On Call Life ~ Words from a Doula

Ever wonder what it feels like to be on call? The anticipation? The rush of adrenaline? Read from our doula's perspective what it's like to be in her shoes and getting that call in the middle of the night!

The shock that comes over me when my phone rings at 2:00 a.m. still surprises me. Some would think after eight years and seeing over 200 babies born, my ears would be prepared for the ringing sound flooding in. The call is from a nervous father or desperate mother telling me they think it’s time. The weeks leading up to that moment are quiet and filled with anticipation. My clothes are laid out, birth bag is packed, phone always charged, and fuel gauge never below half a tank. Part of me imagines a life not planned around that call, not having to fear areas with no cell reception and the words “If I am not at a birth…” following every conversation I have. The chaos of being on call, lack of sleep, and broken promises all drift away as I walk into the home, birth center or hospital room and see a woman starting her journey into becoming a mother.

It's in that moment that my life makes sense.

As I startle from the call, my eyes flash open and my heart beats out of my chest just like when I was a child during monsoon season and the thunder clapped inches from my window. Adrenaline rushes through my veins as I steady the phone to my ear desperately trying to control my shaking hand. Chills pour over me as I crawl out of bed and whisper, “Hello” trying not to wake my sleeping children sprawled on mattresses across the floor. Not entirely awake, I question who it is I am talking to. Whose voice is on the other line explaining these important details? My mind moves as if I have a file for each client in my head and I search for them through the long rows of “filing cabinets” until their name appears.

This time the call is from a client early in labor. Labor is an endurance sport, so I remind them there's a long road ahead and sleep is crucial. While I wish these words brought comfort, deep down I know I have asked an impossible request.

Sleeping in the early moments of labor is like trying to sleep as a child on Christmas Eve night. The hormonal labor cocktail that flows through a woman’s body ignites her like her first kiss or falling in love. It will be one of the most thrilling adventures of her life.

The phone call ends, but I know they may call me again in a few minutes or hours and then there are times that days go by and nothing comes from those sensations they had felt nights before. Hanging up the phone I give myself that same advice to sleep, and if I can’t, then rest.

Just as the heaviness of my eyelids give way, the phone rings again.

Firmly rubbing my husband’s shoulder, I let him know I am headed out. He doesn’t ask how long I’ll be gone anymore. Taking a quick glance at my children, I wonder if I will be home before they wake up or will I be home to tuck them into bed tomorrow and read their favorite Shel Silverstein book. It was even more challenging to leave when they were babies. The thought of heading out to a weekend long birth after being up for countless nights with a fussy baby was emotionally and physically exhausting. I still regret missing those early moments of my son’s life. I tie up my hair, fasten my watch and get dressed in a matter of seconds. I didn’t know that my six weeks of Air Force Basic Training would prepare me for the speed needed for birth work.

I dash outside into the cool Wisconsin air. The cold feels refreshing after the mad hustle I just performed to get out the door.

My eyes take a dash around me and I sigh feeling thankful that the winter weather has left a clear path in my driveway. Shoveling in the wee hours of the morning is my least favorite winter sport. One time when a baby was coming in a hurry on an early white morning, I was able to floor my red minivan in reverse and make a sweet landing over the thick snow blocking the end of my driveway. As I drive there is silence in the air and it feels like a different city with calm, bare streets. The never changing stop lights didn’t get the memo that I am the only vehicle on the road. I sit, waiting for a green light, wondering if I should just chance it. As the light finally turns, my patience returns and I balance to find the perfect speed. Although if I was pulled over, I couldn’t have a better excuse as to why I was speeding.

With the radio off I say a prayer and think through all the possibilities of what I could be walking into. I remind myself of the hopes and desires this family had planned for their birth. Pulling into the driveway, I shift into park and let out a deep breath letting go of all my worries and overwhelmed thoughts that often fill my mind. I leave all of my issues there in my vehicle until I return because this is not about me, this is about the mom, her baby, and family.  I grab my birth bag and hang it on my shoulder letting it fall across my chest.

The heaviness of the bag pulls the strap into my neck, and I wonder if I will use anything in the bag or if my words and hands be all that I need to support this woman.

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I knock on the door and as it opens, I first catch sight of my client, the woman I have sat and talked with for hours, but yet it’s as if I have never seen her before. Her eyes are tired as she forces a smile, and I can tell that her mind and body are beginning the hardest work they may ever be asked to do. 

Birth- it’s not like the movies, it’s unpredictable, monotonous, has bad lighting and it definitely doesn’t fit into a three-minute film clip.

I don’t know if I will ever get used to the madness that comes with being on call for a birth, but the transformation I get to observe and the experience that transpires has lead me to a calling that I can’t seem to let go.

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Laura Kralovetz