One of the weirdest things about being a doula is living the on call lifestyle. Because we have to be ready to step out of our lives and be present for you in labor at short notice, we can be a little flakey with our other commitments. (My friends and family and massage clients are well-used to me hedging any commitment with the phrase, “But I’ll be on call, so I’ll be there if I’m not at a birth!”) Living life while on call is more involved than you might think. I’d love to share some information with you about what it means for me to be on call for your baby’s birth.
Things I avoid
Let’s start right off with all the things I avoid when I’m on call for a client!
My wife and I like to take long walks or hikes, especially at Turkey Mountain, whenever the weather is nice. (I especially like the long hike; if you’ve never done it, you totally should! You get to see lots of cool views of the river.) However, when I’m on call, the 2+ hours of hiking, on top of being 20 minutes away from my house and undoubtedly needing a shower before I head to a birth, makes this hike a no-go.
I do see massage clients a few hours each week, and those appointments are the only times when I am unavailable for 60-90 minutes (I don’t take my phone into the massage room with me). I also like to get massages myself once or twice a month, and any massage therapist will tell you that we want to be on the table for 90 minutes at a minimum! When I’m on call, I limit the number of massages I schedule for myself so that I’m not risking cancelling on my massage therapist last minute; I also bring my phone with me into the massage when I do get one!
And then there are all the little things, like almost always being the designated driver when I go out to celebrate with friends, skipping loud concerts or shows where it would be difficult to know if someone was trying to call me, or turning down the opportunity to attend more expensive events that I might not be able to actually go to or have to miss several hours of.
But you know what? Limiting or giving up this stuff is all worth it to be able to be there to support your awesome efforts to birth your baby!
When I’m on call, I make it a priority to be able to be with my client within an hour of them asking me to join them. If I’m going to be outside of Tulsa at all, I have to be able to get back within about 45 minutes!
My in-laws love to spend summer Saturdays and Sundays at the lake at Fort Gibson, cooking out, going out on the boat, and taking our niece to the Wagoner Water Park. As you might imagine, being 40 minutes from Tulsa and out on a boat besides would have me totally anxious while on call! I limit my trips to the lake when I’m on call during the summer, and several times I’ve stuck around my in-law’s house while the rest of the family goes out on the boat. I also bring my doula bag with me, make sure I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice, and pre-pack some shelf stable snacks just in case.
On occasion, I will go to Oklahoma City for a day trip for a conference or continuing education workshop. In that case, I let my clients know that I’ll be out of town for the day and have one of my back-up doulas on call so that if a client needed support right away, they would have someone until I got back from OKC.
Most of the time, my clients don’t go into labor and then immediately need in-person support. However, there have been a few exceptions that have made me really glad that I keep my bag at the ready and don’t stray far from home!
Things I prioritize
Being available and at the top of my game isn’t just about forgoing long hikes, staying sober, and avoiding super-loud events. It’s also about doing the things that keep me healthy and prepared!
My number one priority when I’m on call is maximizing my sleep. Especially when I’m getting that gut feeling that someone is about to start laboring - or when the moon is full and we have storms on the way! - I try to catch a nap in the afternoon or get in bed an hour early.
I also get obsessive about making sure I have a variety of healthy foods available and ready when I head out the door. I make bone broth, pureed soups, and smoothies and freeze them so I can just defrost, reheat, or put in my thermos on the way to a birth.
My doula bag is always re-organized when I come home from a birth, and I clean all the tools I used. I replenish supplies like disposable toothbrushes, bendy straws, and shelf-stable snacks. My doula uniform goes straight in the wash so it’s ready for the next birth!
And finally, when I am on call, my phone is my constant companion and I carefully keep it at least 50% charged, with the ringer turned way up!
Now that you know a little bit more about how I structure my life while I’m on call, let’s talk about what my being on call means to you.
First of all, when it comes to all the pieces of my work life, attending a birth always comes first. Massages are cancelled or rescheduled; I have a back-up teacher cover for me at my childbirth classes; and all other types of appointments are rescheduled as well. Basically, everything else can be rescheduled, but when a baby is ready to be born, we can't reschedule that!
My on call period starts at 37 weeks and lasts until my client gives birth. (37 weeks is considered full term, and most healthy pregnancies will last to 37 weeks or beyond.) Starting at 37 weeks, my phone is set up so that your call always rings through; I’m in town and ready to go; and I’m available 24/7 to join you in labor.
So what happens if you go into labor early? On two occasions, clients have gone into labor a little before 37 weeks, and in both cases I was still able to join them. Keep in mind that even when I’m not yet on call for one particular client, I’m likely still on call for someone else.
I use this 37 week marker to allow myself a few times each year when I can be a little less attached to my phone, take that long hike at Turkey Mountain, or maybe even get out of town for a night or two. In October, for example, all of my clients had given birth before the last weekend of the month, and I didn’t have anyone else due for about 5 weeks. My wife and I took an impromptu overnight trip to Bentonville to visit Crystal Bridges art museum; it might as well have been a week-long beach vacation for how luxurious it felt to take a last-minute trip!
I always work with dedicated back-up doulas, because even with my most careful planning, I could have more than one client in labor at the same time, or I could come down with the flu or have a family emergency. On occasion, I partner with a specific back-up doula if I know I’ll be unavailable during part of the on call period for any given client, or if I have a trip planned right before the on call period begins.
My Backup Doula(s)
My current back-up doulas are fantastic doulas who are participating in a mentoring group with me. Brigid Vance and Molly Sinnett both trained with toLabor, the doula organization I trained and certified with. When I began mentoring other toLabor doulas in the area, both of these women stood out to me for their passion, kindness, and desire to help families have more satisfying birth experiences.
After matching you up with your back-up doula, I will send you an email introducing you to each other and encouraging you to set up a time to chat briefly if you’d like to get to know your back up doula better. Brigid is also a Child Passenger Safety Technician, and available to help you check your car seat installation. Many parents will arrange to meet her in this capacity!
(As Brigid and Molly work towards certification, they are also available to attend your birth as a second set of helping hands. Let me know if you are interested in this option at no additional cost in your doula package.)