This year, 2014, I’m hanging up my doula bag. After February, when my last client is due, I’ll be taking no new clients, not until my children are in secondary school. I’ve seen 14 babies born and experienced the joy of working with some of the most courageous, determined and powerful women I have ever met. I’ve had the honour of being invited into their homes and hospital rooms at the most important time in their lives and able to share in the moment that their babies are welcomed into the world. I’ll treasure those moments forever and can remember each and every one in detail.
The births for me were easy to be at; I live a very hectic life and being at a birth is the most exquisite exercise in mindfulness. I love the birth space, of being in that moment, and of being present for that mother and partner without distraction. I would discard my watch, turn off my phone, the lights, shut the door. Tuning into the mother, I learned things about our connection to others in that pause, that island of time that I have read about but not experienced before being a doula. Through the work I discovered a much deeper part of my own femininity. I felt connected to a collective female unconscious that went further than my own mother, grandmother. It has personally been a very healing and enriching experience.
What I found `challenging about being a doula was the on-call period. I live in a rural area. Simple things I took for granted, like travelling to my favourite supermarket or going to the cinema with my boys would sometimes take me too far away from a client. Since many of my clients were over 40 minutes away in the nearest city I was not able to travel very far in the opposite direction. This is much how I imagine it is the US where bigger distances are covered by doula’s.
A couple of prospective clients tried to beat me down on price, and commented on it being expensive. But Doula’s are actually cheap, we have overheads like tax, training, marketing as any normal business does. Being on call doesn’t mean I’m not working either; when I’m on call I have my client in my mind, and am always at the end of the phone. I couldn’t commit to things when on call, like tennis matches for my team (I play competitively), or events like weddings or visiting friends at the weekend. I can’t have a drink either, sometimes for weeks on end. Connections in my own life began to suffer as I let these people down and didn’t see my own friends as much.
I’m not just a doula, but I’m also a hypnotherapist and I run classes, so occasionally I would have to cancel clients at the last minute or ask someone else to run my class. I always swallowed that financial loss because I loved what I did. My husband started to call it a hobby.
I would have been awake for anything between 24 and 40 hours (births usually mean going without sleep for at least a night) and would have to drive home. There is no option to sleep over if you have been at a hospital. In rural areas we don’t have the luxury of city transport systems, affordable taxis, buses, trains or tubes that run on a regular basis. Once I think I fell asleep at the wheel -I jerked and found myself heading towards an embankment at the side of the road. My husband recently did some work at the BMA to highlight working hours for doctors pointed out to me that studies show if you haven’t had sleep for around 24 hours you are functioning in the same way as someone over the limit.
But the final decision came, after my husband told me that my 9 year old son was like one of the Zombies out of ‘Walking Dead’ when he was roused from his slumbers at 7am, ‘sleep eating’ his breakfast, so that my friend Katie could pick him up while I was a birth. I knew that enough was enough. I had to spend more time with my children, and when I was on call I wasn’t ‘with them’.
I’m not 100% sure that I’ll ever take down my doula bag again. I’ll wait until my children are at secondary school and more independent, then think again.
I am totally in awe of the women who have been doula’s or independent midwives for many years, and who are constantly on call. It takes a certain type of dedication and strength, both physically and emotionally, to be able to hold a space for a woman over weeks, sometimes months, whilst keeping your own life in tact outside of that space.
I hope that doula work becomes recognised and valued for what it really is other than by doula’s, birth workers and the people they care for. These are women who have little more motive than to give other women the continued care that a doula or independent midwife can offer and who believe very strongly in women’s right of choice and dignity in childbirth. They embrace the mother and her partner with the undistracted support, trust and love that a woman needs in order to make informed choices and experience birth positively whatever path their birth takes. A doula can help a woman feel valued, listened to and most of all make sure that she is treated with compassion and love.
For now, I’m going to shift my focus to private classes in The Midlands and London as well as building Mindful Mamma into a great online resource on the tails of the ‘Mindful Hypnobirthing‘ book launch in March. I couldn’t possibly give it up completely……
Find out more about why women enjoy working as doulas, and birth workers at this ongoing project by Maddie McMahon #feministbirth