Things I Have Learned in 14 Years of Being A Doula

In six weeks it will be my Doula-versary Month and marks 14 years in this passion of mine. This morning I am full of gratitude for the knowledge, experience, and even mistakes I have made. On Facebook I participate in many birth worker groups in the hopes of learning new things (none of us know everything and information can change with lightning speed) but also to offer advice and sometimes just support to the newer doulas. Oh, newer doula, I do so love your passion and fervor!  Your desire to make birth better for each woman is changing the planet, do not ever doubt that. When I began I was all starry eyed and running high on emotions and activism. I tend to think of it as teen/young adult versus calmer middle aged women and please know I mean this as a compliment to us both. We need the wisdom and we need the young energy.

So here are a few things on my mind this morning about what I have learned:

1. It’s easy to burn out. Birth work is more difficult than many aspiring and new doulas realize. It’s one thing to desire with all your heart to help a family but when it impacts your child’s birthday or you’re at your third birth in three days or you’re at that marathon 40 hour one — it’s hard. Have a good support team. Please have a backup. We have super powers as doulas, yes, but we should not have to sacrifice our own bodies and families to a harmful extent in order to support women. If you plan to stay in this rewarding career set it up so that you can.

2. It’s okay to not know everything. There is no way to know everything. I have been constantly learning since I began this journey. It’s okay to ask your mentor doula for help or to say to a client that you need to do some research and get back to her. Strive to always provide evidence based medicine and when there is none, encourage parents to do research and make the decision. Learning is part of the journey for parents, too. Pregnancy is the perfect time for them to assume responsibility for research, education, and decision making for their own family.

3. Nothing is black and white. This may be the wisdom I am most grateful for. When many doulas embark on their journey we have had a bad experience ourselves or we have read how dreadful the U.S. is or we saw an advocacy page on social media (I didn’t because I am a dinosaur who began well before social media) and we are angry and appalled. We must protect women! Change the world! Put ourselves between families and (choose one) hospitals, ob/gyns, midwives, epidurals, pitocin, monitoring, cesareans etc. This is where I am most grateful for my experience with ICAN  as Chapter Leader for Knoxville (International Cesarean Awareness Network) as well as the ability to work with many providers (doctors, midwives, nurses) who deserve our trust. The fact is each woman’s labor and case should be seen as individual. We stress this in birth work and we try to demand it of our providers. This means we ourselves must subscribe to the belief that in certain cases a woman and baby will not only benefit from but truly require an epidural, monitoring, cesareans — the whole list of what is often seen as bad in natural birth circles. We cannot view any one component of modern obstetrical care as anything but a tool that can be used when appropriate. Yes, many things are dangerously overused and this is not a debate. It is obvious that maternity care and birth needs improvement but we cannot blatantly decry any and all interventions. The best advice is to know your options and be able to trust your providers, which mean doing your research as a birth worker and as an expectant mother.

4. Mistakes help you learn. It is difficult to make mistakes for most humans and in a career where you are the one hired for knowledge and support it is even harder to know we made a mistake. As long as you are staying in your scope of practice and not acting irresponsibly as in ripping an IV out of a client’s arm, most mistakes will be benign and fixable. As doulas we are continually assessing the mood and situation in a room and sometimes we perceive something not as it is. It gets better with practice. I used to think it was fine to hold the baby and through experience and knowledge I learned those first hours with the parents is for them alone. I can hold the baby later. The first time you trip over the IV pole you will be insufferably embarrassed and then everyone will laugh and you will remember to always watch where your feet are in the future. It’s okay — we are human. Allow yourself the compassion you show your clients.

5. Doulas are valuable. Obviously we think this if we even considered training to become one but I want to emphasize this over and over until we all understand this. Doulas reduce the need for epidural pain medication, highly increase breastfeeding success, shorten the length of labor, and most importantly help a woman and her partner to be more satisfied with their birth experience, no matter the outcome. We put our own lives on hold to be on call for weeks on end and if we are busy we rarely are not on call. We miss birthdays and anniversaries and sleep and we twist our bodies into unimanageable positions to support a laboring woman. Every study that has been done about doula support concludes our value. Do not sell yourself short. You are a trained professional offering documented benefits. We cannot afford to be more invested in a woman’s birth than they are.

Time is running out on me so I will stop at these five. As I said before, I am immeasurably grateful for my journey as a doula and for the clients who hired me even when I was new.  My next blog should be the changes I have seen over the years (6 is the new 4, anyone?) as well as the changes I expect and wish to see soon (eating during labor, yes!) because things are changing slowly but steadily. I happen to live in an area where we have a plethora of options of where and how to give birth and who you can choose as your birth team. We birth workers are here to help both individuals and society.


Back when I held babies

Back when I held babies

All Rights Reserved, Kimberly Sebeck, Knoxville Doula, 2014


4 thoughts on “Things I Have Learned in 14 Years of Being A Doula

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am learning these things, too. I’m so grateful there is always room to learn, more experience to gain, and more wisdom to take in. I’m almost seven years into my own journey, and I hope I never stop growing.

  2. I just started doula training and of course I want to be perfect but this was reassuring that I don’t have to be. Thanks!

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