What’s it Like to Be a Birth Doula?
by Tracy Hartley

Tracy Hartley is a mother, grandmother, and DONA certified doula who runs Birth Empowerment Support Team (B*E*S*T) Doula Service. B*E*S*T Doula Service provides birth doulas and referrals to postpartum doulas for childbearing families throughout the greater Los Angeles area. B*E*S*T can be reached at (877) 436-8528 or visit their webpage at http://www.bestdoulas.com. You can also e-mail tracy at tracy@bestdoulas.com.

Since becoming a birth doula, my life has become unpredictable, ever-changing, exhausting and full of wonder and miracles. As a doula, personal freedom is a thing of the past. I wear a pager and carry a cell phone wherever I go. When I go out with friends, I have to take my own car, and can forget about that occasional glass of wine at a party!

When the phone rings in the middle of the night, I have to wake up alert and cheerful, and not become resentful if it’s a nervous mommy or daddy with a question. If it’s a mom in labor , I need to be wide awake, fully alert, showered, with my teeth brushed, birth bag packed, birth ball inflated, and cooler packed in a matter of minutes. I have to be on the road, having eaten a meal that will sustain me for a while, kissed my family good-bye, made arrangements for my next day’s appointments to be canceled or changed, and notified my back-up.

When I attend a birth, I’m on my feet for an average of 24 hours, my hands, arms and back aching from massaging and applying counter pressure to a laboring woman’s lower back. I’ve been thrown up on, bled on, punched, bitten, yelled at and sworn at. I’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, movies, dinners, parties, time with my granddaughter and sleep -‑ lots of sleep!

I’ve met many incredible women and helped them to discover a strength inside themselves that they never knew they had, and that they will have forever. I’ve witnessed the first breath, first sight, first cry, first taste of nourishment from mother’s breast for many amazing newborns. I’ve seen couples bond in a way that even they didn’t know was possible. I’ve seen men cry for the first time in their adult lives.

I’ve helped partners become totally involved in the birth of their child, much to the surprise and delight of the laboring woman, who thought she had hired me because she wouldn’t get any support from her partner. I encourage the partner’s participation and help empower the couple so that by the time the baby is born, they are strong and bonded, working together to nurture their new baby.

I’ve heard doctors and nurses admit that a client of mine would have had a cesarean delivery if I hadn’t been there to help her, and that they (the medical staff) had never seen a natural birth in their entire careers and that I’ve changed forever their perspective on birth.

The first time a nurse said she was amazed by the completely natural, unmedicated birth she’d just witnessed — her first in several years of being an OB/GYN nurse, I would have thought she joking if she hadn’t been so obviously awestruck. The second time I heard it, I was even more surprised because I could no longer believe the first instance had been a fluke. And when a doctor said it, I knew that I was not only being a doula to my client, but to all the women these nurses and doctor would work with in the future. These medical personnel now believed that a woman could give birth, without any medical intervention, and that belief, in itself, would help more women believe in themselves.

So, what’s it like to be a doula? It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had plenty, from dog trainer to air traffic controller to house painter to photographer! If you’ve given birth, that will help, but it’s not a requirement. What you need is a calm and gentle presence, an innate belief in a woman’s ability to give birth and a willingness to support another woman’s goals for her birth, even if they don’t match your own goals. You’ll need to be able to temporarily suspend your own life and the concerns that go with it while you totally focus on a woman who is working so hard to bring a new life into the world – and you are rewarded by getting to be there as a witness to this miracle!

Being a birth doula is an honor and a privilege. I feel so lucky to be allowed to become a part of another family, however briefly, during this most intimate and loving time in their lives.