Through a convergence of circumstances, I was enlisted to sign up for a Doulas Of North America (DONA) training class last fall. I completed the course even though the circumstances around why I was enlisted to certify as a doula changed. Seeing as how I usually like to finish the things I start, I am going to go ahead and complete the certification, and thanks the confidence and trust of our SPB students, I will get to complete at least three births as a doula this year.
I would like to chronicle some of the things that I am learning along the way. Although there are certainly enough organizations willing to certify that you have taken their course, and definitely lots of people who will help you promote the business for a fee, there is surprisingly little information out on the web on “how” to be a doula – what do you do once you complete your course and you are seeking work as a doula?
So here is a look into my doula bag, and a growing list of lessons I am learning . I am fortunate to be part of a doula network in Phoenix, AZ, so I can ask questions there and save myself some “hard-way” lessons. Sadly, some of the lessons listed below have been learned by making mistakes and learning from them – hence noting them here as well so the lesson stays “learned”.
Please feel free to add your best tips and tricks in the comments section. I am new to this in a “professional” capacity and would be happy with any information to learn and grow as a doula as I serve the families who have asked me to be their doula this year.
Lord, please bless my head, my hands and my heart as I help (family) with the birth of their child. Bless my head so that I can have the presence to quiet my thoughts and only offer clear and valuable information. Bless my hands so that they are in the right place at the right time with the right touch or tools. Bless my heart so I can hear what the mother and her coach need, and respond with the words and encouragement they need when they need it. Let me offer support without being the support. Thank you for the honor and privilege of assisting in your miracle of pregnancy and birth. Above all, let me work honor you and your wonderful creation.
I also say or sing the “Our Father” as I drive to the birth.
In my doula bag:
- Massage tools: acupressure ball, knobbly back massager, tennis balls, rice sock (fresh one for each birth – leave it as a gift for mama to use in case of engorgement), two sizes of pool noodles to use for either counter-pressure or rolling pin
- Affirmations and relaxation scripts
- Visual of labor positions so mom can point if she can’t talk
- Lotus Wei Flower Essence Mists: Quiet Mind, Inner Love, Inner Peace, Joy Juice, Pure Energy – more about how they are beneficial HERE
- Notebook and two pens for taking notes about birth
- Amber bracelet – for positive and healing energy for my body as I use my resources to serve others
- Bracelets Puma made for me to keep my family close even though I can’t be with them
- Change of clothes
- Wash cloths
- Wet bag
- Snacks: nuts, sandwiches cut into quarters, apple slices, cheese
- Ginger Mints
- Chap stick
- Hand sanitizer
- Hair brush
- Hair ties
- Mirror – “just in case” baby arrives before medical team – I HOPE NEVER TO USE THIS!!
- Flashlight – “just in case” baby arrives before medical team – I HOPE NEVER TO USE THIS!!
- Latex gloves – “just in case” baby arrives before medical team – I HOPE NEVER TO USE THESE!!
Lessons learned so far:
1.) Even if you come in as a “pinch hitter”, it’s important to set up time to do a pre-natal visit to get to know the couple in their space, to hear what their vision is for their birth, and learn what they want from a doula so you can best serve them.
2.) Keep all cars in the family with a full tank of gas – you never know when “the” call is going to come, and I certainly don’t want to stop at a gas station in the middle of the night to fill up.
3.) Live your life even if your client is possibly in labor – just live it in two cars. I would have missed out on a lot of living if I just sat by the phone waiting for “the” call. Even though it wasn’t as convenient, traveling in two cars allowed me to spend time with our children before I was away for the better part of two days.
4.) Always bring a sweater and your own blanket – wherever the birth space is expected to be.
5.) Get sleep – lots of sleep – around the time of your client’s EDD. Don’t stay up writing, reading, messing around on the internet – you will be so grateful for the sleep! (It was nice to be fully present without the queazy stomach I get with a caffeine buzz.)
6.) Ask about the family’s shoe policy in their home – on, off, don’t care?
7.) Travel with snacks that don’t release a potentially offensive odor to the laboring mother’s nose. So far, cashew butter-and-jelly sandwiches, apples, and cheese sticks have been my mainstay.
8.) Go to at least one prenatal visit with your client so that you can meet the care provider, ask them what they expect from doulas, do they have any do’s and dont’s, etc. Only if they ask, offer your viewpoints – otherwise silence is golden. I find it paves for a smoother experience if I walk in humbly and respectfully with no expectations to be acknowledged for what I know about true, natural, uninterrupted childbirth, which is of course not medical – which is why I emphasize that I am for labor support only.
9.) If you have to have anything signed by a care provider, ask them if they would be willing to sign your paperwork at the birth (so you don’t have to try and chase them down later), and when the appropriate time would be to request that signature.
10.) If you have been asked to photograph, clarify which takes precedence: pictures or hands-on labor support?
11.) NEVER OFFER MEDICAL ADVICE – more about that HERE. The doula role is purely one of support in pregnancy if requested and through the process of labor, and if you offer services, in the postpartum period. Never say anything that you will regret, or as wise people have said, you wouldn’t want to see printed as a headline on the front page of a newspaper.
12.) As tempting as it is, try not to make any predictions about the progress of labor. It was terrible to say, “It looks like you are in active labor!” and then the mother was not 🙁
In the future, I will keep pointing out all the signs of progress, and keep encouraging the mother and the partner to celebrate all the progress and invite them to keep letting go.
13.) I am so glad I learned this in doula training, and my trainer didn’t seem to think this was common knowledge. The tool is to use the concept of a cocoon to protect a mother who is not comfortable being vulnerable. Basically, create a word picture for the mother that this birth is a cocoon, all the things that have hurt her are outside the cocoon, and it is safe for her to welcome her baby into this cocoon. She is safe and the baby are safe inside this birth space. It would have been helpful for me to hear this as a survivor of sexual trauma, and I can see how this concept would apply in so many situations and dynamics that we may not be privy to, but can sense if labor isn’t progressing.
14.) Two positions for every doula to keep in her tool box: Deep chest – knee inversion and the pelvic floor release. Both are ideas for babies that are not in an optimal fetal position and labor is slow to start or stalling.