Being a doula is one of the most wonderful things I have ever done in my life. I love this work. That said - doula work has its challenges, and as a new doula I wasn't quite prepared for some of the surprises that may come. As a newbie I was told that the turnover rate seems to be about two years - veteran doulas told me that they see enthusiastic new doulas jumping in with both feet and within a couple years the entire crop of new doulas has already stopped attending births. In just the last few years I've seen this proven true.
My own doula journey began with a phone call - I had four babies of my own, and we were hoping and trying for another. An expectant momma called me and asked, "Would you be my doula?" I didn't even know what the word meant, but I knew I was being invited to attend her birth and I thought that sounded AMAZING. It was a fantastic experience for me, but I also had the parents express their gratitude for my help and support through the birth. Then another friend called (shortly after that much anticipated fifth baby of mine arrived) and asked me to attend her birth, which left me equally ecstatic when I heard the parent's expression of thanks. But with five little ones of my own keeping me busy, I decided to research doula training programs and put it on the back burner to happen "Someday."
When our sixth baby was six months old my husband, knowing training could take awhile, encouraged me to go ahead and get started. My hope was to get certified and maybe attend a couple births a year... little did we know! Just six months later I was officially a doula, and it's been a whirlwind since.
For many people I think they can immediately see the appeal of attending births - it's a BIRTH. It's an incredibly intense, emotional experience. (Though admittedly I've also had some people respond to hearing about my job with, "Yikes - why would people want to be there to see that?") But assuming you think birth is pretty awesome, the appeal is obvious. In part this explains why we have so much interest and so many new doulas joining the field, only to have a quick turnover when these bright eyed and optimistic people discover that doula work is exceptionally hard. It's HARD. Physically, emotionally, logistically, being a doula is not something people should jump into lightly. I'm thrilled to see new doulas joining the professional, I've mentored many and will continue to do so. But I think we do ourselves and parents a disservice when we don't provide a better picture of what doula work entails and better support each other through the ups and downs of doula-ing. (I think "doula-ing" is a made up word, but it fits!)
When new doulas are caught off guard by some of the challenges of this work then they're going to struggle to best support parents and are more likely to stop attending births - then we all lose! I'm being very blunt here - these are the hard parts of this work, and I don't want this to ever talk someone out of becoming a doula, but I want you to be more prepared than I was. So in the interest of encouraging some candid discussions, here are some things new doulas should consider - challenges we face, and some ways to help: Continue reading