“Being Whoever She Needs You To Be” – Part One: When It’s Easy
On the surface, this seems like a deceptively simple concept. Many of us understand that different mothers have different needs. Some women need a sister, some a mother, some a grandmother, some a new birth knowledgeable friend. As I’ve said before, women hire you based on what they need – which is an intuitive process. She already senses you have the potential to fulfill her needs. What comes next is a process of adapting one’s skills and communications to best meet those needs. You can think of “being whoever she needs me to be” as a description of HOW you doula a mother. Maybe you can relate to these two doulas’ words:
As one doula put it: “I will match the energy in the room. I will match their moods. I will take on the music that they’re listening to. I will join in the conversations that they’re discussing. I will ask more about their life because I want to know more about them, I may pray with them. But I don’t think I actually lose my inner self. My inner self actually connects with their inner selves.”
Another doula says: “It’s taking your cues from them, picking up on the energy and just relating to them in whatever capacity they need. Sometimes I’m an information giver and I don’t do anything hands-on because they want that between them. Sometimes the dad doesn’t want to do anything hands-on, and I’m totally hands-on. And sometimes they don’t want the information because they have all the information that they believe they need in their heads. So it really depends totally on the couple.”
When I was analyzing my first few doula interviews, this concept arose spontaneously. After that, I heard almost every experienced doula describe it. Later on, I selected passages from over 40 interviews and analyzed them, grouping similar ideas together. From that I’ve been able to outline this process and come to understand that sometimes ‘being whoever she needs you to be’ is very satisfying, and other times it can hurt you down to your core. Today’s post is focusing on the process and when it is easy to be the doula she needs.
Emotional support, physical support, informational support and empowerment – these are the four cornerstones of how doulas support mothers. The doula is sensing what the mother and her partner need and being as effective as possible in providing good care. But it is the mother who is shaping the doula, who is bringing out of the doula what is inside to meet her needs. Most of the time we enter a labor room curious about how the labor will unfold and not knowing what will be demanded of us. We just roll with whatever comes our way. Because we are adapting our skills to meet their needs, parents get to determine what roles we play in their lives. We have extend ourselves in a position of service for them – and they get to choose how they wish us to serve.
There are several roles or ways mothers need their doula to be that were fairly common. Doulas did not struggle at all with these functions. Here, different doulas describe roles that are common and easy to adapt to. Sometimes mothers want you to be the person who provides:
Informational Support and Empowerment: “This mom said, “I don’t want any of this hippie-dippy stuff. I need answers. I need someone who will help me ask the right questions and gather information.”
Forceful Guidance: “I think she needed to have a strong person who wouldn’t back down when she resisted and said, “Oh, but I’m so comfortable here.” She needed someone who would insist that she move around and do things to make the labor more effective.”
Sometimes I’ll hear the partner in the other room say, “[The doula] said you have to get out of bed and take a shower. Because she said you’re going to feel much better. So let’s go.” And then two seconds later they’re in the shower and Mom’s going, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I didn’t want to, this is so much better.”
Physical Strength: “Right now I probably couldn’t pick up that television, but at a birth I could hold you up as long as you needed me to. It’s amazing! I am an amazingly strong person at a birth. I am that kind of a doula. I will sit up in a bed behind her and push with her. I will catch her puke. I mean, I know doulas who won’t catch puke. I’ll catch her puke. I’ll do anything. I will do anything.”
Comforting Presence: “As soon as I walked in the door, her husband left, went home, ‘the construction guys were coming’. It was me and the woman, and I sat there and I held her hand. She was sitting in the rocking chair, and I knelt in front of her, and basically what I did was, I staved off the people who were coming by every 20 minutes or so asking if she wanted medication, which she never did even though they gave her the pitch. She never took an epidural or any other medication. Put a sign on the door and said, “Leave us alone.” And then literally all I did was hold that woman’s hand. She would open her eyes and look at me. And she would close her eyes back, and I sat there and held her hand. And she told me afterward she could not have done it without me. Amy, all I did was hold her hand. I did nothing. I didn’t do a comfort measure. I did nothing.”
Acceptance and Humor: “They were an Orthodox Jewish couple. So her husband could not be there for the actual birth. But he sat behind a curtain and prayed. At one point I said, like from the Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” And oh, I’d never say that to anyone else!”
To Let Her Lead: “I’m thinking we’re in for a long night because she is so high need so early. She doesn’t sound like she’s having coping related responses to what’s going on at 1-2 centimeters. But she was not willing to relax, and she’s not going to sleep anyway no matter what I try to do positioning wise or massaging or whatever. She’s not gonna sleep so we might as well work. And that’s where she was at. She did not, she did not want to relax enough to try and fall asleep which I felt would benefit her labor if she would relax and let go.”
Many of these roles or needs could not be predicted. While we might know that we are expected to help with position changes, what we don’t know is whether she is resistant or not. We don’t know if simply sitting with her will be all she needs or we’ll be exhausted from walking, stroking, massaging and holding her up. While we always strive to follow the mother’s lead, there are times when sleep might be better than activity. But we have to figure out what is more important – her being in charge or the textbook idea to rest. How we give encouragement also shifts. When a woman needs mothering or grandmothering, your response is different than if she is a logical and practical person. People are very different from one another. A good doula responds to become whoever she needs you to be.