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What does a Doula do?

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

Lessons Learned from Supporting 50 births.

Having the realization the other day that I've supported 50 families through their birthing days was a cool moment for me. I am so grateful for all those I have been able to connect with over the years. I feel so honored to support the community in the Raleigh-Durham Area. I remember all of your stories and I am so honored to have been a very tiny part of your parenting journey.

For a regular healthcare professional that works full time, that number may seem small, but for me it represents a lot. I've taken some time off when we moved and had some breaks here and there, but it's been five years since I've worked this weird, on-call life. I can't schedule my work time, I don't know how long my shifts will be, my clients don't just show up and I don't have a group of co-workers that I know are standing in for me if I get sick or want to a day off.

I've learned a lot over the years. A few takeaways for my own remembrance and for anyone curious about doula work.

This job is hard. Truly. I think there's a really big misconception from people who hear what I do for a living and they just think I'm swimming in babies. "Oh how fun, how special"



It's hard work. It is a job that requires a lot from you both physically and emotionally. I was so excited to jump in and offer my skills in the beginning I didn't give much thought to the realities of doing this job long-term. That new doula enthusiasm is fo real 😂 but it's impossible to maintain forever. After some time you start to understand why this job has such a high rate of burnout. If you don't care for yourself, have good boundaries and earn a living wage, it's easy to get overwhelmed.

Certified Doula and Birth Photographer, Katie Jackson takes a selfie at a hour 16 of a birth in Cary, NC
Hospital Selfie Hour 16

It's a big emotional and physical investment. You can't be really casual and do this job well. You spend long hours

with people, you see some really high highs and some frustrating lows. Your tools and tricks can do so much, you get loopy from losing sleep, you can't take regular breaks. You can't prevent all the potential side effects or complications from certain medications and procedures.

You still have a life and other commitments at home that require so much from you. It takes my body and my mind days to recover after a very long birth. I can't do this job all the time and be the kind of doula that I want to be.

Living an on-call life is hard. I didn't fully understand this part either. It's hard to plan your life around an event that happens sometime in a 2-4 week window. Sometimes you have back-up if you need it, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you miss out on things and events. Holidays. I worked Thanksgiving last year, my anniversary this year. In the past, some Christmases. It's hard to make travel plans. I make sacrifices. I'm always happy to be there and I recognize this day is a once-in-a-lifetime event for you, but it does mean my schedule is very unpredictable.

Also the time and mental effort required to run a business is a whole other thing. For some people it may come more naturally but this is not a consideration I really made when I jumped into the birth world. I feel like professional trainings need to have more of a focus on this part. You have to provide a really wonderful, professional service AND run a business. It can be a lot.

Another huge lesson I have learned over the years is the importance of relying on and supporting your colleagues! When I was first starting out, it felt intimidating to enter a field where there were so many other wonderful professionals. The nature of the work can feel a little competitive when you know it's such a long game with your clients. People don’t have babies everyday after all and not every person hires a doula.

But what I’ve really come to appreciate is the attitude of abundance, rather than scarcity. There will always be people having babies and I physically cannot support every single one. I value and respect my fellow birth workers and I know we all need to have balanced lives to be our best selves professionally. So I love to support all of the other wonderful professionals I know in the area. I trust that there are the right clients for me and the others will find a wonderful doula somewhere else. We all need each other in this work and we all have the same goal.

If I had to pick one thing that really stands out, it would be just how different every experience can be. Every birth I have seen is different. Every one. Just because I've seen many labors doesn't mean I can predict how it will go or what someone may need from me.

The first few births you support as a doula are a BIG DEAL. It takes time for clients to find you, you feel anxious and excited because it’s all new. And the first ten or so births are a big achievement.

After that, I grew to understand that numbers are not what make you a good birth worker. Every person and every body is different. You can’t predict how it will go, what worked for one person may not work for another person. Everyone has different needs and wants. Time and experience does help you, but it only takes you so far.

I know I’m a better professional now than I was five years ago. However, I still enter each new experience with fresh eyes and ready to respond in whatever way feels most needed. My emotional intelligence is almost as important as having a solid knowledge of birth timelines and physiology.

This is the most exciting and the most difficult part of my job. It’s different all the time.

Despite all the challenges involved, I feel very humbled and honored to continue to be trusted supporting families through these very important moments. 50 might not sound like a lot, but it's still amazing to me and I don't ever take it for granted.

That’s 50 new people I’ve seen when they take their first breath. That’s 50 new families that I've been present to see as they grow.

The significance of it all never gets old to me. Do you want to be part of the next 50 births? Get in touch today! I have some limited availability in 2022.

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