The question surfaces in every online doula forum, community and message board. It usually comes from a novice doula, wanting to learn some new tips and tricks.
So, what’s in YOUR doula bag?
I always giggle when I see it, imagining a couple of macho men comparing their toolboxes. Often, a bunch of doulas jump in the conversation, eager to show off their repertoire. Who knew you could use a comb and a sock full of tennis balls for pain relief in labor?
I get it. I used to want to know ALL OF THE TRICKS and carry ALL OF THE STUFF. I, too, as a fresh-faced, newly-trained doula spent a small fortune on:
- oils (essential and massage)
- a hot water bottle with a cute fleece cover
- homeopathic remedies
- a peanut ball
- birth music
- a bunch of other random stuff like straws and tennis balls.
I wanted to be the best. I started researching nebulizers (for the aforementioned essential oils). I imagined buying a TENS unit to rent out to clients. I thought I should probably buy a couple of nice rebozos and make some cute branded items (honey sticks! lip balm pots!) to hand out to my clients while they labored.
Every time I got the call, I schlepped my heavy bag to the hospital, eager to jump in and do something. I felt equipped. I felt knowledgeable. I felt important.
You are feeling nauseated? Here is some peppermint oil!
You are having some cramping? Let me fill up the hot water bottle!
Your back is hurting? Let me massage some pain-relief oil onto it and try out some rebozo techniques (because clearly the baby must be posterior). How about I put on some birth music for good measure?
I thought my "stuff" would make me a better doula. I thought I was serving my clients best by giving them an array of options.
I was wrong. A full birth bag does not make a better doula.
It didn’t take too long for me to realize that the “stuff” distracts from a doula's most important job: listening. The “stuff” becomes the solution before the problem arises. The “stuff” becomes the answer before the question is asked. Just by being there, the “stuff” wants to be trotted out, paraded around and USED (even if it isn't needed).
What does this communicate to my client? (Hint: probably not “you are doing a great job”).
Who does my “stuff” serve in this scenario? (Hint: probably not my client).
Labour is hard. There are parts of it that are not comfortable. That doesn’t mean that every discomfort needs to be addressed. Sensations come and go in labor just as contractions come and go. Women are strong. They don’t need help at every turn. When something feels really intense, the labouring woman will let me know what she needs. Most often, a few kind words and strong pair of hands usually do the trick.
My doula bag is more toned down now. I still have a few essential oils that rarely get opened. I keep the peanut ball at home now (it was SUCH a pain to carry). On rare occasions I will break out the birth music or fill up the hot water bottle, but mostly I don't use props. I don’t need them. My clients don’t need them.
I used to think that my doula bag was for my clients. Now, my doula bag is for ME. There is a phone charger in there and a water bottle. I will usually throw in some food as I am running out the door. Sometimes I’ll even manage to grab a clean pair of socks, a toothbrush and some underwear.
That’s it: simple, portable, focused, boring even. I’m okay with that. My clients are not going suffer because I didn’t bring rice-socks, tennis balls, homeopathic remedies or a rebozo to the birth. It isn’t what is IN my doula bag that matters anyway; it’s what’s NOT in my doula bag that counts.