For some women, the call to work with birthing women may be realised after birthing their own children. For others, it may have been simmering in the back of their mind for some time. No matter how the call might come to you, birth support skills can be found inside any one of us and can be significantly enhanced by attending various doula training courses offered around Australia and online.
The first question you will likely have is, “do I really have what it takes to become a Birth Attendant or Doula?” The answer is an emphatic yes! Women have supported women during birth from the very earliest of days, way back when all women were illiterate, therefore unable to record their experiences with childbirth. As time progressed, the ‘with woman’ role became dominated by men and medicalised to what it is today. But of course, women still support women in labour and we’re now seeing Birth Attendants and Doulas gaining popularity in a big way in Australia.
After birthing my second-born naturally – something I had decided would be an impossible task after such a painful, augmented first birth (augmentation is like an induction, only where labour had already started). I realised that it was the words of the women around me that had gotten me through the harder parts of the birth, without pain relief.
Aiming for natural birth these days is often seen as being ‘alternative’ or a daring feat that only a super-hero would contemplate. Yet I have never considered myself as alternative (or a super-hero). So I figured, if I could do this, then so could so many other women out there who wanted a natural birth – but didn’t have the support or confidence to do so.
Important Things To Consider Before Starting Your Doula Training
Below are three factors which I think are important to consider when deciding to train as a Birth Attendant or Doula.
1. Who Is Going To Support Me While I Support Women?
This is a huge consideration which is important to discuss with friends, family and especially your partner, because babies don’t arrive on anyone’s schedule but their own. You would have also built up a relationship with a woman, her partner and perhaps family – then it all comes down to one day, one moment, which you cannot predict. Sure most doulas use back-ups, but its best as a last resort if you’re in another birth or have gastro, for example. Everyone loves to be supported by the person they’ve formed a relationship with and not someone who they don’t know well. Its important to be reliable, which is why I stopped doula’ing for a while as a single mother. I felt I couldn’t give them the security a heavily pregnant woman and her (usually nervous!) partner needs.
While you might choose to do only 1-2 births per month or less (it doesn’t sound like much, but it can be more emotionally and physically consuming than you think!), consider, do you have the support to do this work? If you have children, what short notice arrangements can you make, should you be called to a birth on a weekday or middle of the night? Could you still find a way to attend births even if your partner was away, unavailable or has a big project due at work the next day?
Are people able to support you while you support women?
2. Will I Enjoy On Call Work?
You can never predict when a woman might go into labour, so do you think you would be able to work to a completely unpredictable timetable? Even if you only support two births a month, they may end up on the same day, which does happen to some Birth Attendants! Being able to organise yourself and your family at short notice is an important skill to have, because a woman in labour needs you NOW and baby is NOT going to wait! You also need to be able to put any party plans on hold if a birth is coming up – no celebratory drinks in case that phone rings!
Would you be perfectly happy to have an unpredictable work schedule, usually being called in the middle of the night?
3. Am I Doing This Because I Want To Support Women Or Am I Doing It As A ‘Nicer’ Way To Make Money?
If you are hoping it will bring you lots of money, unfortunately you wont make your monetary riches doing birth support. Especially if you have a young family yourself, the nature of the work means you will probably only be able to physically and mentally manage a few births a month without compromising the quality of your work (and your energy!). So if you don’t have the passion and drive for birth work, the money aspect wont hold you to it – it can be exhilarating work, but also exhausting.
Do you want to be a doula due to a calling or being drawn to support birthing women, without needing to make lots of money?
Words From Experienced Doulas
I interviewed a few other experienced doulas to see how they received their call to birth work and their thoughts around it. It was particularly important for me to share this with you, as proof that we all may come from completely different backgrounds, yet we are all very capable of becoming doulas – women working with women. Doesn’t that sound just wonderful?!
Isis on Being a Doula
Firstly I spoke to Isis, a mum living in Victoria with two children under 5. She had come from a background in administration and customer service, but made the decision to become a stay at home mum since her daughter’s birth.
Isis felt that she was called to birth work following verbal support she was given by a birth attendant, while planning for her son’s birth. “It was then that I realised I wanted to help other women, as I felt the support I received had made such a huge difference.”
Isis began her Doula training via distance, through Childbirth International. She felt the training she received had prepared her for birth work. “Most definitely. It gave me more tangible facts and practices to work with. It also helped me to understand more about myself and my beliefs and how they affect my work.”
Isis attended her first birth as a doula in September 2004 and has been certified since February 2005.
