Many, many people that I know (even friends who I’ve known since loooooong before becoming a doula) still think doulas catch babies. This is not true. I’ve said it before and I would be flabbergasted if I never said it again: we don’t provide medical care of any kind. We are not midwives, we have no specialized medical training (although PRC-certified doulas like me have more extensive training in anatomy and physiology and emergency baby-catching training), and we have no business providing medical services. No, nope, nuh-uh. I’ll just add here that licensed midwives have extensive training in doing what they do. They don’t just take a weekend course and, boom, they’re midwives. I don’t know why some people think doulas and midwives are the same. I think I’ve written another blog post about that. Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent.

The point I came here to make is that it can be difficult to explain what a doula does to the uninitiated without a great analogy. And I have plenty of those. I used to use the “personal trainer” analogy, but I’ve come up with another one that may be even better: birth as a trek.

Doulas As Sherpas

On that trek of birth, the doula is your sherpa*. You, birther, are the intrepid explorer. Your healthy body and baby are the destination. Now, this trek is one you’ve never been on before. Maybe you’ve had experience in trekking, or maybe this is your first time, but this is the only opportunity you’ll ever have to go on this specific trek. Perhaps you’re trekking solo or you’ve got a partner to help you navigate. Of course, you have a team of medical personnel to step in if need be, but the adventure, at its core, involves just you, your trekking partner maybe, and your shared destination. The sherpa’s job is to carry your baggage. I’m there to support you (both) in literally any and every way.

As your sherpa, I have access to all the updated maps with every possible route outlined. Explorers may have specific interests that will lead them on a certain route, or they might choose to take the path that looks most well-travelled. The multitude of ways to prepare for the journey can be overwhelming, and I help you make sense of them all. As your sherpa I empower you to make sure you have the provisions you need before you set out, so that even when a trail is closed and you have to re-route, or the weather suddenly changes, you have the skills and supplies necessary to make an informed choice on the next best trail. Maybe you even get too tired or injured and need to send for help from your medical team; I’ll be there to reassure you that help is on its way and give you the comfort you need in uncertain times.

I’ve been on this trek with adventurers before, so I have knowledge of the different routes and what they entail. I know that everyone handles the routes differently. Some people go fast and furious the entire time. Some people take the trail low and slow. Everyone’s body is built differently and conditions are always different, too. On a really hot day, for example, the shady route with trees is the better option. But that same route can be treacherous in the rainy season, or if you’re a ginger like me and you haven’t packed enough sunscreen. (Getting deep into this analogy – you’re following, right?) Likewise, the route I would take personally doesn’t come into the equation. I’m a completely different trekker than anyone else, so my decisions would be different too. There is no right or wrong way to trek, and I would never judge my clients for taking a certain route because it’s right for them… Because it’s a trek! Any way you slice it, it’s an incredible, brave, beautiful adventure to take on.

Sherpas, Not Wizards

Don’t get me wrong, I may be stronger than I look, but I’m not magical. (That whole “vaginal Gandalf” thing you may have heard? Baloney.) Trekking is hard work, no matter which route you take. It can be unpredictable, and as much as I wish I could, I can’t see the future. However, there is one guarantee when you have a doula-sherpa: that you and any trekking partner you may have will have unfailing support during the most rewarding adventure of your life. Someone to boost you when your resolve is flagging. Someone to empathize that this is difficult, but who can reassure you that it is not impossible. As your sherpa, I will take the weight of this endeavor off your back, so that you can focus on the journey. And when you get to the top of the mountain, what a beautiful view you’ll see.

*A reader kindly brought to my attention that the word “sherpa” refers in actuality to a race of people, not a role. I am sure most people in our culture, as I was, are ignorant to this fact. It wasn’t my intention to offend, but it would be very difficult to re-write this entire blog post at the moment, so I’ll leave it for now with this addendum. Grateful for new knowledge and insight!