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The incredible things doulas do to support their clients

A criticism that is commonly heard in the doula world is that doulas are expensive.

In the UK, healthcare is free at the point of contact. This can lead some people to believe that they shouldn’t pay for services when it comes to supporting people around anything linked to health and well-being.

Last week, I was saddened to hear that a friend who runs a pregnancy and new mothers centre, complete with free drop-in groups for new mums, was questioned not too kindly by medical professionals who accused her of preying on vulnerable women. They said that support should be free.

This is a commonly held view sadly. I gave a talk about doulas to a group of student midwifes, and this was brought up too.

I agree that, in an ideal world, support should be available for free to all that need it. But, interestingly, people who mention this seem to be unable to realise that they, themselves, aren’t working for free, and that the NHS isn’t free, it is paid for by our taxes.

I am yet to meet a doula who does this for the sole goal of making money. As I’ve written about before, when we break it down, most of us earn an hourly rate that is way below the minimum wage.

Recently, I spoke to a doula who was waiting for a client to birth, way beyond her due date, and was facing the quandary of cancelling important plans, because she wants to be available for her client’s birth. This reminded me that, through the years, I’ve heard incredible stories about the lengths doulas go through, not just to be available to their clients for a whole month or more, being available at the drop of a hat, juggling incredibly complex childcare arrangements etc.  The things that doulas do in the background, rearranging really important personal stuff, unbeknown to their clients, so that they can be available for the birth, are usually only known to those who belong in the doula world.

I want to clarify that I am not sharing these stories to make clients feel guilty or that we resent the commitments.

Being a doula is a calling, and whilst we find this job demanding at times, it’s worth it otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it!

Doulas tend to keep these stories secrets in order to avoid burdening their clients, hence they don’t usually get shared from outside the doula community.

I hope that these stories will help demonstrate the incredible level of dedication that doulas show for their clients.

A couple of my own stories that stick out include attending a 4 day long birth. My husband’s birthday was in the middle of these 4 days, so not only I wasn’t there but he was alone with the kids for that time.

Another time, my family and I were all packed and ready to go away for the week end. My husband is from Hong Kong and this was Chinese new year and we were due to visit his family. This is like missing Christmas. I had a client expecting twins, someone who I had already supported through the birth of her first child. She was 32 weeks pregnant. As I was walking over to our neighbours to let them know we were going to go away, the phone rang, and my client told me that they were taking her to theatre, right now! I walked back inside my house, my husband saw my face and asked me what had happened. I told him, and he said to just go to be with her and that we could go join his family the next day. I made it to my client with 10 min to spare prior to her transfer to theatre. When I returned a few hours later, overcome with gratitude, I asked my husband why he’d agreed to change our plans, he said “I could see how torn you were”.

My client wrote me this testimonial:

My twins were born 8 weeks early so had to go straight to NICU. I wanted my partner to go with them as I didn’t want them to be alone and also to make sure our wishes for them where kept. I also didn’t want to be left alone in the theatre so asked for my doula to be around in when my partner left. This really helped me to stay calm as I knew my babies had dad with them and I also had someone to support me as it can be very lonely even in a theatre full of doctors and nurses. Having someone to talk to and hold my hand stopped me panicking. It also meant that when I was taken to recovery I wasn’t by myself. It was very hard being wheeled past other mothers with their babies, I don’t think I would of have coped if I didn’t have my doula with me. She also helped me hand express my colostrum into syringes. Just having someone with my while my partner was with the babies was amazing, she kept me calm just by being by my side and holding my hand.”

Here is a collection of stories from doulas about the amazing things they’ve have done and sacrificed in order to be there for their clients :

I shadow doulaed for a client, I finished 9hrs in my day job, picked my girls up from childcare and got home for 1730, got the call my client was in labour at 2000 so raced over to her, stayed all night until 0530 the next morning, popped home to take the girls to childcare and then back to another 9hr shift at my day job! I worked out I went without sleep for 40hrs! But I love what I do. It is annoying when people say I charge too much but when you workout out how long you’re on call for, the extra childcare, travelling and everything else I come out the other side with very little. Working in the birthing world is definitely a ‘labour’ of love! Rachael Ruddock

I’ve worked 3 days straight with one hours sleep. I finally got home at midnight on Christmas Eve. I then had to wrap all the gifts for my 5 and 3 year old. I also missed all the festivities leading up to Christmas including the show we had tickets for. I do still love my job. Melanie Butcher

I had to sleep in the car off a lay-by on the A1 once at 4am as I wasn’t safe to drive, I have to travel long distances as I’m rural. I keep a blanket and pillow in the car. I have slept in hospital car parks too in the middle of the night, so safety an issue. I’ve had to leave cinema showings with my kids, give up work commitments, like cancelling clinic and moving classes. Sophie Fletcher

I’ve missed Christmas Day with my kids to be with a solo mama in labour, went early so she wasn’t alone – the kids still bring it up. Beccy Hands

