Monday, November 14, 2011

Nope, I won't bring you to a birth

Doulas and midwives probably get this a lot, and I get my share: "I am so fascinated by birth. I'm interested in becoming a midwife [or doula], but I'm not sure yet whether or not it's right for me. Can you help me find a way to attend a birth?" Sometimes people are asking specifically, "Can I come to a birth with you?"

My answer is always the same, "If you'd like to go to a birth, you should definitely do a doula training!" Doula training is a relatively low-cost and low-time investment, gives you a taste of learning about pregnancy/birth, and offers valuable knowledge about labor support if you plan to go into midwifery. Where I live, there is a local volunteer doula program that makes it easy for novice doulas to find their first clients. I tell people who ask that I am happy to be their "mentor" doula in the program (since the first birth they attend as a volunteer is always with a doula who has experience with the program), or to ask one of my doula clients if a doula trainee can come along to the birth.

I am surprised by how frequently people say "Oh yeah doula training, I thought about that, but..." The "but" usually has to do with lack of time or trouble scheduling or wanting to go to a birth sooner than the few months it will take to do the training and get set up with the volunteer program. They just don't have time, because they want to decide about midwifery real soon and go to a birth real quick.

I hear this enough and it starts to wear on me a little bit. I try to impress on the people who want to go to a birth, but skip the doula training, to think logically about the situation. There are a lot of people who want to be at a birth. Think about a hospital birth (since most births are hospital births). There's the mother's own family/friends/support people; there's the medical staff who need to be there (OB/midwife, nurse(s)); then there are other people who need to observe including medical and nursing students. For a midwife or doula to try to bring someone who's just curious to see a birth is usually not practical (and will probably exceed the hospital's visitor limits, which are often capped ridiculously low.)

Furthermore - and this is what I try to put gently to the people who ask me - to ask to attend a birth just because YOU want to see one, particularly just to ask to attend a birth of someone who is a stranger, is also unrealistic in terms of respecting the birthing woman's space. There are a few birthing women who have a welcoming "all-in" philosophy of birth - they don't mind having their whole extended family, neighbors, and FedEx guy watch them vocalize and pull off their clothes and push out a baby. Fantastic! It's their birth and they should have whoever they want there.

But most women want and DESERVE to hold a smaller space for their birth. They ask selected people to be there for a reason - because that person will have a lifelong connection with the baby, or because they rely on that personal for emotional security, or because that person offers them a great back massage and hip squeeze. Like I said, for a few women your curiosity in midwifery is reason enough to invite you to be present. I think that's totally fine. But for most, they're going to need something more.

I think the questioners do understand this on some level. That is why they don't generally call up pregnant women they happen to know and ask "Can I come to your birth?" They ask me to ask for them. And this is my bottom line: I won't ask. There's something that question that rankles in a way I had to separate out: beyond just trying to elbow into a private experience, it's specifically imposing on me as a doula. The questioner is asking me to use my experience as a doula and the trust I've built with a family for their own purposes, but is not going to invest their own time and energy to make that possible. To do a doula training gives you something to offer the birthing woman and a reason to be present; and it also gives me something important: honestly, I want to see, before I put myself out there, that you are serious about this interest in midwifery/doula-ing. Midwifery school and midwifery as a career are a huge commitment. It's not so much to ask to put in a couple months of prep as a doula to see if that's what you really want. If you won't, then I question whether this is just a passing idea.

Sticking to this policy, I've seen it pay off. The people who were serious and have continued to pursue midwifery, or doula-ing, became doulas without hesitation; the people who hemmed and hawed have discarded or put off the idea of birth work as a career.

Reading back over this post, I realize it sounds pretty negative to the idea of "just anyone" showing up for a birth. I want to re-emphasize that I am not opposed to a woman inviting whoever she wants to her birth - including someone she doesn't know very well, who has a passing interest in midwifery. And if someone out there has had the experience of asking and being happily invited to a birth in that scenario, more power to you - you're pretty lucky! But think hard before imagining that just getting to see a birth will help you decide about midwifery. After all, you can watch a million births on YouTube (I know, it's not the same, but still.) It's possible that what will really help you decide whether you want to be a midwife is not the 12 or 18 hours you watch one woman labor and birth; it is the experience and preparation that get you to that point.