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What Do Doulas Do All Day? Doula Diaries Part I

Show me a preschooler who doesn't love What Do People Do All Day and I'll eat my placenta. Ok, ok, you know what I mean. Back in 1968 a brilliant author by the name of Richard Scarry published a brilliant book about Busytown and the families and workers who keep it bustling, with detailed, fun illustrations that draw children in to the lives of Huckle the cat and Lowly Worm as they learn about what people do all day, from construction workers to farmers to paper mill workers. I'll admit, it is a wildly interesting and engaging book.

If I had an illustrator and some extra time, I'd create a book, Scarry style, about doulas. There is this mystique around doulas, something about the steroetype of the long flowing skirts and the wafting patchouli. One page would have the Waterbirth Room, complete with candles and birth stools and massage oil; another would show placenta being encapsulated, detailed pictures of course of heart-shaped placentas; another would showcase the Childbirth Education room, with plastic pelvises and cloth babies, angel pictures on the wall, Lowly Worm waving from the bottom of the page.

But really, what if I could write about what doulas really do all day? What do we do when we're not at a birth? How do we leave our families for 24 hours at a stretch? How are we so darn calm all the time? Why does a doula cost so much? How can we stay up for 3 days in a row? And really, how do we know when it's time for everyone to head to their birth place?? How do we know? And so, the Doula Diaries blog series is born. Enjoy.

One thing my family loves to do together is go to our community pool. My 11 year old tosses the football with other kids, my 8 year old plays with naked Barbies, my 19 month old wanders around the zero-entry wading pool and I can sit semi-still for nearly an hour, while my husband plays with all 3. It's bliss. This weekend, I hosted a private childbirth class in our home all day on Saturday from 10-4 and my husband had strict instructions (not really; I'm way too calm for strict instructions) to keep everyone happy and occupied so my clients could feel at ease and at home in a quiet and peaceful environment that they paid good money for, thank you very much. He delivered (no pun intended!). They went to a farmer's market, made a massive BJ's run, brought the baby home to nap, then spent a few hours at the pool. Gulp. Sometimes doulas have to teach private classes all day, that's what we do, when we're not at a birth. I had an OB tell me once, that birth work is constantly either letting your clients down or letting your family down. The next day, on Sunday, we all went back to the pool, this time I went too, and I sat right down in that wading pool and watched my littles and my husband and I smiled. That's what I did all day.

Earlier that week I had two prenatal doula visits. My doula clients are awesome, and we're all drawn to each other in perfect timing. I grow to love each of them and their babies, too, and they imprint my heart forever. My prenatal visits happen in the evening, because of those 3 kiddos I have. This week it meant missing my 11 year old's basketball practice and hiring the babysitter to drive him home at 8:00, so I could visit my doula family and my husband could put the younger two kids to bed. So this week, that's what this doula did, when I wasn't attending births.

On Wednesday night, my hubby works his 2nd job until 9:30p, and once I get all 3 kids settled into bed I'll take some time to update my spreadsheets and websites, check in with my upcoming birthing mothers by phone or email or text, respond to emails about childbirth classes and maybe sketch out a few henna belly designs, for an upcoming henna belly. That's what I'll be doing all day.

This doula gig is an actual career; it's near full-time and the time I work is during everyone else's "edges," you know, the down time of weekends and evenings.

There is nothing, Nothing, that puts me more into a state of flow as attending a birth (check out this book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi if you aren't familiar with "flow"). When I am one-on-one with birthing parents, when we are in the labor room and doing the metaphorical birth dance between mother, father and doula (sometimes there are variations), there is not another thought on my mind, there are no lists and no to-dos. I'm alert and in action (which often times appears as inaction, it's funny. Doula work is often very invisible. It's like when you come home and your floors are clean, you don't notice. But you DO notice if they are dirty. Doulas are kind of like that. You don't notice when they are doing their job well, mom and dad are supported, there is a lack of negative judgment. But you DO notice if they are not there, or if they're doing their job poorly, if mom and dad are not supported, or there is an air of judgment in the room).

Part of the invisible work is making sure the birthing mother is hydrated and nourished; making a mental note of when she's used the restroom so I can suggest it again (an empty bladder can lessen the intensity of contractions); loosely timing her contractions so I can let her know when she's past the halfway mark and can ride this contraction out; reheat the heating pad; refill the water; fill a basin with cool water and locate fresh washcloths; rearrange sheets and pillows when she's in the restroom. Some of the quite visible work is suggesting and helping mom into new positions; talking her through contractions including using visualizations to encourage her to open and to encourage baby to come down; massage and hip squeezes and counter-pressure; Spinning Babies moves like the Inversion and the Side-Lying Release; being awake so the father can take a nap; holding mom's hand; following her breath; being nearby. These are some things doulas do all day...and all night...and all day again.

Consider this an overview. In the next edition of Doula Diaries I'll walk you through what an actual day in the life looks like. But meanwhile, stay tuned for some tips to make your birth a little easier!

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