Birth Doulas always sleep with one eye and both ears open. Make our phones ring in the night, and before you even say “hello”, our scrubs are on and we’re headed out the door. Our devotion and commitment to families and to honoring the sacred experience of childbirth is unwavering. While this job provides financial stability for our families, we really become rich from the encounters we have and the relationships we build. We are invested in the families we serve.
While attending births, I imagine myself to be a part of the laboring woman’s family. I feel it. I feel that I have a relationship with her that surpasses anything that could be contractually agreed upon. Outside the home or the delivery room of the expectant family, nothing exists. This commitment is exemplified in the emotions I feel and exchange.
When I first became a Doula, I felt that boundaries were necessary. While I provided compassionate and genuine care, I always kept a guard up. I’m not sure if this was a strategy to protect myself, or an effort to ensure I could maintain a poker face, if necessary (I’m often accused of having overly-expressive facial expressions). Besides shedding a couple happy tears immediately after birth, I kept my emotions hidden.
Without an immediate outlet for my feelings, I harbored them. I can distinctly remember the birth experience of a new mother who labored for nearly forty hours before having a belly birth. From the start of the induction to immediate recovery from general anesthesia, I felt so much. I felt excitement with the anxious grandmothers! I felt exhaustion alongside the laboring mother. I felt the courage and fright that the informed, yet worried father felt. I felt the same confusion and frustration that the Anesthesiologist and Obstetrician felt. However, I knew my feelings were not so significant, so I hid them.
Upon returning to my parked car, over day and a half later, nothing seemed the same. I went into the hospital with such hope and excitement, and I was leaving the hospital feeling like a mom had her birth experience taken from her. Sure, she had a beautiful, healthy boy, but she had zero recollection of the experience due to the type of anesthesia that was used. I remember flipping down the mirror in my car, and looking at myself for a moment. I contemplated the birth once more, and took a deep breath in. As I exhaled, tears fell down my face. I proceeded to ugly cry, and then drove home.
I know I’m not the only Doula with a story like this. I know the role weighs heavily on us. We care for our clients like family, and we feel ever so deeply. As my Doula practice has evolved, I have begun sharing certain feelings and emotions with families. I share feelings of joy. When a mother looks up at me with so much love and light post-birth, I don’t hesitate to embrace her and offer a gentle forehead kiss. When a mother cries during transition and tells me how hard it is, I cry alongside her. I sympathize, because that’s what my body tells me to do. Instead of swallowing my tears or containing my joy, I express myself. Of course, I avoid sharing feelings that inhibit mother’s flow of oxytocin, such as adrenaline.
This emotional expression is good. It’s an inherent, instinctual response. This expression tells families that I’m there for more than just a paycheck. I’m there because, in that moment, we’re family. We rely on one another, we value and care for each other, and we work towards a common goal. Part of my “job” is to provide emotional support, and sometimes that is accomplished by showing up and showing emotion.