Interview for DSA Newsletter
November 2004

By Joy Boudreau

1. What drew you to this line of work?

When I had my first baby 18 years ago I remember the nurses being very nice but they didn’t help me cope with these powerful forces coursing through my body. My husband is usually the first person I turn to when I need help but he didn’t know what to do for me. He was lost in an unknown environment and situation. No one looked out for him or helped him help me. My GP came into the room a few times during labour and offered encouraging words and touches. This really calmed and grounded me but she only stayed for a few minutes at a time and then that life line was gone. I felt that there was something missing, although I couldn’t put it into words at the time. I had never heard of a doula or the concept of labour support………..and then Kelsy was born! And I said “Oh my gawd, I need to come back and do this again in 9 months!”

Then I had my second baby and this time I stayed home longer after labour started. My husband applied counter pressure to my back during contractions while he roared with laughter watching Victor Borge (the piano playing comic) on TV. I appreciated the physical support but I felt alone in the pain.

When I was in labour with my third baby, friends came over for a visit. I enjoyed having them there and it was a good distraction but with every contraction they carried on with their conversation and I felt like I was on the outside.

Through all of my births, as empowering and joyous as they were, I always felt that something was missing. I was also upset by the number of birth horror stories I was hearing from other new moms. When my husband and I decided that 3 was enough, I decided that I wanted to help other women give birth. That was 12 years ago. My 1st birth was a 30 week gestation baby with a brain bleed and other serious complications. It was on my birthday and I walked away from the planned celebrations. If I could do this birth, and still have a passion to help parents, then this was my calling.

2. You’ve been doing this for a long time. How do you balance home life and what keeps you going?

This work takes a lot out of you and you need to make sure you replenish yourself. My husband and I make sure that we get away by ourselves every 3-5 months. This could range from going somewhere exotic to something as simple as staying in a nice hotel downtown for a couple of nights. I used to take my girls out individually for some one on one bonding but now that they’re all teenagers, hanging out with Mom is not very cool (unless it involves the mall and me spending lots of money). Exercise is really important to me. I ride my bike at least 150 km/week and do weights and Pilates twice a week. I also walk my dogs. My dogs are my balance. We have 3 Golden Retrievers that are a source of unconditional love. I also use my pharmacist! If I feel that I’m coming down with something and I have 2 births due that week, I will go see him and say “Make me well!!”

3. Do you ever feel like quitting?

YES! I want to quit vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, doing laundry and cooking but one thing I would never consider quitting is doula work. It is a passion in which I have invested my whole heart. Life gets overwhelming sometimes, but whose doesn’t. I do my best to balance it with the help of my family and friends (and dogs). I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon over all these years. Since I have become a really busy doula, there is the odd period of time that I will only have 1 or 2 clients due. I used to stress over it and wonder why. But more often than not, something in my life would happen during that period that required more of my time and attention. This has ranged from a friend being diagnosed with cancer to being able to take off on a business trip with my husband to California at the last minute. I have learned not to question and if I pay very close attention, there is an order to life.

4. What is the standard package that you offer your clients?

An interview and 1 prenatal visit. I will always offer more visits if necessary but they never need it. Over the years, I’ve perfected the information and suggestions I offer my clients. This has resulted in no back labours in the past 4 years, very few c-sections or fetal distress and almost all 1st time moms have their babies in 8-10 hours or less. Cracked nipples are also a thing of the past. I also give them homework (lots of sex! J).
Of course, I am with them in labour (with no breaks) from when they want me until breastfeeding is well established. And then I will see them again at home. I spend quite a bit of money having the pictures that I took at the birth developed. I take my film to a shop that evaluates each print individually to get the best photo possible. My clients treasure these pictures and really appreciate the extra effort. For my own births, we have nothing to remind us of those incredible days but our memories. How I wish our beautiful daughters could have been captured on film during their first moments.

5. How do you promote your business now and in the past?

I really don’t need to advertise now. I get all of my clients through word of mouth from satisfied customers as well as referrals from doctors and nurses. When I was starting out I attended fairs and rented tables but it rarely resulted in getting paying clients. I feel very strongly that a system needs to be in place that ensures that all doulas get paid for their services whether the client can afford to pay or not. In the hospital, the doctors, nurses, food service workers, janitors, clerks, etc. all get paid for the work that they do. Why are doulas expected to work for free or for very little. Many doulas seem to devalue themselves and make excuses for charging what they do. If you do a good job, then you should be paid accordingly and well. We work extremely long hours without breaks or shift changes sometimes throughout the night, we’re on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never know when we may have to drop everything and head off to a birth. Our work is valuable. Not only are we improving the lives of women, their babies and their families but in many cases we are saving the hospitals money. Doula work is hard and deserves to be compensated.

6. Has the way you run your business or your philosophy regarding labour support changed over the years?

No, I’ve always felt it was very important to present myself professionally, from the way I dress to the outgoing message on my answering machine. I’m not just representing myself, but the doula profession as a whole and consider myself an ambassador for DONA. I’ve always told my clients to check with their doctor or midwife before doing anything that I might suggest. My philosophy hasn’t changed regarding labour support but my methods and techniques have changed or been perfected. When in the hospital, I've learned when to say something and when to not. I will not risk saying something inaccurate and put my reputation as a doula at risk. If I am unsure of anything, I ask the nurses, doctors or midwives quietly to help me understand and offer advice to my client. Also, when I see someone doing an outstanding job, a doctor, nurse or family member, I let them know. Feedback, good or bad is how we learn and we are in such a unique position to learn from so many different people. I’ve become very confident in my role and I think my clients sense this and feel more secure.

7. Do you feel that doulas are more welcome in hospitals now than they were 10 years ago?

All I know is that I’m more welcome now because they have gotten to know me and how I work. I always wear a name tag which I think they appreciate. Some doulas are more effective than others and therefore get more respect. I was at a birth recently and the woman in the next room was screaming in pain and fear. I was surprised to find out that she had a doula with her. I looked at my clients ever widening eyes and assured her that she would not have that experience. She proceeded to have a beautifully controlled labour and pushed her 1st baby out in 35 minutes.

8. You have been a mentor for many years. Why is this important to you and did you have a mentor when you were starting out?

No, I didn’t have a mentor but I would have loved to. I have always mentored anyone who asked me but I have become increasingly frustrated over the years. Many of the doulas that I have spent many hours talking to and taking to births quit within the first couple of years when faced with the reality of the job or they go onto have more children and are not available any longer. I have become much more discriminating about who I will mentor. I am always willing to talk to a new doula if she feels overwhelmed while at a birth and needs some guidance but for further mentoring I ask some tough questions. Why do they want to be a doula? If it is for self gratification or a “birth high”, I am not interested. I ask them whether their family is prepared to support them in this time consuming and unpredictable endeavor. Do they know their limitations as a doula and can they guarantee to never cross that line. If it is their deepest desire for women and their partners to speak of their births with strength and confidence and they are realistic about what the job entails, I am more than willing to mentor them.

9. What is the most important piece of advice you can give a new doula?

To look after themselves while at a birth. I always take peanut butter or cheese sandwiches with me as well as energy drinks and lots of cut up veggies. I also make sure that I have something to eat in the car on the way home, preferably something crunchy – it keeps me awake. Also, make sure you have a dependable doula that you can count on for back up. This greatly reduces stress levels. You also must know how your family is going to manage if you are suddenly called away for an extended period of time and make prior arrangements for their care. As far as doing the job of a doula – don’t make it too complicated. Remember what you are there for – listen to your heart and trust your instincts.