What Do You Love Most About Being A Doula?
“Being able to empower women to having a birth that is truly theirs. No matter the factors that make up the birth, seeing my clients working with their care providers is priceless. Plus witnessing a new life join us here in this world is a true wonder.”
What Are The Most Difficult Things You Face As A Doula?
“Ignorance of what a doula is and what they offer to both birthing women and medical professionals. Also trying to be an advocate for a birthing couple when my experience is still being gained. Being an advocate without ruffling feathers is an intricate art!”
How Do You Deal With Balancing Work / Home / Family Life?
“I have an extremely supportive husband and wonderful friends who are happy to help out. Admittedly, I don’t take on many clients, so the time away from family and disruption to routines isn’t great. The trick is to not overextend yourself. Most prospective clients understand the fact that a Doula usually has a family herself, so setting the limits and being up front about availability and commitments is the key.”
Your Thoughts On Your ‘On-Call’ Lifestyle?
“I have no problems with it, yet I can see how it affects my family. My poor husband can’t organise golf games, I sacrifice my hard earned monthly dinners. Again, balance is the key. If there are breaks between clients, being on call is only for a few weeks, which isn’t a big deal. To me at least.”
How Many Births Do You Attend A Month?
“Currently, I attend one every couple of months. That is an ideal number for me, there is little chance of being called to 2 labours at the same time and there is little disruption to my own life. Perhaps once my children aren’t so little, I will take on 1 every month, yet backup arrangements with another Doula would be needed.”
Approximately What Can You Earn As A Birth Attendant / Doula In Your State?
“Depending on the services and packages you offer, between $500 to $800 per birth*. Other services that may be included in or extra to, a doula’s income are pregnancy massage, lactation consulting, post-natal doula’ing, pregnancy/birth photography, private childbirth education sessions etc.”
*Please note that this article was written in approx. 2006 and may be less than the current rates.
What Are Your Aspirations As A Doula?
“I aspire to having a healthy little business that offers Doula support for women while on their pregnancy and birthing journey. Of course by that stage I will be a midwife in private practice!”
A Typical Day Where Isis Is Called To A Birth
“I get the first call, usually just a call to say that early labour has started. I then think about the logistics of husband and children and cars and baby-sitters, then sort it all out.
I then get a call (usually from the husband / partner) to say that ‘things’ are moving and they are heading to hospital. I make my way to meet them there (or at their house if they prefer that).
Once at the hospital, I sit and talk with my clients, find out how they are feeling, what the hospital staff are like, what is happening. Then it is a matter of being with the couple while labour progresses.
I will take breaks every couple of hours, to give the couple some alone time, I will suggest to the husband to have a walk outside to get his blood moving and to see that the world is still turning outside. When birth time approaches, I will not leave the woman’s side. I stay for a while after the birth, as inconspicuously as possible, to make sure all is well and the new family get settled. Then I drive home on a flood of wonderful endorphins having just attended the birthing of a baby!
I will visit a couple of times in the first week, to chat and debrief and reflect, to offer referrals for professional help in regards to any newborn issues that may have arisen. I tend to stay in contact with the families that I have supported by phone and email for a few months.”
Describe The Most Memorable Birth You Attended
“A VBAC with a 42year old woman, who was an total inspiration. She negotiated to cruise past her due date by 2 weeks, she quelled hospital worries over a ‘small’ baby, she suggested induction alternatives that the hospital hadn’t used for years, she was powerful and in control of her augmented and monitored labour, she seemed to be in the early hours of active labour, when all of a sudden she hit second stage and pushed her baby out, into her husbands hands. To witness her journey to achieving a VBAC, when she had so many hurdles to navigate was a true honour. This birth of course is followed closely in memorability by the first birth I supported at, a waterbirth of a 10lb baby girl, unmedicated, unintervened, a totally pure birth!”
Some Books Isis Recommends Others Read If Wanting To Work With Women:
- Mother’s Intention: How Belief Shapes Birth
- Special Women: The Role of the Professional Labor Assistant
- The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth
What Words Of Advice Would You Share With Someone Considering Becoming A Doula?
“Keep an open mind on the current options available in modern maternity care. Sometimes personal agendas can overpower the agenda of the most important people in the birth process- the mother, father and baby.”
Heather on Becoming a Doula
Heather is a 29 year old mum from Western Australia, also with two children under 5. Prior to becoming a Doula, she was working in the hospitality industry.
