This is a big selling point for many doulas: “No matter how long your birth is, no matter what day it is or what’s going on my life, I’m going to be by your side from the start of active labor through the first couple of hours postpartum.” I get the appeal – That sounds amazing! Someone you know and trust to cheer you on in the beginning, who will gradually increase the support they provide as you feel the intensity build, and then believe in you so hard it carries you through when you don’t quite believe in yourself. Someone whose mind and hands and heart are dedicated, undivided, to you for your entire birth, even if it lasts for days. Someone who will protect your first moments with your precious newborn, gently acquaint you with breastfeeding/chestfeeding, and instill the confidence that will carry you through the fourth trimester. A doula so needless, so selfless, so tireless, she’s practically a superhero.
And here’s the thing: that support, those skills, they’re vitally important. The evidence in favor of having a doula at your birth is irrefutable. But the problem with the superhero model of doula care is that even though we have unusually big hearts, empathic minds, and trained hands, we’re not actually superheroes. And acting like we are creates a serious risk of providing you with worse care. It’s a simple consequence of human beings needing rest to do their best.
Consider that when we doulas are firing on all cylinders, our minds and bodies are completely devoted to you, our client. We know about your food and fluid intake and output (and your partner’s), your baby’s position, your physical and mental strength, how long you’ve been in this position, what anxiety/fear/pain management is working for you and what you’ll try next, along with dozens of other tiny factors like the room’s lighting, whether or not anyone in the room has halitosis, and how far away the nearest puke bag is.
As hours go by, even with adequate breaks, hydration, and nourishment (which can be challenging to achieve – we want to focus on you!), the ability to keep track of all that erodes. Maybe your partner’s needs are the first to be missed. Then a few techniques to help bring your baby down, things that are usually obvious to us, may disappear behind clouds of fatigue.
Finally the birth happens, and you meet your baby! This is a crucial time for a doula to be fresh and sharp; it’s time to soak in all the amazing things your newborn can do, initiate breastfeeding/chestfeeding, and realize that you can do this, you can be a parent. But if your doula is depleted, they will not be able to make the most of these moments for you. And it comes at a cost of your own proficiency, confidence, and joy.
That’s why you deserve a doula who will flawlessly transition you into the care of an equally fantastic doula when the time is right. So that when strength and power seem far away, a new beacon of hope and energy can make their way to you. Like the sun coming up after a long, cold night.
That’s why I work in a doula team, with partners my clients can trust to do all the things I can do. Because I know that with an energized, fresh doula by their sides, even if it isn’t me, my clients are going to get the service they deserve instead of the service I can muster. Our styles of care both harmonize with and complement each other, giving our clients a wonderful balance between variety and dependability.
The thing is, you actually do deserve the care of a superhero during your birth. And it takes a handful of humans to add up to a superhero!