Being a birth doula is probably one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. To be at a woman's side, supporting her (and her partner) while she births her baby is an extraordinary privilege. However, thanks to the unpredictable nature of childbirth, one of the aspects of the job that needs to be navigated is the on-call period.
Most doulas are on-call for their clients from ten days prior to their baby’s due date until at least two weeks afterwards. Sometimes, if it’s a multiple pregnancy or the woman knows that her babies tend to come earlier, it can be even longer, resulting in more than a month on-call. This can certainly be a challenge at the best of times, but especially during special occasions like Christmas, when you probably want to spend time with your own family and friends and perhaps have a cheeky festive drink (or two!).
I’ve put together seven of my top tips to help you enjoy your celebrations, while being there for your mum-to-be too.
1. Think before saying yes.
As doulas, particularly in the early days, we'd like to be able to say yes to every birth. But there comes a point where you have to think about your own life, respect your own boundaries and do what's best for you and your family. So think long and hard before agreeing to a Christmas birth. Are you really prepared to miss out on your children opening their presents on Christmas Day? Feel comfortable with ditching the family lunch? Having to cancel parties you've been looking forward to at the very last minute?
If the answer is ‘no’, then don't do it! It's not worth the heartache for you and not fair on your potential client to have a doula whose heart is elsewhere. Perhaps instead you could help the mum-to-be find a doula in your area who might be able to help - there will almost always be someone that is willing to work over the holiday season.
If the answer is ‘yes’, it's important to accept that Christmas may not pan out exactly as you've planned this year and to let go of all expectations. That's not to say you can't have a wonderful and magical Christmas though; in fact what could be more special than helping a woman have an empowering birth experience! A positive, flexible mind-set is everything!
2. Communicate with your client
During your antenatal appointments, make sure your client knows exactly what being on-call means. Let her know you'll always be within a certain distance of her home, won't be drinking that second glass of wine and give her a realistic idea of how quickly you can get to her once her labour starts. Stay in touch with her during the on call period to see how she's doing; even just a text message every couple of days to see how things are going should help alleviate any worries or concerns she (or you!) may have. She will understand that you would like to have as much notice as possible so that you can make alternative arrangements for your family. It’s always a good idea to talk on the phone at least once a week, at an agreed time and day, to get a full update. This is probably best on the day after your client has seen her midwife so that you can get a full picture.
3. Up your self-care
While Christmas is often a time for late nights and over indulgence, it's super important for you to keep on top of your health by making sure you get plenty of rest, nutritious food and at least 2 litres of water every single day, so that you're ready for action as soon as you get the call. Try to take some time for yourself each day away from the chaos of the silly season, to relax and regroup: maybe with a good book, bubble bath or even an afternoon nap. It's so important that you look after yourself, so that you can look after your client during what might be a very long birth. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup! As an added bonus, while everyone is bloated and sick come January, you'll be a glowing beacon of good health!
Women give birth all year round, so the chances are, you won't be the only doula on-call over Christmas. Find your fellow festive doulas by posting on the BirthBliss Doulas' Facebook pages and local doula networks. Let them know you're there! It's always good to support each other and to know you're not alone.
4. Try to keep a normal routine
When you're on-call, it is tempting to put your life on hold and let anxiety take over. Checking your voice mail a hundred times a day, feeling tempted to obsessively text your client, asking for news, not going out through fear of losing signal; we've all been there! Walking on egg shells in anticipation of getting the call isn't helpful, because you could be doing that for weeks. Plus it doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable time for you or anyone around you.
Instead, make plans just like you usually would, no further than an hour’s drive from wherever your client is planning to give birth. Make sure your phone is fully charged; with the volume up and that your client has a backup number for you (home number or your partner's number for example). If you’re out with your family and it's possible to take a separate car - do that. Pack your doula bag in advance and keep it in your car, ready to go whenever you need to.
5. Find interesting alcohol free drinks
It's easy to feel left out during party season when everyone around you is getting merry and you're stuck sipping on mineral water. So why not make things a bit more interesting for yourself by exploring some of the delicious alcohol free alternatives? Most major supermarkets stock delicious alcohol free wines, beers, mocktails and bubbles to suit every taste and are almost as good as the real thing!
The good thing is that you’ll be saving money on taxis as it is usually the doula on-call that will be doing all the driving. That also means you decide when to leave! Believe me, I can take so much and then all of a sudden, I just need to get out and away from all the drunk people repeating themselves.
Watch out for our top picks of alcohol free substitutes, coming to the blog soon!
6. Consider using a backup doula
Sometimes the thought of being on-call for a potentially long stretch of time can be overwhelming, particular over the festive period which is already quite intense. It might be worth considering working with a backup doula, to cover you for a couple of days, giving you some much needed breathing space. Whether this is for a specific event you really want to go to, or just so you can switch your phone off for a couple of days, it might be the break you need to reset.
Providing shared care with another doula over the entire on call period is also worth considering. This way, you can take turn being on-call and also take over from each other during the birth, if it goes on for a long time.
It's important that your client is made aware of any backup or shared care arrangements well in advance of her due date, to make sure there are no surprises leading up to the birth. Ideally, your client should have known this when she booked you and should have met your back up at least once during the antenatal period.
7. Postpone Christmas day – or have two!
Instead of worrying about whether or not you're going to be able to enjoy Christmas Day with your family this year, why not move your celebrations to a different day entirely – or even better, have two! That way, if you do get the call late on Christmas Eve, you'll know you still get to enjoy that delicious turkey! Mind you, I’d get someone else to cook it for you, unless you really enjoy preparing a Christmas meal.
Most of all do your best to enjoy! Supporting a woman during the birth of her baby is an incredible experience, whatever time of year and Christmas brings that extra bit of magic.
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.