Doulas - The Modern Day Birth Sherpas

Sherpas are regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in guiding people through the most treacherous of mountain terrains.  Even expert mountain climbers hire Sherpas for serious mountain climbing such as trekking the Himalayas or climbing Mt. Everest.  Do they have to?  No, but word gets around fast;  Hiring a Sherpa will make the experience so much easier.  Sherpas can be invaluable to making the experience safer and more pleasant.  Doulas are birth Sherpas.  We know birth inside and out.  We walk families through the process from start to finish.  We are experts you can lean on in every situation, every step of the way.  Partners aren’t left to stare at a map and try to figure out which move to make next, their Sherpa knows all the pathways and alternate routes already.

Let’s say your goal is to climb to the top of a huge mountain such as Everest.  You learn all that you can.  You take classes, you poor through books, and even watch some videos.  Sometimes that is enough.  What if while doing your homework,  you polled everyone that climbed that mountain and discovered that most people had trouble making it to the top on foot without the help of a Sherpa?  What if you found that the people who hired a Sherpa were much happier with their experience?  Less likely to need medical help?  Hiring a doula is very much like that and more.  Studies show that when a woman receives continuous support from a doula, they are more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births, less likely to have pain medication, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, negative feelings about childbirth, and their chances of having a cesarean were greatly reduced!  In addition, their labors were shorter, Pitocin augmentation was used less, and their babies fared better, having higher APGAR scores at birth, and lower NICU transfers.   

So why can’t your mother or partner “be the doula” and do the same thing?  Well, those studies were done, and for some reason the studies did not provide the same outcomes.  In fact best results occurred when women had continuous support from someone NOT from the mother’s social network or even provided by the hospital staff.  --2012, Hodnett et al.  It’s easy to understand why, but perhaps I’ll leave that for another day.  The bottom line is doulas know birth.  They are the birth Sherpas of this world.  They have climbed that mountain many times and know so many tricks to make it a safer and easier journey.  

You might be thinking – “well what if I don’t want to take the long hard trek up the mountain”?  “What if I want to take the elevator and enjoy the view once I get to the top”?  “Why would I need a doula for that”?  The answer is simple.  Even if you want an epidural, or even an elective cesarean, a doula can help you plan for the safest passageway to the top.  She knows some awesome things that will make the view on the way up much more pleasant and beautiful.  She is there if the elevator gets broken and you have to climb to the top via the stairs, or even through the mountainous terrain.  Yeah that happens sometimes!  

No matter how you climb that mountain, your life has changed forever. Birth changes you.  Being a parent changes you. You have a tiny new human to feed and carry home. Your doula will most likely come to your home at least once after the birth to check on you and help provide those last minute resources, tips and tricks to get your footing again.  If parenting in those early weeks scares you more than climbing Mt. Everest, than consider a postpartum doula to help ease your transition in those early weeks too!  Yeah, there’s a doula for that too!  



Some people think that being a doula is all flowers and rainbows....I.wish. 

I was once asked why doulas charge so much, because (and I quote),  "you don't do anything".  My heart sank that this first time mom had no clue how hard we work, and how much we have to sacrifice to do what we do. Being a doula is the most rewarding job I have ever had, but it's not the easiest one. I do it because I love it, but I also do it to keep a roof over my children's heads. 

I don’t think that people realize that we have so much work that needs to be done prior to the birth; spending hours a week working hard at keeping our business up and running.  Website, social media, blogging, networking, answering emails, interviewing potential clients, and answering texts and phone calls are among the long list of things we also do beyond those birthing doors.  Clients often forget that if we don’t make ourselves known, we wouldn’t be there to serve them in the first place. We have a bona fide business to run with real taxes to pay!  

Today I'm going to give you a glimpse into what being a doula is really like.  This is the real stuff.  The hard stuff, and the reasons why we charge what we do. 


Carrying your phone around with you every where you go. 24.7.    

Planning a family vacation months in advance.   (Knowing that for every day you are gone, you’ll lose potential clients and income.  There is no paid vacation time).  

