Over the last few months, I’ve been asked by several of my real-life friends for advice on if they should become doulas. My heart is always warmed when I hear that people care about pregnancy and childbirth, so I’m always keen to listen and share what I know. However, there’s a lot more to being a doula than what meets the eye, and I think that’s overlooked by many who are interested in it. I thought I’d share a little about my experience with this realization today.
To Doula or Not to Doula
So, if you’re not familiar with what a doula is, I encourage you to read this post. In a nutshell, a doula provides emotional, physical, and informational support for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Technically, there’s no licensing for doulas in the United States, so anyone can wake up and decide to call themselves a doula one day.
The typical route for becoming a certified doula through an agency looks like this: you attend a 3-4 day intensive workshop, you attend ~3 births, you submit paperwork, you read some books, and – BAM – certified. It sounds fairly straightforward and easy, and I guess this part is easy… but a workshop, a couple of births, and paperwork “do not a doula make”.
I’ve been on this journey for about a year now, and I can say with certainty that being a doula is the best job I’ve ever had. I get to support women and families on this journey. I get to be present at the birth of new life. I get to love on new moms and dads when they’ve just made it home and reality sits in. There are a ton of things to love about being a doula.
… But here’s what you don’t see:
First and foremost, I think many people overlook or are unaware that this job comes with a certain lifestyle. This lifestyle means you have to plan your trips well in advance. I’m not talking about big vacations, either. I’m talking about visiting grandma who lives 2 hours away. Being a doula means you can’t just jet off because you might be called to a birth.
This can take some adjustment and a lot of compromise in your day-to-day life. You will live with your phone, off silent, for 3-5 weeks at a time. And eventually, you’ll be awoken in the middle of the night by the “I’m in labor” call. That means you need to go to bed on time (early, even) so that you’re ready when that call happens. Not to mention, better slow your roll on those cocktails… birth waits for no one to sober!
Also, I know that some doulas make an AMAZING living doing this, but I feel like people expect for this to be a viable job for them from the get-go and most of the time, that’s not the case. Most doulas have other jobs, or gigs on the side to allow them to serve families in this way. Doula work is not something you decide to do for the money, and if you’re considering it, you need to think about how you’d really pay your bills. Is your current job flexible enough for you to be able to jet off during a shift because you were called to a birth? If not, it might be time to find a different job, or put a hold on your doula dreams.
Being a doula means that you absorb all the emotion in the room. You’re the rock, the steady one, the one who looks mom in the eyes and tells her that she has what it takes. You’re there for the really, really high times, but you’re there for the really, really low times, too. The fact of the matter is birth is never exactly what we think it will be.
Birth can take days. Interventions (even those that are needed) can lead to some unwelcome realities. Emergencies happen. And, unfortunately, sometimes loss happens. You honestly never know where you’ll end up when you enter laborland, but you need to be prepared for any outcome.
Not surprisingly, these things can take an emotional toll on you, as a doula. When many people imagine doulas, they imagine a bright-eyed cheerleader who spews words of affirmation with a permanent grin plastered across her face.
Let me tell you, when I left my first birth, I was completely and utterly exhausted. My body was tired, but my heart was drained. I had nothing left to give. The birth in and of itself was a good outcome. The problem came with me being completely unprepared for the emotional toll it would take on me to be someone’s “emotional sponge”. As a doula, it’s your job to take whatever emotion is thrown at you, and just soak it in, and let it be. This is why self-care and support from others is so vital for doulas.
I’ve learned a lot since my first days as a doula, and I’m thankful that I’m still learning. I’m glad that I took the plunge and jumped into this work, despite the difficult things about it because I love being the support that my families need and bearing witness to new life. The support I have from my husband and from the other doulas in my collective in invaluable to me and I’m grateful for that, too.
I write this post not to say “DON’T DO IT”. I really just want to share an awareness for those who are considering it. It is heartwarming, fulfilling work, but it doesn’t come without challenges and those are worth noting, too.