I’m so tired.
No, I’m not singing the Beatles’ tune, but rather reflecting on how I feel after having been awake with a birthing mother throughout the night and early morning.
Of course, when a doula is tired, she generally can go home and rest, whereas the new family is discovering their new roles and learning about the newest member. Newly postpartum mama is feeling her deflated tummy, empty of baby, soft and squishy. She walks gently to the bathroom, looks in the mirror and for the first time sees herself as mama. Papa hold his daughter, uncurling her fingers only to feel them wrap tightly around his finger; her world is her family, all she needs. New parents, feeling hyped up on those emotions that surround birth, smell their newborn’s neck, inhaling this sweetness that only resides on a new baby’s skin. The tiniest whimpers and loudest of cries makes the new parents reply with care, concern, love. And each and every time this sweet baby cries out, her needs are met instantly.
While this is happening, the learning and exploring, the doula is home. Perhaps she has to tend to her other roles, or maybe she’s tucked into her own bed. Depending on the length of labor support and the circumstances, the doula may be completely ready to jump into her agenda or previously scheduled commitments. Many times, however, it feels good for the doula to transition from the energy of labor and birth to her own space in the world with her own comfort measures (and you thought comfort measures were only for laboring women!).
This may include special rituals that ease the doula back into her own space in the world. Showers and baths can feel nice, bringing warmth, soothing scents and a chance to be washed clean, both literally and emotionally. Whether it was a straightforward birth with no complications or a birth that was dictated by the health of the mother or baby, the doula is certainly holding onto the range of emotions that happen within the birthing setting. Letting the water run over her skin can help a doula release the energy she’s been holding. Emerging from the warm water, the doula changes from the clothing she’s been wearing (perhaps for over the past 24 hours) into clean, comfortable clothing. She may crawl into bed, pulling the covers over her and fall quickly into a deep sleep. Upon waking, she manages to eat something, filling her belly more slowly than perhaps her rushed snacks throughout the time she’s been offering labor support.
Throughout the hours after the birth, it’s common for the doula to check in with the new parents, unless something else has been arranged. This may be a quick text or call, and sometimes a doula will stop back in to check on her clients later in the day. By this point, maybe the larger birth teams (grandparents-to-be, sisters, best friends) have returned their own homes or perhaps the clients that kept the birth setting intimate are now introducing their new daughter to their loved ones. Regardless, the doula is now entering into the new parents’ space in a different way; her role is not of labor support but instead postpartum support, celebration, and just being present to whatever is happening. This may include sharing laughter, tears, reflecting on the birth or simply gushing over how amazing and beautiful the new baby is.
Emotionally, there’s a wide range of normal for doulas after the birth is finished. There’s certainly this feeling of joy for the new parents, as their labor and birth story has wrapped, their story of parenting is just beginning. But sometimes she finds her role so quickly (and, of course, inevitably) changes once their baby is born. Of course the birth doula supports breastfeeding and acknowledges the new baby’s feeding cues and abilities, but her role is not to stay long past the birth (this varies from doula to doula, but staying up to a couple hours after the birth is typical). The doula holds the feelings for the family, whether it be elation or some feeling of loss over something that wasn’t expected, in addition to her own emotions surrounding the birth. And of course, birth doulas undoubtedly have their own stressors which may come into play as she’s reflecting on the birth. But when the doula surrounds herself with support and revisits her defined role as “birth doula”, she can let go of what was out of anyone’s control and find beauty in this sweet new baby’s birth story.
Being called to provide birth support is something most birth doulas don’t take lightly. It’s an intimate and special moment for an expectant family, and birth doulas are very aware of this. Taking a deep breath, releasing her own “stuff” and bringing light and love into the birth setting is something doulas learn. She may be invited to join a birth team that is comprised only of the parents-to-be, midwife (or doctor) and midwife’s assistant (or nurse). This team of three or four people works together, supporting the laboring mother and partner as they near closer to their baby’s birth. The birth doula has spent time in her training, continuing education and personal growth in order to provide the best support to this growing family. It’s an exhausting, (physically, emotionally, and mentally) profession, but it’s also very gratifying and inspiring work.
Watching a laboring couple work together in the throes of labor may remind a doula of her connection to her own partner. Seeing the awe in the new mother’s eyes as she sees her child for the first time may spark that deep love for her own child. Observing the joy in the faces of new grandparents and hearing them express their pride and elation over this new baby brings to mind the loved ones in the doula’s life.
Birth doulas may feel tired after the birth, but they also feel extreme love and amazement and happiness for the new family. And they feel honored and grateful for having been invited to be part of this new family’s birth.