What does it mean to be on call as a doula

10 Nov 2022 05:00 PM

When you hire a doula, that is the trade we make: You have experienced caring support for the unexpected needs and challenges of birth, ready to join you any time, any day.

cartoony woman going to work at night

Certainly, being on-call means being alert all the time, but I will always answer that call at 2 am with excitement, reminding you this is an exciting day, because the moment to meet this new life is close! This makes the challenges of being on call beyond worthy, it is a unique day on your life, and I am honored to being chosen to be your doula!!!life,

When you are looking for a doula, and we first meet, at some point, describing my work, I (and any doula) will tell you, from a certain point on your pregnancy, I will be 24/7 on call for you. 

You are also informed you can contact me anytime during pregnancy, although we try to keep non emergencies for business hours. 

During that on call window, from 37 weeks on your pregnancy until baby comes (up to 42 weeks), being on call support means, if you think you are in labor or that something changed, I will be available for you to support you during labor. 

When we are having that conversation, I disclose that means, on that window of time, I won’t travel far, and my phone will be ringing loud (it always is actually) anytime day or night. 

But what is behind “being on call” (for birth doulas, birth photographers, birth workers)?

I have my phone close by every night, and ringing. But I always say, if it is nighttime, please call, I really don’t want to risk sleeping through a message.

I stay in town. I will always stay within 1-2 hours of our clients during the on-call period in case a client tells me they are in labor. This means no trips, no vacations, no quick trips on weekends to San Antonio.

Leaving in the middle of the night happens. When I am on call, sometimes the phone will ring in the middle of the night. In order to make sure I am ready to head to a client overnight if needed, I will have clothes ready, I will have my doula bag ready, drink some coffee too so I make sure I am awake and alert.

Being ready to head out any time means I am leaving everything, or as much as possible, ready for the day and/or the following day for who stays. My entire family/household is on call while I am. When birth workers are at a birth, someone else must be responsible for caring for our children (and on call support for our own children is subject for another blog post entirely) or, for some, taking care of pets, hosting or going to a birthday party solo, getting kids ready for their activities. We are present in daily activities but some days we are not.

We don't know how long we'll be gone. We may be called out at any time, and labor support is continuous (there are no shifts). A birth worker may be gone for 6 hours, or thirty-two.

I can’t postpone daily errands. I can’t really leave for tomorrow what I can do today. When it comes to filling up the gas tank, doing laundry, or grocery shopping, we tend to postpone when we aren't on call.  Laundry may become a snowball if days go by without doing it. The car must have gas all the time if I need to leave in the middle of the night. Groceries must be up to date as well. And since we can't predict when we might get that call, we must stay on top of the game...

Being a doula who is on call means we will have to reschedule many things. Either for my kids' doctors, activities, plans, or for my clients not in labor. There may be times when I am called to a birth and need to reschedule doula meetings so I can meet a family in labor. As inconvenient as this may be, most of the time these families are wonderful and understanding and send their good wishes for the birth. And my family completely understands, that is their lives too. My friends get it too, my answer is always I will be there unless at a birth. Blessed to be surrounded by lovely people!

I will sometimes be late or completely miss personal things. I had been called to births over holidays. On Christmas Eve, it happened twice. Although I must admit things seem to happen in a magical way (one first time mom dilated from 2 to 10 cm in just one hour on a December 24th), or when I made it just on time for my kids end of the year school presentation. or that time... I can go on and on.  But yes, I have been absent from family gatherings, dinners with friends, my kids' school events, and other, for births. That's just how doula life is!

When I am on call, I take extra care of myself because I need to be at my best to support you in labor.