Standing for hours on end during a birth.  (Swollen legs come with the job).

Postponing Thanksgiving, Easter or other holiday's when a baby decides to come instead.

Providing counter pressure for hours on end.  The real kicker?  The longer it goes, the harder you need to do it (if she is trying to go unmedicated).  

Driving through torrential rains because babies often come when a storm system moves in.

Holding the barf bag in one hand, while holding her hair back with the other.

Missing your kid's sports game, play, recital, prom, or other big moments in their lives.

Holding your bladder just a little longer...

Leaving the restaurant before your food comes because your client needs you NOW.

Learning the talent of helping to hold baby to the breast with one hand, while feeding the mother with your other.   

Learning to take 2 minute cat naps between contractions

Getting pictures sent via text messages in the middle of the night of mystery leakage in her underwear..

Using your shoulder as her foot rest.

Trying to figure out how to take your kids to the water park, while simultaneously keeping your phone with you AND dry!

Skipping meals.

Going to bed early even though you’d like to stay up, because you don’t know if you’ll get a full nights rest or not.  

Laying down your head at the end of an exhausting day, only to have the phone ring as soon as you shut your eyes... She needs you right away.  

Getting bodily fluids on you, your clothes or shoes, (and making sure you have an extra set with you).

Finding a sitter that is willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice 24/7.  

Researching information for three days straight so that you can help your client with a specific condition to lay out the best birth plan possible.

Passing up that delicious margarita at the Mexican restaurant because you are a light-weight and on call.

Getting bit, smacked, yelled and cussed at.

Driving home after being awake for over 50 hours, and praying you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

Trying to go to bed early because you are fairly certain you’ll get a call around midnight to 2am, butyou can’t go to sleep no matter how hard you try.  

Providing counter-pressure every 3-4 minutes for hours on end.  (Often stooped over, and oh yeah, try doing it while mom is on her back)!  

Perfecting your middle-of-the night -gotta go routine so that you can be out the door in just a few minutes when you do get called.

Taking just the right amount of clients that you will pay the bills and at the same time not take so many that you would have to call in a backup doula.  

Paying the doctor their ‘missed-appointment’ fee because you had to go to a birth instead.  

Taking two separate cars to the ______ because your client might need you soon.

Holding it together while you support your client through the loss and birth of their baby.
Waking up a 6am on a Saturday morning, and not coming home until 1am Monday.

Thinking you have plenty of time to make your hair-cut appointment, and then things get crazy fast, and you ask your stylist to just “make it even” so you can go.  

Sleeping in a chair so that dad can have the pull-out couch.

Wondering if the officer will let you off with a warning because you *really* need to get to your client.  

Trying to decide which vending machine snack to eat this time.

Waking up every hour in the night because you know your client is in early labor and worried that you somehow missed a phone call or a text.  

Giving away your expensive concert tickets because your client's baby is coming early/late.

Paying out of pocket for your own health insurance because you own your own business. (Especially true for doulas who are single, or have disabled husbands, etc).

Wiping sweat, blood or other bodily fluids off her body.

Leaving a birth, looking forward to a hot meal and shower only to be called half way home.  You have to turn around and head to the next one.

Putting yourself in danger as you walk in the empty parking lot or streets to get to your car in the middle of the night.

Paying outrageous toll fees in the middle of rush hour so that you can get to her a little faster.

Rubbing her back, legs, etc -  all night long.  

Sheepishly accepting an invitation with the caveat: "I'll be there unless I am at a birth".

Being up all night at the ER with your child or husband only to get called to a birth as soon as you get home - knowing that you may very well not sleep until TOMORROW morning  

Wishing you could answer the question “how much longer do I have”?  

Coming to the realization that the longer and harder your work, the less you get paid.

Being a doula is hard work people!   It doesn't matter how long or short the birth is, or how much work she does - a doula will always sacrifice something by simply being on call for her clients.   Please, go hug a doula today!