I attend pick up during the night, baby is born, and I’m back home near day break. Several births I’ve attended I’ve left the house when everyone was asleep, and walking in the door minutes before my early, early, early risers wake. So often the kids never know I am gone! My favorite story is a few years back I snuck out of the house around 2am. My then-husband was sleeping and I just slipped out. I got back home a few hours later. Around 6 am when it was time to get the kids to school I begged for just another hour of sleep. He questioned, “why are you so tired?” “I was at a birth all night!” Recently, I told one of the local midwives I would cover her assistant being on call for a few nights but apparently neglected to tell my wife I was on-call, figuring the odds were pretty low. So when I started getting texts at midnight and woke her to tell her I would be back in a few hours, needless to say, she was a bit surprised. I was back to bed before sunrise! I love having a very part time job that is so unobtrusive to our family life! Yes, it’s getting a bit more difficult to lose that much sleep some times, but I only have a birth every once in a while. When I first started attending births, my reasoning was that I basically hadn’t slept in 10 years anyway (nursing babies!), so since I’m up, I might as well be working. Now that I get a decent night’s sleep, it’s harder to do, but worth it. I don’t like to miss a single second of snuggle time with my wife, but she’s so supportive of my practice, I just look forward to getting home!
I write this as I was yet again witness to the miracle of birth at a home just last night. I got a heads up about an impending labor at 6, served dinner to the family and went for a run with my wife (phone in hand!), crawled in bed for 5 minutes before I got the text to head out. I left home around 9pm and came home by 2 am. Another birth, another miracle of life that I got to witness! I feel so honored to be part of this pivotal moment in people’s lives.