A while ago, there was a mention of doulas on a TV show called Brooklyn Nine-Nine that described one of us as a “vaginal Gandalf”. I think vaginas and references to magical kingdoms are great and at first found the comparison flattering, but upon thinking more about it, it’s pretty inaccurate and I kind of hate it. Here’s why.

Vaginal Gandalf? Try Again

For starters, it’s just plain wrong to describe a doula as someone who can magic everything away. In fact, if you think about it, it’s rather insulting. Yes, we provide informational, emotional, and physical support before, during, and after birth, but it’s not magic. It’s real work for us. I put a lot of time, thought (and love) into the communications, prenatal meetings, and births I attend. There is nothing magical about the research I do for clients, the countless books and articles I read to keep up on advances and trends in birth, breastfeeding, and the postpartum period, (and so much more), or the invaluable knowledge and experience I have accrued through the births I attend. I work hard to give my clients the resources they need to make informed decisions. And that’s all before a birth!

At a birth, I am constantly thinking of ways I can better serve clients, anticipating their needs, and thinking ahead to the next position change or coping techniques we haven’t tried yet. I’m massaging, accupressuring (that’s totally a word now), rebozoing, cold-clothing, and so much more. If only I were a vaginal Gandalf and had a wand to do hip squeezes! I’m cheering clients on, boosting them up, reassuring them, giving them that one word they need to make the last push, or being a silent and steadfast presence of positivity they can always look to for support. I’m present in every way, for a family celebrating their new arrival or worried about a crisis. Calling a professional doula a vaginal Gandalf disregards the real, valuable, emotional, and physical work that we do every day.

Nobody Is a Vaginal Gandalf, But Birthers Are Magical

A birther does the work to ensure a positive outcome. I’m there to be a guide for that to happen. My clients and their partners work hard as hell before birth, with stretching, exercises, reading, and all kinds of personal preparedness techniques they’ve found or we’ve discussed. And goodness knows they work hard as hell during birth too. They are awesome people who seek out the support, knowledge, and self-awareness they need to go into their birth ready for anything. They know that birth can be all kinds of things, but it also, indeed, magical, and that the source of that magic is within them.

There is a lot of fear around birth in our culture, and people want to believe that there is a panacea, a quick-fix, someone who will magically make their worries go away. Understandably so! But to describe a doula as a vaginal Gandalf, and someone who can defend you from the forces of evil and magically ensure you don’t have to have any unwanted interventions does a disservice to our profession. How do you combat fear? Read positive birth stories. Talk to your partner. Talk to your doula. Choose a healthcare provider you can really trust, who shares your values, and who understands what doulas do and how we help them do their jobs better. Birth is magical, no doubt. But it’s almost the most salient reminder that we are mere humans and doulas are (awesome) mortals. For my clients, that seems to be more than sufficient.