On Call Doulas: “Just In Case I’m At A Birth”

My bag is ready in the hall. I am in reachable distance of my phone 24/7, even to the extent of sleeping with it next to my pillow. I’ve an expectant couple with an imminent due date.

 If you’re a doula, you know what this means. I’m on call for a birth.But I’m not on call as a doula. I’m on call as a filmmaker to film a birth for our One World Birth documentary.

 I’ve met the lovely expectant momma and papa a couple of times and they are being incredibly generous in allowing me to film their birth. This is their first birth and they’re planning a home water birth. They’ve just had their birthpool installed and so they’re all set and ready to go!

So for the next four weeks, I need to be near my phone, day or night. We’ve arranged that the momma’s doula is going to ring me when things are happening, but exactly when that might be, who knows. (A question for doulas: do you answer your phone even in the shower?)

So at anytime over the next four weeks, most likely in the middle of the night, I’ve got to be ready to drop everything, arrange emergency childcare, grab my things and head off not knowing when I will return. I could be back within just a few hours or in a couple of days!

So just like a doula, I need to have a bag packed and ready by my front door. As I’m filming the birth myself, then my bag contains the following:

Video Camera, batteries fully charged, memory cards, back-up tapes, sound equipment, cables, release forms, stills camera, food & drinks, change for parking plus release forms (which everyone I film has to sign). So yes, that reminds me, I need to pack a couple of pens too. Then there’s a camera tripod and small set of lights (although hoping not to need them).

Being on call also means that I can’t drink any alcohol because I might be driving off in the middle of the night, with imaginary blue lights flashing.

So no relaxing with a glass of wine for me after a hard days editing (that I’m doing at the moment for our One World Birth project).

It means I can’t make plans to go away for the next month. So no overnight trips home to see my parents. Even a friend’s birthday party 2 hours drive away becomes an issue. I can’t commit to social events, “just in case I’m at a birth”. I have to warn anyone I’m seeing that if my phone rings, I might have to up and run!

The difference between me and a doula is that I have no filmmaker back-up. If I can’t get to the birth in time, then no-one else is going to film it for me.

To be honest, being on call 24/7 is not a “normal” state for me to be in. I feel tense. I’m already jumping every time my phone rings. In fact, I had a call from the couple’s doula this morning and my heart skipped a beat when I saw her name come up on my phone – she wasn’t phoning about the birth but to ask if I’d be a special guest at her World Doula Week DOULA! film screening she was arranging.

And yes, I was  a little bit disappointed it wasn’t a call to immediate action! But that’s how it’s going to be possibly for the next few weeks. Never able to relax. Never able to plan. Never able to commit to anything.

But I’m not complaining. I’m really excited about this opportunity. It’s a huge privilege to be invited to be present at someone’s birth and I want to do the best job I can to make the parents proud!

Being on call has made me really appreciate how hard it is to be on call. I think being on call makes birth doulas even more like superheroes (which I’ve blogged about before) – ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to support a birthing momma.

The upside of being a doula must be amazing. Your life must be exciting, unpredictable, challenging, filled with moments of wonder and joy, every day a new adventure and every birth an incredible privilege. So for me the ups of being a doula massively outweigh the restrictions of being on call.

So for me, this experience of being on call makes me love doulas just that little bit more.

Now excuse me while I jump in the shower whilst still listening out for my phone! (Do doulas have waterproof phones?)


Toni Harman, Producer/Director, DOULA! film

To contact me please email:  info@altofilms.com

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