What’s in the Bag?

It’s a question that comes up at every doula training – “What do you carry with you to a birth?” On message boards and doula support forums, there are so many options and ideas and lists of suggestions for things that doulas may want to purchase or may need to carry to support someone in labor. Not only do doulas want to know what should go in the bag, but what about the bag itself? Wheeled suitcase with organizing dividers, or a cute tote with business branding? Under current CDC recommendations, under COVID-19 safety precautions, it is advised that doulas arrive with only their own personal necessities, and some doulas seem worried about what they’ll do without the birth bag.

When I was a brand-new baby doula, I arrived prepared to give my all with a hiking backpack packed with so many things, the seams were beginning to split. Inside the rugged green canvas held massage tools, microwavable hot packs, scented oils, a deflated birth ball, a pump for the ball, a roll of duct tape because of that one time my ball sprung a leak, and more – so much more. The full bag was easily the same weight as a seven-year-old kid, and carrying it down the block from the parking garage to the hospital entryway was a workout all by itself! It was worth it though, I thought. It seemed certainly better to have the things and not need them, than to need the things and not have them. It was, in hindsight, a security blanket almost as much as a backpack.

Over time, I would arrive at births that went quickly with not one tool from the bag being put to use. Other times, births stretched quietly and slowly, hours at a time with more need for continuous calming presence than tools for counterpressure. Sometimes, the bag itself stayed right in the car, while I threw only a couple of things in my purse or pockets before going in the hospital door. Some items were removed as I learned to make hair ties from a nitrile glove, or an ice bag from a chux pad. During prenatal visits, “what to bring with you to the hospital” is a frequent topic, and we talk about any massage tools, or hot packs, or other comfort items clients may wish to bring in their own bag, from home. There’s no need for a doula to supply all of these. Supporting families in feeling prepared for birth is part of what doulas do, including thinking about what they might with to have for comfort.

Now, after years, my birth bag is completely different. A bright blue satchel barely bigger than a pocketbook, it carries the small necessities to keep myself at my best to be fully present with birthing people when they most need support. Mints, a good lip balm, a little cash for the vending machines, a phone charger and usually a ball of yarn and a crochet hook (in case I need to sit and be quiet) remain among the few items that remain essential. Doula care, I know now, is a head, heart, and hands profession. The tools we carry in this way – in our words, our touch, and our presence – are more effective than any physical thing we might bring.

About the Author

Jodi Green, CLD, has 16 years of experience as a birth and postpartum doula in South Jersey. Her “Preparing for Positive Birth” courses are offered at local hospitals, physician offices, and WIC facilities.  In her free time, Jodi most enjoys spending time with her partner and their blended family.  Find Jodi online at jodithedoula.com or on Twitter @jodithedoula.

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