There are so many ways to support a laboring woman and the tools that people find valuable, vary from person to person. Take a closer look at some of what I have in my doula bag. These are some of my favorite ways to support.
The best ways to bring support to a laboring woman is with good old fashion emotional connectedness and information. However, I find that the tools mentioned above are highly useful and appreciated.
I went from working very predictable and typical hours, to a job that is widely on-call. Some of the work I do these days can be pre-planned and arranged (such as prenatal, postpartum and overnight support) however the bulk of what I do is attend births and those are hard to plan around.
People have the notion that their baby will be delivered on their due date, but the truth of the matter is that due dates are just rough estimates based on the last date of menstruation. No one can accurately predict the day that their baby will be born even if they know the exact date of conception and your baby certainly isn’t keeping track. Babies come when they’re ready. Luckily we have estimated due dates because they give us a ballpark idea of when to expect the baby but knowing exactly when is near impossible (outside of scheduling a cesarean). Even once labor has begun, it’s hard to predict how long it will last before your little one arrives. Throw in prodromal labor (contractions that can begin anytime at term and last for a few days to a week) and Braxton hicks (“false labor”), and you’ll start to see the value in going with the flow.
As a birth worker, this has been a difficult transition for me. There have been times when I’ve received word that a client believes labor has begun but she isn’t quite ready for me to join her yet. I have sat on the edge of my bed, frozen, like a statue. Afraid to start anything (like cooking or cleaning) and afraid to exert any energy for fear that when it’s time for me to join I’ll be exhausted, or asleep.
The last time this happened, I knew I had to develop a plan to help myself cope with being on call, and here it is…
Live my life. If I was heading to the gym, or the store, or was about to start cooking dinner, then I will continue to do what I intended on doing. Being fully supportive to my clients doesn’t have to include putting my life on hold. When they’re ready for me I will put everything down, but in the meantime, I must go on as I normally would.
Don’t be afraid of being tired. I know for a fact that when it is time for me to join my clients, my adrenaline kicks in and I am filled with energy and ready to work! I know that since I am a doula full-time now I don’t have to worry about being rested for any other jobs and after the birth, I can come back home to sleep and recharge as necessary. I also stock red bull in my fridge now. This has more of a placebo effect than anything else. Knowing that it’s there gives me peace of mind, even if I never drink it.
Change my client’s ringtones. If I do fall asleep or find myself in noisy New York streets, a brash and startling ringtone will do the trick to make sure I never miss a call.
Schedule the classes that I teach online to be lighter around my clients EDD (estimated due date). I have already come to terms with the idea that sometimes I might have to cancel classes in order to support my clients, and by scheduling fewer classes in the first place I reduce my chances of having to cancel at all. Luckily my teaching job is pretty flexible and I can make up classes on the weekends or any other time, really.
Handling an on-call life has been a challenge for me, but I’m happy that I took the time to figure out how to best support myself so that I can best support my clients.
As of today I have received my doula certification and have attended 5 births. I’ve had some clients deliver with an epidural and others who did not. I’ve been in attendance during vaginal deliveries as well as cesarean sections. Some clients were medically induced while others experienced spontaneous labor at home. After some births, my body has been physically drained and sore. After other births, I feel energized and ready to take on the rest of my day. The support I’ve provided has been as diverse as each of the women receiving the support.
Since I have begun my doula training, I vowed to myself to be dedicated to learning about research and evidence-based information. My dedication was due to apprehension that I would find an overwhelming amount of misinformation based on fear, old wives tales, and anecdotes. I have been pleasantly surprised by the volume of research that is available and the dedication of other birth workers in obtaining and sharing information based on research, data, and statistics.
The majority of my interest lies in helping my clients manage their pain and discomfort during labor and delivery. Three themes keep showing up: support, placebo effects, and perception of pain. These themes are a reminder of the power of the mind.
People feel and perform better when they perceive themselves to be in supportive environments. Support is relative and varies by individual and preferences. If my clients get what they want, they will feel supported and have a more satisfying birthing experience.
A client who gets an epidural after wanting a completely natural birth will feel dissatisfied. A client who gets an epidural after expecting, wanting and requesting it, will feel satisfied. It isn’t the epidural it’self that is causing these feelings, however, it is the expectations around the birthing experience. When our expectations are met, we feel content and fulfilled.
Since coming to this realization I have shifted the conversations that I have with my clients from spewing information and tricks of the trade to me listening to their hopes, wishes, and fears. I don’t have a magical doula wand or pixie dust that eliminates pain but I do have some experience, an ear to listen, a heart filled with good intention and a bag with some tools to help my clients customize a birthing experience that they won’t want to forget.