At first glance, being a doula might not look all that appealing. The hours are totally unpredictable, you have no real idea when your clients will call you or how long they will need you for, you can only really take on one (sometimes two maximum, when working with a backup) client a month, and there is no guarantee that anyone is going to hire you. No sick pay, no holiday pay, no maternity pay, no end-of-year bonus or swanky Christmas party to attend. Add to that the blank expression you’re often met with when you tell people you’re a doula or they think they’ve misheard you and ask you what jewellery you make (jeweller) or even worse, they think you said dealer! When you try to explain, they’ll often reply, “is that like an unqualified midwife then?” Yes, I’m not surprised when some people might wonder why on earth anybody would choose to be a doula.
The name doula comes from the Greek word meaning, literally, “female slave”. Today though, the word doula has come to represent a person (usually a woman) who offers emotional, practical and informative support to women and their partner, before, during and after childbirth. A doula supports a woman at a birth in a number of ways, such as walking with her, massaging her, comforting her, reassuring her, giving her information, holding a drink to her mouth or wiping her brow, or simply being a quiet presence, so that she knows that there is someone who is there for her, if and when she needs that support. Postnatally, she supports the new mother and the family in a number of ways, such as giving the mum a break to have a sleep, cooking for the family, carrying out some light housework, getting the shopping, doing the laundry, the school run or perhaps even walking the dog. However, being a doula is also so much more than all these things, a sum far bigger than its parts.
It’s about that magical moment when you witness new parents laying eyes on their baby for the first time. The speechless look of understanding you share with a husband as you both massage his labouring wife. The look of triumph on his face when he is the one to catch the baby in the pool. The relief when a needed intervention takes place and everyone hears the words “the baby is ok”. The overwhelming grief, for your clients and for yourself, too, in those extremely rare instances when the baby is not ok. The pride of getting the notes of thanks, stating “we could never have done it without you” (they could have done, I am sure, but I’m always moved to hear it). It’s about the high of the endorphin rush you get after a birth, exhausted yet totally alive, having had an invitation to a front row seat to the initiation of another woman into the world of motherhood. It’s about journeying with a couple into the liminal space between not-quite-parenthood and having a baby in their arms. It’s about sitting with a new mother and holding her hand as she cries and tells you she never knew it would be this hard. Watching her grow stronger and finding her own way as a mother until you hear the words “I guess I don’t need you anymore” and knowing that she is absolutely right.
People say that being a doula is a vocation or a calling, not a career, and I think that is spot on. After being a mother, being a doula is the hardest job I have ever done. It has been heart breaking, exhausting, nerve wracking, and challenging. It has also brought me a deep satisfaction and joy that I never would have thought possible from a “job”. It has given me the freedom to work around my family as my two daughters have grown up, knowing that I would, at most, be away from them for one or two nights a month. Being a doula cultivates your skills to listen to your gut instinct, helps you recognise when you’re going into ‘rescue’ mode instead of staying in ‘supportive’ mode, and alerts you to when you’re trying to overthink what is in front of you instead of accepting it. It’s the great gift of doulaing - personal growth! To really live! To experience the most precious moment in time, over and over again! The birth of a child - the birth of a mother!
When I run my Aspiring Doula courses, I am always humbled by the experiences of the women who sit before me. Some are grandmothers, some are yet to have children. They all have different backgrounds, different family set-ups, and different amounts of pre-existing knowledge and insight into the world of birth and maternity services. But they are all united and drawn together by a deep rooted desire to support, help, nurture, and hold space for their fellow women, as they cross the magical threshold into motherhood. We have so much to learn from each other and the compassion and sisterhood that develops during the days we spend together shows what an impact we could all have in this world if we did this all the time.
So, yes, there are a lot of reasons why someone wouldn’t want to be a doula but for me, all the positive reasons to be a doula, tips the scale in favour! There is nothing else I would rather do!
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.