I remember my first birth. I had read all the books, had my bag of tricks and accompanying savior complex. I knew what birth should look like and I was determined to help my clients have it. It didn’t take long for me to realize just how misguided I was. Below are the five things I wish I’d known when starting out.

Epidurals Aren’t the Bad Guy

I’ll admit it: when I first started working as a doula, I thought part of my job was to keep anesthesia out of the room.  That is, until I saw my first epidural in action. It was amazing. I left a visibly and audibly uncomfortable woman and her exhausted partner, and came back to a family completely at ease. He was sitting down, holding her hand. She was laughing, gobbling up ice chips, and about to settle in for the best nap of her life. And just a few short hours later, they were holding their sweet new baby in their arms. Here’s the deal: epidurals are a safe and effective tool for pain relief. Certainly, not everyone needs or wants medication during their birth. Still, what kind of doula would I be if I didn’t love them [epidurals] and the comfort one can bring to the clients who do?

Your OB Isn’t Either

As a brand new doula, I read, watched and soaked in virtually everything I could about birth. Of course, that included the documentary, The Business of Being Born. At the time, I loved the film, but looking back, I don’t love the way it made me feel about my clients’ care providers. I don’t love the way it made me question their motives. After years of working with dozens and dozens of obstetricians and midwives in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, I can tell you this: their motives are two-fold: (1) the health and wellbeing of their patient and (2) the health and wellbeing of their patient's baby(ies). As with any profession involving humans…there will be differences in the routine of each practice. I’m confident in my clients’ ability to pick the right care provider (and routine) for them. I’m confident in my clients’ abilities to ask for more information if they want it, say “no” if they want to, and “yes” when they’re ready. You won’t get any undermining comments, questions or suggestions from this doula! At least not anymore.

You Really Don’t Need All of That Stuff

To the nurses I worked with in the early days, I must have looked like a walking clown car. I had my bag for personal stuff, my doula bag, my birth ball in a handled bag, and a peanut ball (this was before our local hospitals had them). Now, I’ll admit, the birth ball was really for me (a doula has to sit sometimes, too!)… but all of the rest of the stuff? Most it of was completely unnecessary. I had several varieties of massage tools, candles (I still love my little flameless candles, but I recommend clients bring their own now. Sanitizing those puppies is a pain in the neck), a rebozo (another sanitary nightmare), tennis balls, heat packs, stress balls, hair ties, extra socks (my clients surely couldn’t remember to bring them!), a cooler for ice cold rags (because a basin at the hospital just doesn’t shout DOULA loudly enough), honey sticks, acupressure massage tools, a head scratcher/massage thing that looks a whole heck of a lot like a torture device, combs, chap stick, rice socks, y’all, I even carried playing cards. Playing cards. I was a doula bag marketer's dream! Just guess how much of that stuff I used? My hands. One of my little massage tools every now and again when my hands got tired. My voice. My knowledge. A lot of stuff the hospital already had. I carry one bag now, full of snacks and toiletries for…me.

A Client’s Choice Is Not a Reflection of My Worth as a Doula

I feel like I’ve already alluded to this a bit, but this one deserves its own point. Man oh man, I wish I’d known this a long time ago. If a client consents to something they said they didn’t want prenatally, that’s ok. If a client chooses an induction, even, dare-I-say, an elective induction, that’s ok. If a client decides unmedicated birth is for the birds, that’s ok. Even if they decide they don’t need me, after all, That. Is. Ok. In fact, it’s more than ok. I want my clients to feel reassured in whatever decisions they make. Their choice to do something that maybe they had expressed wanting to avoid does not make me a bad doula. That makes me a doula who is supportive of my clients’ wishes. A doula who can provide a safe space for a person to change their mind. A doula who has no investment in the choices my clients make, only in how they feel. Cutting the ties between my clients’ choices and my doula self-esteem has made me the best possible doula. Imagine that.

This Can Really Be a Career

I worked a full-time “day” job for the first four years of my practice. I wish I’d known from the start how fulfilling doula work could be, not just emotionally, but financially. It’s taken a lot of hard work, dedication, learning how to function without sleep while also not drinking coffee (gross), and a supportive husband (shout out to my main man, Jay) to get me to this point. I get to do what I love and make a living wage at the same time. You can’t beat that.

Interested in becoming a doula? Not sure where to start, what to put in your doula bag, or how to make a successful career out of your passion? Give us a call. At the very minimum, your shoulder will thank you.

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