Birth can be a little unpredictable to say the least! If you work in this field long enough, you are sure to accumulate a few strange, crazy, and even hilarious stories along the way. At times, a birth experience may seem like an episode from “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”, an improv comedy game show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. The show ran on ABC for nine years and was all about improvising your way through a scene created from random details. For example, the host (Drew Carey) might ask the audience for a scenario (filming a Western movie), then perhaps a type of employment (vacuum salesmen), and finally a random object (rubber chicken). The contestants would then act out a scene where a vacuum salesman is filming a Western movie using a rubber chicken and somehow the cast makes the scene work—it’s gut-busting hysterical! The contestants’ ability to adapt and adjust to any scenario thrown at them is truly remarkable.
Some unpredictable events in labour can also be funny and even laughed about after the fact. Scenario: unplanned home birth, type of employment: pizza delivery guy, and random object: shoe lace. Scene: labour comes on very fast and strong, Mom is on the phone with the midwife when a pizza delivery guys shows up at the door with dinner, demanding cash payment even though pizza was paid for by credit card. While Dad is running around looking for cash, mom’s water breaks. She ends her call with the midwife after deciding to meet at the hospital. Surprise! The next contraction is a pushing contraction and minutes after throwing cash into the pizza delivery guy’s face, Dad delivers his daughter on the kitchen floor… and ties off the umbilical cord with a shoe lace. TRUE STORY! That was the birth of my second child! While those moments in the scene were a little scary, we now joke about how the delivery guy might have delivered a whole lot more than pizza!
Think of every labouring woman/couple as contestants on their own improv show called “Labour and Delivery”. While they may have rehearsed and prepared for days, months, or even years, they now need to adjust and respond to the scenarios which are handed them. Some scenarios are anticipated and easy to navigate, while others are unexpected and the cast finds it difficult to adjust and get the scene back on track. But make no mistake, the show must go on!
What is the Doula’s role in this improv show? Are they members of the audience offering up lots of options and suggestions? Maybe they are the host who is filtering through all the comments and ideas to guide the action? How about one of the contestants making decisions in real time to move the scene along? Allow me to suggest that the Doula’s best role is the Stagehand.
Stagehands make sure the scene can run smoothly with minimal distractions. They prepare the contestants for the next step, run lines, prompt missed cues, and anticipate the needs of the contestants. While there is a general “agreed upon outline” of how the scene is supposed to play out, in the end they are there to support the contestants no matter what events transpire or what unexpected turns this improv show takes. Labour is the ultimate “improv” and everything can change at a moment’s notice!
I used to believe that for a Doula to be effective they needed to join the cast. After years of experience however, I’ve shifted my point of view to ‘Stagehand’ narrative. A Doula’s job is to support, but not directly make the decisions. The labouring woman/couple may lean heavily on their Doula throughout labour, but this does not make the Doula a member of the cast. I’m content and effective as an extraordinary stagehand skilled to do all things necessary to keep the true cast members moving forward in their improv scene. Labour and delivery is not the Doula’s life-changing moment in the spotlight…it’s the parents!
CLD, CPD, CCCE, Childbirth Educator Faculty
Teresa has been serving clients across York Region since 2008 as the business owner of My Baby Bump and Stouffville Prenatal. Teresa holds a diploma in Early Childhood Education from St. Lawrence College in Kingston Ontario, and uses this combined skill set to support families through pregnancy, delivery, and parenting. Teresa’s passion to see women achieve their desired birth experience, extends beyond her business and into her volunteer role as a director on the board of the Markham Stouffville Crisis Pregnancy Centre. She became a doula because she believes there is a need for people to understand and experience labour and delivery rather than simply finding a way to deal with the pain. Teresa currently resides in Stouffville, Ontario with her husband and four teenage children.