I’ve stayed awake for 70h. Hayet Hb

I have missed my daughters 16th birthday party, my brother in laws 30th party and my uncle’s funeral. My auntie and cousins couldn’t understand how I could miss a funeral but this client had many baby loss experiences and I would rather sacrifice the funeral and have my family upset with me than let down a woman giving birth. Supporting Birth and the beginning of a family is more important to me than almost anything! Beverley Hinton

I’ve missed invitations to weddings, christenings and birthday parties. I’ve said no to informal gatherings to see friends or have dinner with grandparents. I’ve missed education sessions for the kids. I’ve skipped dental appointments, hospital appointments and other personal appointments. I have stayed awake for over 60 hours. I have dumped the kids and ran on many occasion to disappear, sometimes for a day, sometimes for several. I have not eaten or drank water for long periods. I’ve not seen my own family who are in hospital. I’ve taken 3 days to recover from a long birth. Nikki Mather

I have been on call over Christmas and my sons birthday. This shows my commitment and the willingness to miss these special events to support another family. Bev Samways

I’ve just had my first birth and missed 2 hospital appointments, my baby’s 2nd birthday party, hairdressers, I did nothing on my 40th birthday just in case I was called. My mother in law changed her holiday so that she could be on call for my childcare. I’m also a pregnancy yoga teacher and had to cancel 2 classes to be with my clients, losing money for both.  I didn’t go to a college friends reunion. Kirstie Broughton

When I go on call my life dynamics completely change. As I have small children I have to allocate time to drop them off safely to someone before I can head-out. So I go no further the 30min out of my house range. Have all bags packed and prepared. Miss play dates, days out, constantly being alert and it can be exhausting waiting for that call. When I’m there I’m 100% in and the outside world doesn’t exist. I’m as involved as the couple need me to be. I have massaged a woman once for 6 hours because she wanted me to and there wasn’t a partner to take over. I missed my in laws 60th wedding anniversary, turned down invitations. Doulas sacrifice a lot on day to day basis but it’s so worth it seeing that mother being supported and getting the best start on her long journey through motherhood. Eva Kralova

I once had my husband pick me and my friend up from the airport after a weekend away and drive me ( in the opposite direction) straight to the hospital so that I could meet my client who had gone there in labour. My friend had to just roll with it. My husband and children hadn’t seen me for 3 nights and we had no plan for how I’d get home after. But right then she needed me and I went. It’s what we do. Amber Strong

For two of my son’s birthdays I wasn’t there to wake up with him- because i was with clients at their babies birthday. Bitter sweet. The first time my son was young, I was a single mum and the babysitter was there. He was very upset. I got home after 48hrs and drove him to go bowling with a couple of friends. Trying to keep the wheels on. 2nd time he was older and very gracious- when speaking to me on the phone he said “It’s ok mum – I can wait for my presents until you get home – it’s important you stay with your lady until her baby comes. Gosh I blubbed.  Katie Olliffe

I’ve missed Christmas Day, my middle son’s birthday morning, my partner’s birthday. I go home early from rare nights out, my social life has suffered. I seldom drink. My family have left on a holiday without me & I followed them the next day. My kids complain about my job & say it’s the ‘worst job in the world’. I tell them the opposite is true! Roma Hearsey

I just made it to my best friend and my cousin’s weddings – leaving the birth the morning of my best friend’s. I have been absent for entire weekends and was called to a birth on Christmas morning – and missed my kids opening their presents. Over January I attended 4 births despite going through one of the most stressful periods of my life (divorce). One of these births was 5 days long. It’s hard to explain the impact this work can have on a person’s life. Laura Scarlett

It also affects my husband’s work – he also works from home but in an employed capacity and occasionally needs to travel around the country – when I’m on call – he has to not travel. Melanie English

I rushed across the country on New Year eve to get a super fast birth of the first baby in the county. Our job is multidimensional and money exchange really represent partial contribution towards its value. In the old days the village would support the wise women who helped at birth through barter of services and goods and we are just monetising the same principle. Vera Dubrovina

I’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, parties. The one time I DID set a boundary around a planned event, having missed so much throughout one year- I wasn’t there for my clients birth. A back up was- but it felt really hard for me- difficult feelings I had to unpack. Tortie Rye

I missed my daughter’s prom to rush to a client after our birth contract had finished to support with a serious health issue. Caroline Zwierzchowska-Dod

I went directly from an early pregnancy scan where I was told my baby had died and took a cab directly to my labouring client to attend her birth. Lauren Mishcon

I did a birth on my birthday once 20 hours, wet through from supporting the mama in a tiny en suite on the DU. She wasn’t even my client – I was a backup doula! Jo Rogers

I missed my daughter’s birthday one year and another year was so tired after being awake for 38 hours I picked her up from school and fell asleep before she had finished opening her presents. Missed first three days of my summer holiday when my client went pass 43 weeks . Aimee Sri Laxmi Hamblyn

These are all true stories. I hope this helps give a measure of how passionate we are about supporting our clients.

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