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How Do You Choose a Doula?

20w1d – It has come to my attention that I may indeed actually be delivering a baby in May. The Tersh is can-can-ing pretty consistently today, which emphasizes our need to perhaps really-and-truly consider the exit strategy.

There is no question in my mind that I want a doula assisting me during my labor, as this is just too conceptually unruly an undertaking for me to consider going it with just The Mister, whose support and encouragement I do not doubt for a moment but whom I would rather not task with the toughest job of his life on a day that he, too, might be feeling a touch of trepidation. As they told me in doula school, Expecting partners to know exactly what to do during a first-time labor is like handing a gradeschooler a football for the first time and announcing that they *must win* the Super Bowl tomorrow.

Oh, right, doula school. You see, some years ago, I had the genius idea that in order to be a fully knowledgeable (child-free) parenting writer and editor, it might behoove me to learn as much as I could about this whole labor and birth process as I could. I wasn’t entirely convinced working as a doula was my calling, though I wasn’t ruling it out: I had, at points prior, considered careers in musical theater, farm management, family law, and behavior analysis before ever taking a single class in even tangential subjects—this time, I thought, I’d dip my toe first.

My three-day intensive DONA immersion was an amazingly brainy experience, one that left me with binders fully of anatomy lessons, birth protocol options, pain relief ideas, and ideas for comforting and supporting women in their most vulnerable, magical, messy pre-baby moments. I was surrounded by strong, wise, wacky women who were positive that this training would be the first step on their career journeys. I kept in touch with several as I went back to my job tackling articles about babies and families, though I’ve yet to have the urge to join them in the doula pool.

I now live in an extraordinarily open-minded area when it comes to pregnancy and birth (want to labor in a lake with a snake charmer at your delivery? Done and done!) and there are upwards of 60 doulas within a 20-mile radius to choose from. The question is, how?

If I’ve learned anything during this pregnancy thus far, it’s that everything I ever thought I knew about the process was conveniently out of reach when I could’ve used it most. Like trying to call a tow truck when you lost cell reception two miles back, remembering remedies for morning sickness or which yoga poses were still safe or whether I still could drink that herbal tea have just evaded me in the moment. (My benevolent midwife, who knows well what I do for a living, has never scoffed at questions she knows I know, somewhere, the answer to, and has even given me the pity forearm squeeze when I again started our visit with I know I know this and I think I also asked you this last week, but is it OK if…)

So I literally had to review my training notes this week to begin making lists of considerations for What I’m Looking For in a Doula. The short list? Someone who is …

  • not put off by indecision. In doula school, we talked about asking clients of their dream birth scenarios—if they could script their labor and delivery, what would that look like? Well, mine seems to change on the hour with this pregnancy. I’d love to work with someone who wouldn’t be annoyed needing to re-discuss options as they arose, or at least just re-confirm the plans that we’d made earlier. (You know, in case I decided I did, indeed, want an epidural, or a full-frontal video made of the action, or to get out of the tub—now.)

  • experienced dealing with pregnancy after loss, or clearly aware of the associated issues. Compassion is paramount to the doula job description, but I envision my nervousness about the actual emergence of this child coming to a head (har-har) during labor. I’m hoping my doula knows how to keep me motivated when Doubt comes a-knocking.

  • hands-on. I’m talking knuckles in my sacrum or maybe a rebozo wrap for counter-pressure during labor. I’m not so touchy-feely myself, but do dig the waitress-hand-on-shoulder, “Ready hon?” I can envision wanting some serious physical support and assurance when the pain begins to soar, and I’d love my doula to feel comfortable jumping in and giving pointers to The Mister.
  • funny. But not too funny. And not too chatty. Appropriately funny and chatty in the exact appropriate times. Is that too much to ask?

So you tell me: How did you choose your doula? What do you wish you had thought to ask when interviewing, or what tactics worked best during your choice process?