Saturday, December 31, 2005

Doula Self-Assessment 2005

The other day I was fussing to my spouse about having to return a phone call to a prospective client. I was not available to work with her and did not feel like being the "nice doula" I try to be when I return such calls. I did not want to make sure she had other doulas to contact and offer some recommendations if she needed them.

Spouse pointed out how far I'd come from four years ago when I was dropping not-so-subtle hints to every pregnant friend and co-worker that I'd just completed doula training and was willing to volunteer my services in return for the experience of attending births. It was another year after that before I got my first call from a stranger asking me to be her doula. I was so nervous when I talked to her that I think I scared her off. She called me a week later to say she'd hired someone else. I was crestfallen. I thought it would be another year before a similar opportunity would come my way.

Part of what that caller no doubt sensed was my lack of confidence. On the one hand, I had no doubt I could help her during labor. On the other, I felt like a poseur calling myself a doula when all I had as credentials were my own birth experiences and my DONA birth-doula training certificate.

Some 20 births later I won't pretend to be a veteran of the birth scene. Indeed, I continue to experience firsts. This year I witnessed my first Cesarean delivery and had my first client with prodromal labor (and another Cesearean delivery). I had my first client with breast feeding problems that stumped a lactation consultant and two doctors. I had my first humbling experience getting sent home from the hospital with a client who wasn't "enough" in labor to be admitted.

Yet now I am quite comfortable in my role as a doula. I no longer worry when there are parts of labor where I'm sitting doing nothing. I have learned there is a time for that. Likewise, I take little offense at doctors who ignore my presence. They usually come around to being quite collegial before the whole thing is through and regardless, so long as they are treating my client with respect, I am content to blend into the hospital wallpaper.

There are many things I still long to experience as a doula, planned home birth high among them. I also have yet to work with my first teen mother, my first VBAC mother, my first mother of twins, my first version, my first vaginal breech delivery. There are other things I fear my first of: my first infant death or birth injury. My first bad client relationship. My first prolaped cord. If you practice long enough, you will see a bit of everything. So these things are eventualities if I continue this work.

Much of the novelty of doula work has worn off, even though I have yet to see all that it encompasses. Still, there comes at time during every birth I am a part of where I stop and realize with some surprise that I am doing what I aspired to do four years ago. I am helping women through birth and am there as in invited guest, accepted as a professional with skills to offer. That really is more than I ever thought possible.


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