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Doulas and Midwives Laboring Together

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 104, Winter 2012.
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When I worked primarily as a doula, I loved attending births with midwives. I appreciated their family-centered approach to managing normal labor and birth. During one of the first births I attended, which was a homebirth with CNMs, I breathed a breath of fresh air when the nurse-midwife did her assessments and then clapped me on the shoulder smiling and saying softly, “Do your doula thing.” She went off to the living room to conserve her energy for the birth and I stayed in the bedroom with an anxious mama, helping her to find her breath and her groove and her power. It was a beautiful experience all around. I felt that my presence at my client’s birth was valued by her care provider (which has not always been the case). My early experiences working with midwives—including the CPM who gave me the precious gift of catching my niece as she sailed into the world on a wave of amniotic fluid—undoubtedly encouraged my own journey towards midwifery.

And now, as a student nurse-midwife, I love attending births with doulas. They each bring their unique skills and experiences, their bags of tricks and their comfort measures. They provide continuous support, which I would love to be able to offer to every client of mine, but the reality of this work is that if I am to be able to mother the mother, I must first care for myself. Sometimes this means catching up on sleep during early active labor, wrapping up unfinished charting, checking on another client or grabbing a bite to eat to hold me over until after the birth. The presence of a doula in the room eases my mind, since I know that the laboring woman is with an individual who cares about her, who can provide reassurance to assuage her fears and offer suggestions for increasing her comfort.

I love that my journey to midwifery began with labor support. I can’t think of a better preparation for working with women in a clinical role than working with women in an emotional and physical and spiritual support role. Through my hours of prenatal meetings, slow-dancing with women through early labor as the sun rose through the kitchen window, digging deep within myself for the strength to keep at it during marathon births, staying present for contraction after contraction, exulting in the progress made, the sliver of baby’s head first peeking out into the world, the final pushes, the first moments together as a new family, I saw my clients embedded in the context of the rest of their lives. I worked with them in their homes, met their relatives and in many special occasions, became an honorary part of these families. Several of my doula babies call me “Auntie,” and I love watching them grow.

These are not experiences I would necessarily have had if I had taken a more direct route into nursing and hospital-based nurse-midwifery. Every path opens before the feet that are called to walk it, and the journey to which I have been called has enriched my life in ways I never could have imagined when I first walked into a room with a laboring woman. My heart overflows with gratitude for all of the midwives and doulas with whom I have had the privilege of working. I look forward to a lifetime of laboring together, welcoming everyday miracles into the world.

About Author: Robin Gray-Reed

Robin Gray-Reed began working with birthing women as a certified doula, following a path that has led her to become a childbirth educator, international board certified lactation consultant, registered nurse and student nurse-midwife. She lives in Seattle, Washington. She can be reached through her website: www.mindfulmidwife.com.

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