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On Apprenticeship - a Newer Doula's Perspective

Posted Apr 10 2014 9:00am
This is a guest post from Anna , the apprentice doula I have been working with for awhile. She is an amazing doula, and I wanted to give her a chance to tell you about the benefits of Mentorship. 
Over the past 6 months, I've had the incredible honor of being Cole's apprentice. I started my training to be a doula about a year before that, but nothing else I'd done would prepare me for birth work like actually working with an experienced doula.
In 2012 I started the birth doula course with Childbirth International, and started slowly working my way through it. When I unexpectedly got my very first client, I knew immediately that I needed to talk one on one with someone locally that could help me understand more how the process worked. Even though we'd only met once before, Cole was totally willing to jump in and give me some great pointers. And when she contacted me about a year later and asked if I was still working on my certification and if I was interested in applying for an apprentice position, I jumped on the opportunity!

I'm not sure I can explain just how amazingly helpful this apprenticeship has been, but I'll try! Cole has taught me so much. It's one thing to gain book knowledge, which is important in its own way, but it's quite another to be involved with births hands on, getting to actually watch and learn from someone who's been doing birth work for over a decade. I feel that having Cole mentor me directly has accelerated me years ahead of what I could have learned on my own in the same time.
As you would expect, there's been lots of hands on skill share- from how to massage a laboring woman's hips and lower back, to rebozo work, to how to palpate a pregnant belly to determine baby's position. We've discussed many different labor classes, books, and techniques and how to best support a couple that's chosen to use a specific method. I've had a running list of questions the whole time and Cole seems to have knowledge on just about anything I can think of to ask.

Watching the way Cole conducts herself during the prenatal visits with each client was one of the more eye opening aspects of the apprenticeship process for me personally. She goes in so calm, relaxed, and confident, an attitude that really seems to help put the expectant parents at ease. She's not afraid to leave a little 'dead space' in the conversation, which gives the parents room to open up about any concerns that they might feel a little hesitant to bring up. I've loved seeing how each prenatal visit is a little different, tailored to the needs and personalities of each family. Shadowing Cole at several prenatals has really helped me feel more confident with my own clients, which in turn helps them to also feel more calm about the whole process.

One unique thing about this apprenticeship in particular, and something that I'm thankful for, is that several of the births that I attended with Cole were what might be called 'difficult births'. I'm thankful that I got to experience some of these firsthand with Cole there to guide me and show me how to handle certain things. As an example- the first birth I went to with Cole was a very fast, very intense birth. Baby was born just about an hour after we all arrived at the hospital!

Because labor was progressing so fast, things were very intense and momma was very LOUD. As a brand new doula, it was pretty intimidating for me! I didn't realize at first that the reason things were so intense was that the labor was progressing really quickly and baby was about to be born. Cole stayed super calm throughout the whole thing and explained to me later why things had happened the way they did. I was really thankful for that experience several months later when a client of my own had a short, intense, LOUD labor as well, and I was much better prepared to serve her after having been to a similar birth with Cole ahead of time.

Another of the births that I shadowed at ended up being a long, 20+ hour birth. It can be hard at first for new doulas to learn to prioritize self care during long births. It's so easy to think, 'no, I can't leave mom!' even if it's been 24 hours since you've slept and 12 since you've eaten anything. It was great for me to see Cole's example during that long labor and to see that it really is ok, and even necessary, to take a 15 or 20 minute break to get some food or some rest(even if that means crashing on the couch in the waiting room!). It's so much better to take a couple moments to rest and recharge than to be completely depleted by the time mom is ready to push.

Another advantage to apprenticing with a doula in your local area is that they can give you location specific business tips. Cole strongly encouraged me to charge what I was worth, even from the very birth. When my first birth ever turned out to be 30 hours long, I was so thankful that I'd listened to her advice and charged what I did. Because birth is such a personal event and because doulas put so much heart into what we do, it can be difficult at first to put a price tag on your services, especially when you believe that every mom deserves a doula! But personally as a single mom, birth work is also how I put food on the table for my family. Cole helped me to look at every aspect, determine what my time and services offered were worth, and gain the confidence to be able to charge that.

Cole has also been amazing in teaching me the emotional support side of things too. Doulas are by definition support people, and it takes a strong person with good boundaries to be able to truly support someone, especially when things happen that are less than ideal or when someone makes choices that are different from your own. I've truly learned that being a doula is about supporting *women* and not an agenda, and that to support someone you have to meet them where they're at. Getting to a place where I can look a momma in the eye and say, "I want you to make the choice that is right for *you*", and really meaning it, is so important. I've been so thankful to have Cole there to talk through some of the learning and growing and thinking processes with me as I've explored these questions and what being a doula really means for me and the women that I'm honored to serve.

If you're thinking about becoming a doula and are wondering how to get started, I would highly recommend pursuing an apprenticeship with a local doula that you respect and trust. Book knowledge is so wonderful and so needed, but nothing can compare to the hands on training that can only come through attending births with an experienced doula. I'm so thankful to Cole for all she's passed on to me, and for allowing me the opportunity!
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