When you're a doula, mentioning what you do for work is rarely simple. Of course, there are plenty of people who know just what a doula is, and those lovely folks are usually eager to tell you their birth stories, their spouses birth stories, or just any ol' birth story they can think of. I know I should be tired of the stories by now, but I love them.
For a large number of people the initial response is, “You're a what?” Followed by explaining that you are not a midwife.
- No, I don't actually deliver the baby. I'm there for emotional support.
- No, I don't coach like you see in the movies; I hate counting at births.
This is usually followed by the more fun part of the conversation, where they begin looking at you like you are completely insane, or as if you might hold the understanding of one of the great mysteries of the universe.
- Isn't it gross? Isn't it scary? Isn't it stressful? How do you do it? Why do you do it?!
I smile, usually delivering some cliché explanation of how beautiful it is, and that it is, typically, nothing like the movies. All of that is true, but like telling a woman who is 4 weeks pregnant for the first time that her life is about to change, it is only the very surface of the truth. The truth is, that birth is a lot of waiting, a lot of unknowns, and that I am a person who likes control working in a field where there is no such thing as control. The truth is that life on-call leaves much to be desired, and has trained me to live with a question-mark hanging over my head – eternally tethered to my phone. So why, oh why, do I do this work?
Birth is where I stopped grappling with the bigger questions of the universe, and learned to trust. I do not need to know exactly how things are unfolding to know my place. I do not need to know how dilated you are, mama. I just need to know how you are feeling, and what is helping you. Baby will come. I do not need to know how long it will be until baby arrives. I know my client can sleep if I keep pressure here, and place lavender over there. So, let her rest as long as she needs.
Birth is where I first understood that we are not meant to know everything, because that may be too much, but that we should always keep a keen curiosity and unabated desire to learn. It is where I may not know why this placenta is causing my client so much pain and refusing to come out, but I can see the longing in her eyes to feel peace and hold her baby, so I hold her hand instead. It is not knowing why another mother is holding such strict posture and staying quiet, but still being able to find the words to help her let go. It is where I do not understand why things are taking so long, where we try every trick in the book to get baby to descend, and he refuses. It is where my intution tells me his mother, so very committed to natural birth, is right when says 'not this time,' and requests intervention, only to find that the cord never would have reached
The truth is that I do like control. I like to schedule. I like to plan. I like to know how A leads to B and that it always will. And all of that is exactly why I love birth. Because in birth A sometimes leads to B unless, this time, it doesn't. Because there is no control in birth, and I can let go. I know my clients wishes, I know how to help them get there, and I know that I trust the process. That is all I can, really, know. If I say “she's 8 centimeters and vocalizing well. I should be home before sunrise!” I will be home in two days. If I say “I just got home from her prenatal, but I think I'll head back to check on her.” The baby will arrive before I pull in the driveway. My truth, is that birth is where I find my faith; Whatever that may be.
It is incredibly hard to describe, but for someone who thrives on managing things, birth is where I trust. Where I feel strength born of calm. It is where I trust in the knowledge I have obsessively cultivated for the last six years, and do not need to be in control. It is the one aspect of my life where I go in with no preconceived notions, other than the paramount task of a good experience for my client and her family. For all of the vast myriad of possibilities I could encounter at any birth, the one thing I need to focus on is the experience of the ones who chose me to be there. For all that each experience is full of the unknown, it is a space in which I feel at home. It is my quiet.