By Erica Goehring
My first call came at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just as I had been imagining for years! When my cell phone pulled me out of sleep, I sat up quickly, heart pounding. I listened as my client told me that she was on her way to the birth center. Contractions were strong and regular. It was time.
I first learned about doulas in 2008 when I was preparing for the birth of my second child. I was intrigued. When the time was right, I dove into my training with joy. Finally, I would be able to provide the continuous support and encouragement that I believed every new family deserved. That first call came only one month after I completed my training. I had the knowledge; I had the passion, but I would soon learn that the unpredictable nature of birth means I will always be learning, always remaining alert, and always adapting to changing scenarios.
My first birth as a doula was relatively quick, and the parents were experienced, knowledgeable, and beautifully attuned to one another. The experience reinforced all my idealistic daydreams about birth and doula work. I walked away in awe. Birth #2, on the other hand, would last over fifty hours and would require me to dig deep to overcome fatigue, nerves, and a complex medical situation. Of course, my efforts and sacrifice were small compared to the tremendous work of the new parents. These two initial experiences were the education I needed to understand the changeability of my role and the unpredictability of childbirth.
Now, more than five years later, I talk to every client about the mercurial nature of birth. We can create birth plans, but birth is ever-changing. I have heard people scoff about the birth plan, saying “I’m not making a birth plan. You can’t plan birth.” Or some people may say there is no point in trying to “control” birth, so why bother? Knowing what I have seen in my doula work, I can see the temptation to throw up our hands and simply take what comes. Yet, I maintain the importance of recognizing where we do have power and focusing on those factors.
First, I encourage the people I serve to assemble a birth team that reflects their priorities and provides the relationships and resources that allow them to feel safe and supported. A calm, comfortable birth begins with these relationships. Know the statistical outcomes of your local hospital or birth center. Investigate home birth providers in your community. Speak with medical providers about the births they typically support and any factors that would potentially disqualify you from their care. Ask them about how they feel about a variety of scenarios and the elements of birth that are most important to you. A doula who aligns with your goals and understands the atmosphere you wish to create will bring an additional element of stability and confidence.
Secondly, I urge clients to not think of a birth plan as documentation of exactly what they want their birth to be. It is not a script. Rather, the birth plan is a concrete place to record choices and preferences so that parents are not forced to make difficult, uninformed decisions while laboring or during a challenging moment. They can make those important decisions when they are rested, relaxed, and able to do research. Then I encourage them to hold their plans with open hands, knowing that circumstances can bring unexpected scenarios.
Childbirth can bring one surprise after another. Many people feel anxious and even fearful about the unknown of birthing their babies. They may wonder about which doctor or midwife will be on call. They may have concerns about when labor will begin or what pain management might be needed. True, we cannot control all elements of childbirth, but as a doula, I am prepared for the need to make quick pivots in the birth process while always holding a client’s preferences as priorities. When you hire a doula, you still must face many unknowns, but you have the certainty of an unwavering, nonjudgmental companion who is well-versed in the details of pregnancy, birth, and babies. You can know that you will not be left alone, and someone will be cognizant of your needs at all times.
As I wait for my next client to call, I still have many of the same feelings that I had before that first call in 2015. I feel the anticipation of a new experience and the joy of seeing new life. I am humbled by the invitation to be part of a client’s intimate experience. I have an overwhelming sense of responsibility for my client’s well-being and security. I recognize that nobody can anticipate each step and stumbling block of any single birth experience, but I am ready to be a steadfast presence no matter what comes.