30th August 2017
This interview with Doula UK member Pat Wood, first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of The Doula magazine.
Pat is a doula, mother and grandmother to six. She lives in Bedford with her husband Tim, who she married in 2015. Pat enjoys walking her dogs and occasionally going fishing (a bit like birth, a lot of sitting around, then bursts of excitement!). She also helps Tim with his business, as well as teaching Hypnobirthing.
How long were you a midwife for?
I was a midwife for nearly 20 years. Before this I was I nursery nurse and a mother to my own four children.
What inspired you to make the move to train to become a doula?
That’s a strange one, as it wasn’t something that I ever planned to do.
My husband had mouth cancer for four years and during that time had two re-occurrences involving surgery and six weeks radiotherapy each time. I was not ‘allowed’ any time off during these episodes so I worked all weekend then was travelling to treatments Monday to Friday. I felt very unsupported by my employers. When he was given a terminal diagnosis with no further treatment, he desperately wanted to stay at home to die. Everyone thought he had a few weeks to live, but for three months I cared for him on my own.
Being back at work was stressful. After completing a hypnobirthing practitioner’s course I decided to take early retirement and teach that instead. I was asked if I would doula for someone and my first reaction was I wouldn’t know what to do. I soon realised that this was a way I could still give the support that I loved, without the restrictions of the NHS. I also didn’t have the paper work to do! So the doula thing really chose me.
How did you find the process?
I really enjoyed my doula course and found that it undid a lot of my midwifery thinking. I love giving long term support throughout the pregnancy and the whole of the birth process. I enjoy caring for just one couple rather than juggling two or three couples at once. I use new skills of listening and watching and understanding, not ‘doing’ observations and filling in forms.
How long have you been a doula for?
I have been working as a full time doula for five years now.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
I enjoy the sense of freedom, I can choose when and where I work. I love the fact that I can have a real relationship with the families I work with, and fully understand what is important to them. I like not being restricted by policy, protocols or paperwork. To be able to give a cuddle if needed or speak bluntly if necessary. To be able to give care to people without worrying about machines or upsetting doctors or managers.
What do you find most challenging?
I used to find being on call most of the time stressful, but I have now settled into that and am pretty chilled most of the time.
The financial insecurity can be a worry. I swing between worrying no one will employ me to worrying that I have too much to do. It also took me quite a while to get to grips with the business side of things.
Long births can be such a strain. As a midwife your shifts are limited to 12 hours. The longest I was away from home was 51 hours.
When I see poor care or bad advice being given I do find it frustrating.
What skills from your midwifery days have you taken with you?
I think the best skill I have taken with me is the ability to listen and quickly build relationships with people. Patience and remaining calm in any situation come in useful in all aspects of life.
Do you miss any aspects of midwifery?
I miss my colleagues, and the support they would give, being a doula can be a lonely place at times. I thought I would miss being a midwife as opposed to working as one, as in losing my identity. I was also worried that I would have wasted the sacrifices my family made by giving up, but in fact this hasn’t happened, my skills are still respected and I feel the work I do is even more valuable.
How do you feel about being hands off now and not using your skills as a medic? Is there ever any frustration there?
I would be lying if I said I’ve never wanted to have a listen to baby’s heart when no one else is interested because it’s ‘too soon’. Also sometimes vaginal examinations can be good detection work for many unusual situations not just dilation.
Overall though, no; I am happy to hand those jobs over to others. Not doing those things makes you much more skilled in using your eyes, ears (and nose) in assessing situations. I am now very aware of how little “help” most women really need.
What advice would you give any midwives thinking of making the transition to doula?
Make sure you have a healthy bank balance, or another source of income.
Be prepared to be surprised by some of the bad practise that you see. Learn to step back and concentrate on supporting the woman. Get a good support network around you.
Get a good bottle of wine for when you are off call!