Heather received her call to birth work after deciding that she’d like to become a Midwife. “I really wanted to help women and their families through their birth experience and to see if I liked doing it, as one day I wish to become a Midwife and thought being a Doula would be a great stepping stone.”
Heather began training through a lady named Lisa Chalmers, who established Australian Doulas in Western Australia.
Heather also felt that her training had prepared her for birth work. “Very much so. It taught me the general physiology of birth, how to conduct myself, what to expect, what resources are available etc. But of course, actually being present at a birth teaches you many things as well.” She has now been a Doula for one year.
What are the most difficult things you face as a Birth Attendant / Doula?
I think the most difficult thing is being so passionate about the job but not getting much work. It takes ALOT of networking to get the Doula word out there. Also, other difficult things are the very long hours, sometimes you are with a mum for 2-3 days. On some occasions, medical profession prejudice is difficult.
How do you deal with balancing work / home / family life?
I think the most important thing is having a very supporting partner and family. You have to be able to leave at a minutes notice and make sure everything runs smoothly after you have gone.
Your thoughts on your on-call lifestyle?
I love it really as it means that I am going to help a mum and her partner through a very special experience very soon. The only down fall is going to bed at night thinking that the mobile is going to ring, it makes me sleep lighter subconsciously.
How many births do you attend a month?
I have attended 3 births in the last year and that is with full-time networking and pamphlet dropping and doing Doula talks on weekends.
What are your aspirations as a Doula?
My aspirations are to inform women here in Perth that a doula service is available and to be offered to every woman who are having their babies in hospital.
A typical day where Heather is called to a birth goes something like this:
“When I get that first call that my client is in labour I start to pack my bag with clothes, toiletries and food. I also have to make sure that my kids are taken care. I generally tell the mum to go into a quiet dark room and rest as she will require all her energy in the hours to come. I make sure she or her hubby phones me at half hourly intervals, unless something drastic happens, to keep me updated and when ever she feels she needs me, I will be on my way.”
Describe the most memorable birth you attended
That’s hard as they are all so special. To pick one I would have to say my first. It was a VBAC birth and the mum was doing incredibly well but toward the end the baby’s heart rate was dipping dramatically. So a caesarean was called for but just as she was to be wheeled out of the room, the midwife announced that she saw a head. The mum asked me to go and look as she didn’t believe the midwife and there indeed was a head. About 10 huge pushes later the mum derived her beautiful baby boy, vaginally and just the way she wanted. Seeing her and her hubby on cloud nine was awesome.
Some books Heather recommends others read if wanting to work with women include:
Approximately what can you earn as a Birth Attendant / Doula in your state?
Firstly the first 2-3 births you do at no charge as you need to gain that experience first. After that its really up to you to gauge your own wage. Australian Doulas charge between $250 (trainee) -$1,000 for their most experienced doula.
What words of advice would you impart on a woman considering becoming a Doula?
Firstly I would tell her that it is one of the best jobs in the world. Secondly I would ask her to make sure she was doing it for the passion, not to make a bucket load of money as that is just not the case. Lastly I would tell her to make sure she has a really good support network for her family and that she can leave them comfortably without worrying about them.
Heather hopes that more women find themselves going along the Doula path. “More Doulas mean more women being supported to achieve their birth intentions and less hospital policy makers dictating how a natural process should be managed.”
So you’ve read all this and are even more excited about becoming a Birth Attendant than before? Birth work sounds like it is waiting for you!
Three books which are great to read about the work of a doula are:
- The Doula Book by By Dr. Klaus, Dr. Kennell & Marshall which has just had a 2012 reprint. Klaus and Kennell are founding members of DONA (Doulas of North America, est. 1992) and are seen as foremost experts on doulas in the world.
- Doulas: Why Every Pregnant Woman Deserves One by Susan Ross (AUS)
- The Doula Advantage by Rachel Gurevich
Some books I believe everyone needs to read about birth includes, New Active Birth by Janet Balaskas and The Thinking Woman’s Guide To A Better Birth by Henci Goer. If you’ve not read these yet, now is a great time.
You can purchase these books from The Book Depository for a great price including free shipping. Its the cheapest place I have found for sourcing books, especially birthy ones which can be a bit pricey. If you study, you’ll likely be expected to read a certain amount of books, which can then later be used for loaning to clients.
Also, check out my articles for more information:
- Birth Support: 10 Great Tips That Will Help Her In Labour
- Working As A Birth Doula In Australia – FAQ’s
- Doula Revolution: Doulas at Birth