The hardest part of being a doula- part 2

I have written before about being on call being a difficult issue for doulas. Many times I get a call from someone wanting to be a doula. But besides the erratic schedules, the need for excellent childcare and a supportive partner- it is essential they understand the idea of being on call. We are on call “officially” for the due month- which is 38 weeks to 42 weeks- but of course if a mom goes prematurely we make sure she has a doula, even if her primary is not available. But there was a conversation today that I wanted to share with you.


When you are a doula, you may be hire months in advance of the woman’s due month. We have folks who hire us as early as 12 weeks- we will not accept a retainer prior to this time. But things come up sometimes unexpectedly. I am not talking about illness or family emergencies- I mean things like a friend’s wedding, a special concert, a last moment opportunity for a vacation, etc. But in Labor of Love’s business workings- we ask that when you are hired by a couple, you are fully available during her due month- meaning those things you want to do that arise are back burnered to the mom in labor. The exception to this is of course if when you are hired- you enlighten a couple to a possible date conflict within their due month and they hire you irregardless- knowing you will have a back up in place when that special event occurs.

Well we discussed as a group today the idea of a couple hiring the group- not a specific doula. We came by this idea based on two things. First since this is a difficult if not the most difficult part of doula work it would make our lives so much easier if we knew specific days we would be on call and days we could be free to do other things without worry about not being there for a mom. Second,we get couples all the time who attend the Meet the Doula Tea and say they would be be happy with any of us.

But as we discussed the logistics of offering this as a potential service at a lower rate than the average doula in our group, we realized it benefited us as doulas but was not in the best interest of the couples. Already moms often have no idea who will be the care provider on call when they go into labor. In fact there are several groups who now share call with other groups- meaning you will not have ever even met the doctor who shows up to catch your baby- he or she has never read your birth plan- has no idea what your birth ideals are- and really is not that concerned about it. Their job is to show up and catch your baby and make medical decisions for you but is not invested in your birth experience outside of that.

Often times a woman will even entertain the idea of induction with all of those risks in order to get her preferred doctor. Although that is not guaranteed either since often inductions go longer than expected and the shift change of on call changes too. The last thing we would want is someone to consider an induction to get their favorite doula who would be on call. The risk of induction is somehow out weighed by the familiarity of desire for those who will attend her. This is awful.

Continuity of care is something we offer. We will stay with you during the duration of your labor- no matter how long. I talked with a doula with another group in town recently who has small children- she said she would not be able to attend a mom irregardless of the length of her labor… she said she would call another “fresh” doula in place. We may call in help to allow us a power nap with the mom still fully supported- at no additional cost to the mom- if her labor went unusually long- but that is rare. We have found we make 97% of our births- the other 3% are covered during those rare occasions when an emergency arises for the primary doula- by a back up doula. The fantastic thing about our company is we have several wonderful doulas who folks get to have met at the teas we do bimonthly.

Penny Simkin was quoted in a publication the IHS Provider page 155 “Doulas “hold women” by supporting them emotionally during their pregnancy, labor, and birth. The doula meets with her expectant mother one or more times before the birth and discusses the mother’s expectations or ideas of what the birth will be like, and issues of importance, such as pain medication preferences or infant feeding choices. During these meetings the doula supplements information the mother has learned in prenatal classes and explores misinformation she may have gleaned from what she has heard or read. The doula empowers the client to eat well, observe healthy lifestyle practices, and exercise, all to prepare for a healthy and positive birth experience. A doula may use this time to enhance communication within the woman’s support network, including family and partner, and/or may give advice about how to communicate effectively with the medical staff.

During early labor, the doula and her birthing partner stay in close contact until the mother needs additional support, at which time the doula will join her, meeting the mother at her birth place. She will then stay throughout the entire labor and birth and for up to two hours during the postpartum period. She will talk about normal contractions with the mother and will provide an objective viewpoint. Knowledge of what is normal replaces fear of the unknown. The doula listens to the mother and responds to her needs. The presence of the doula, who is calm and committed to the mother’s well-being, counteracts the effects of elevated stress hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline), which are released when the mother becomes anxious, fearful, or insecure. A trusting, relaxed mother is able to continue producing oxytocin, which then keeps the labor in its normal rhythm, with the perception of pain diminished greatly. Most importantly, the doula lessens the anxiety of the laboring woman with quiet reassurance and enhancement of the unique talents and strengths the laboring mother brings to the birth.”

And at Labor of Love we agree.“She will then stay throughout the entire labor and birth and for up to two hours during the postpartum period.”

That relationship, “supporting them emotionally during their pregnancy, labor, and birth.” is essential and one we are not willing to compromise by having a varying and rotation of doulas on call for the mom. We love having a well established relationship built prior to the labor and birth. We love the phone calls, the personal talks, the emails along the journey.

So, although it would make our lives easier- we realized it would not be easier for the moms themselves. We want to be the consistent,non variable support to couples in their labor and birth. We want them to know we will do our very best to be with them- the doula they selected as their primary- and insure that is our goal. If it makes our life a bit more difficult, then so be it- we love the work we do. For us it is our calling. We love being with women in birth. We feel blessed to do it. Our families are understanding although it is difficult for them at times. But if they love us and they understand our work is in our hearts and gives us that which we need- they support us none the less.

So, know where our hearts are- with you… for you… in support of you.