Monday, 30 January 2012

How college prepared me for being a doula

Sometimes - often as I'm heading to or from a birth - I'll think about the skills I draw on as a doula, and how I wasn't expecting college to have prepared me so well in certain ways for the life of a doula. I think it often enough that I decided I should do a post about it. So from least to most important, here's how what I learned in college applies to doula work:

4) Epidemiology and other courses that taught me how to read and interpret scientific literature
My master's in public health certainly built on and added to these skills, but I got a very solid foundation in college. Nearly all of my courses emphasized critically reading and analyzing primary literature. I have really enjoyed sharing the benefits of this with my doula clients - helping them understand the evidence for and against various interventions in birth or other concerns they may have.

3) Medical anthropology
Without question one of the most generally life-changing courses I've ever taken, and very applicable to doula work. So much of what we do as doulas involves negotiating the boundaries between very different cultures of birth, and understanding (and sometimes critiquing) those cultures AND our own. The most important thing I learned in my med anthro class was that "Culture is to people as water is to fish...you can't see your own culture because you're in it". It's difficult to mentally step back and try to see your own culture, but it's as important for a doula to understand her own personal mindset and cultural values as it is for her to learn more about those of her clients, the hospital staff, etc.

2) Spanish
I have a whole separate post on Spanish coming, but to summarize I will say that when I was an AmeriCorps doula this was vital. In fact, the Spanish skills of the doulas on my team got us called into a lot more births than we might have been otherwise. The nurses were NOT supposed to call us as interpreters, but they knew that having us around helped make the Spanish-speaking only patients feel more comfortable...and it did make the nurses' jobs easier. And there is a cultural preference on the part of many Hispanic women for unmedicated birth - all the harder to accomplish through language barriers - so very often a doula was especially appropriate. I haven't been to a Spanish-speaking birth in a while, but I'm pretty sure it would all come flooding back to me: "La cervix es la boca de matriz. Tiene que abrir de zero a 10 centimetros..."

And the number one thing I learned in college...

1) All-nighters
No lie. (All you doulas know I'm not lying.) I remember the first time I tried to pull an all-nighter in college I physically could not do it. I had to quit around 3-4 am and go to bed. A few more practice nights and I was able to push that out to 5 am...then to 7 am...and then I could enable my natural procrastination with nonstop marathons to finish those final papers the night before the deadline. I learned to accept the physical effects of sleep deprivation (for me, nausea) and find remedies (protein!) And I learned to carefully assess the correct way to manage getting back on schedule (short nap in the afternoon? or just stay up and then go to bed early?) I also learned to do this all without the use of caffeine (I know, I know - I was the only freakish college student not chugging coffee.)

All of this proved invaluable when I started attending labors that could last for 24+ hours and/or begin just as I was about to go to bed. And when I became a doula I discovered that giving counterpressure at 4:30 am is a actually easier than constructing supporting arguments for a thesis. And that while turning in those 20-25 pages is certainly a satisfying feeling, it doesn't really compare to the adrenaline rush of attending a birth. So while I still use my skills from those days, doula all-nighters compare very favorably to college all-nighters!


I guess the moral of all this is that if you're in college and an aspiring doula, take epi, med anthro, Spanish, and don't write any of your papers for those classes until the last minute! (Note: staying up all night partying is not equivalent preparation, but feel free to do some of that too.)