In August 2014, the Yahoo Contributor Network was shut down. All the copyrights to articles thereon were returned to their authors, so I decided to publish certain articles of mine, originally written for Yahoo UK on my own blogs. This is one of them.
"This will be you next," said the midwife. I paused for a second, slightly confused. I was crouched on the sofa in my client's living room, holding her foot and whispering words of encouragement while she brought her baby into the world. I was also 28 weeks pregnant, with a nearly-two year old at home; but at that moment, I was just a doula, a humble servant to the needs of a woman bringing life into the world. There is no room for both, I had left myself outside the door.
This is how it is in my profession. There is no room for ego, there is no opportunity to be tired. Meals are a low priority, that toilet break will just have to wait. When a woman is in labour, everything else is secondary, I am there to serve, from the moment she calls until she no longer needs me.
As a mother to young children, much of the same applies. When your children are your most important priority, how can you afford the same privilege for your client?
The answer lies in your own support. In order to "let go" and focus on her client, the doula must know that her children are in good hands. While the doula is on call 24 hours a day for around four weeks, her childcare must be too. This often means having several options; one relay and an organisational chart to help her remember who she needs to call at 3am on a Thursday. As a mother employing a doula, it may be useful to discuss her arrangements with her, for your peace of mind. I never trouble my clients with issues that need not affect them, but always disclose any that might.
Postnatal doulas provide support for mothers with newborns. We make sandwiches, help around the house and provide a shoulder to lean on. Many mothers find it really useful to have someone visiting regularly in the first few weeks and months. Paying for a postnatal doula is an excellent gift from far-flung family members to a new mum they are unable to support themselves.
I find postnatal doula work much easier to fit into my family life, as it is predictable and easy to plan around childcare arrangements. I love spending time with new mums, and it is a pleasure to be able to help them, although sometimes I think I could do with my own doula!
One family I was working with had a little boy the same age as my own. On days when my work was to be focussed around taking care of the older child, my child could come with me and they played together. This doesn't always work well, it blurs the lines between the obligations of a mother and a doula, so it is really important for a doula and client to keep an open dialogue and be prepared to alter their arrangements to best serve the client's family.
Birth doula work is more of a challenge. Doulas form a close relationship with our clients, so it is usual that we have advanced warning that a woman might be going into labour; but there is always the chance that it might come out of the blue. I spend my on-call weeks never out of arm's reach of the phone, and always conscious of who I need to call myself when the time comes.
The birth went well. I left the client's house elated; it was gone midnight. Mother, father and baby were cuddled up on the sofa drinking champagne. As I closed the door behind me, I realised how very, very tired I was. I drove home, crawled into bed and wrapped my arms around my sleeping child. Attending a birth is so very rewarding, but there is nothing quite like coming back and being Mummy again.