So many of us here are leading double lives: between work and family, between a handful of jobs, between the demands of an internet-based business and everything else.
I too am leading a double life. I’m a birth doula.
I work with the Hudson Perinatal Consortium as a community doula. The program is funded by the state of New Jersey in part because doulas and continuous labor support have been shown time and again to improve birth outcomes (i.e., shorter labors with fewer complications and interventions and healthier babies) while cutting health care costs. Many women also find that doula support improves birth satisfaction and helps create empowering, positive memories of the labor and birth experience.
What’s a doula?
According to DONA, one of several national doula certifying organizations:
The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.
- Recognizes birth as a key experience the mother will remember all her life
- Understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor
- Assists the woman in preparing for and carrying out her plans for birth
- Stays with the woman throughout the labor
- Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decision
- Facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her clinical care providers
- Perceives her role as nurturing and protecting the woman’s memory of the birth experience
- Allows the woman’s partner to participate at his/her comfort level
After working in maternity care and childbirth advocacy for years, I now want to see the direct impact of my work improving another woman’s life. And I’m very specific about the “woman’s life” piece. Many childbirth advocates come to their work specifically aiming to improve infant care. I come to this work primarily driven to support women’s work, women’s reproductive choices, and ultimately women’s empowerment.
So too with my approach to virtual assistance.
The question I get all the time
“What’s the connection?”
It’s a fair question. Interestingly, none of the women business owners I work with as a VA have kids. (I suppose I should say that none have kids yet. My VA clients’ future childbearing plans aren’t part of my Get-to-Know-You call). Together we think and talk about mailing lists, billing schedules, new webpages and ways to automate administrative tasks.
When I’m with my doula clients, we talk about comfort measures to get through the next surge and breathing the baby down. We talk about breastfeeding, oxytocin levels to promote mother-baby attachment, and Mother-friendly and Baby-friendly hospitals in the area.
Both types of conversations are about nurturing something you love into fruition, and strategizing like hell to make the process transformative and empowering. Both conversations require a commitment to stress reduction and taking good care of oneself.
And look, neither a doula nor a VA is the star of the show. We do the behind-the-scenes work: we clean up databases, run errands, focus on what will make our client look and feel good. We are the support structures that make the process more enjoyable, more fulfilling. Less stressful. Healthier. And sure, life isn’t perfect; I’m not perfect; childbirth isn’t perfect. But it can be better.
Moms and business owners both experience shifts in their identity when life stretches to accommodate this big new piece. It can be stressful, frustrating, frightening, and overwhelming.
Doulas and VAs both offer resources, helpful pieces of information, support systems, advice and I’ve-been-there-before guidance and companionship. Personally, I thrive on opportunities to share what I’ve got in useful ways.
And, bonus, being a doula makes me a better VA. It helps me listen, empathize, communicate, lead compassionately and be present even when the shit hits the fan. It teaches me about the value of offering a calming presence and the importance of making sure my needs are met before I can offer support to others.
Likewise, being a VA makes me a better doula. It teaches me to problem-solve in creative ways, to use technology, online resources and online networking to get my clients what they need. It teaches me that my doula business is a business and therefore requires proper caretaking to grow and thrive.
What we do & who we are
Some folks are surprised when they hear that I’ve never experienced childbirth myself. Right now I’m wrestling with my own ambivalences about parenting, even as I whole-heartedly support women in the process of becoming a parent themselves.
But is that so surprising? My VA clients are coaches, attorneys, and teachers. I don’t need to be a coach, attorney, or teacher in order to effectively help them with their work. Similarly, when a client is having intense, painful surges, what matters is whether a doula can support her through them until her baby is in her arms, not whether she has a personal memory of what that experience is like.
So, ok, we’re all leading double lives. And maybe in the end, the mixing and mingling of those lives and roles ultimately makes us more whole people.
Acknowledging and appreciating these parallels transformed the way I think about my big picture. It makes me feel more confident, more in touch with myself.
(By the way, I have Lauree Ostrofsky to thank for gentle nudges and insightful questions that led me to this inquiry. Go find Lauree. She’s amazing.)