Courtesy of Samantha Shanley

I Fired My Doula Weeks Before Giving Birth

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My husband and I had been living in Germany for less than a year when I became pregnant with our second child. I'd given up a choice teaching gig before our move, so I wasn’t working anymore. What better time than that to launch into another pregnancy, followed by the savage phase of newborn exhaustion?, I thought. But if living abroad presented me with a host of challenges when going about my daily life, navigating the details of a pregnancy in a new country was just one more item on my list. I hired a doula this time around because I wanted extra support navigating the birth process away from home. If I had known I would end up having to fire my doula, I might not have bothered.

For my second birth, I was trying to keep everything the same as it had been for the first, only I wanted it to be better. I asked my mother to bring my favorite prenatal vitamin brand to me in her suitcase. My sister-in-law volunteered to ship over the maternity clothes she'd borrowed, especially the two pairs of designer jeans I’d bought years earlier on sale. I fished around for old my pregnancy journal so I could read it and remember.

I had made a group of new friends, many of them accidental housewives like me, who had moved abroad for their partners’ jobs. I wasn’t nearly as lonely as I'd been when we’d first arrived. Still, when you’re an expat, solitude always looms. My obstetrician was German, and so was her office staff. They were lovely, and they knew me, but they didn’t really know me. When you live abroad, very few people do. There’s an invisible wall you raise in front of yourself, and even when you learn the language and befriend the locals, the wall remains between you and them.

Courtesy of Samantha Shanley

What’s more is that my husband was traveling every other week, so I really was often alone. More than anything, for that pregnancy, I wanted company. What if, I thought, I hired a doula this time around — someone to coach me through my pregnancy and labor? I looked online at an English-speaking information and chat board, and found a doula. She was originally from Spain, but like me, she was living in Munich for her husband’s job. I had been bilingual once, so we conversed in both languages. This solidified our connection for me — that we could jump into two different languages, neither of which was native to where we lived, made me feel like she and I had something separate from the world around us.

She came to meet my husband, our daughter, and me on a weekend. When my daughter went down for a nap, the doula brought out her birthing ball and showed us some massage techniques for birthing. She talked to us about her experience and her philosophy about "natural," unmedicated birth. Overall, I thought she was a great fit.

“Oh,” she explained, “Yes. If you go into labor right before or right after my daughter’s birthday party, I won’t be able to attend your birth.”

When you live abroad, sometimes you accept things you might not normally accept because your pool is limited. This can be true for friends as well as anything else. In truth, this is often a lovely aspect to living abroad because it means you judge less and remain open to new experiences. As my due date loomed, the doula, whose own daughter was nearly the same age as mine, started talking to me about a birthday party she'd be hosting for her daughter the week before my due date. She’d never mentioned it to me before, so I wondered what effect the party might have on my birth plans. After weeks of wondering, I finally asked her about it.

“Oh,” she explained, “Yes. If you go into labor right before or right after my daughter’s birthday party, I won’t be able to attend your birth.”

What? I thought. We’d never discussed this before. How could a two-hour window of time the week before my due date hold so much weight? Of course, I knew why — my own daughter’s birthday was also important to me. But my doula had accepted me as a client, knowing my due date, without mentioning the fact that she would be unavailable during the days before and after my due date.

Courtesy of Samantha Shanley
I fired her in that email, and I tried to do so gently. I thought she'd be upset, even angry, but she didn't even respond to the email, and I never heard from her again.

I was crestfallen. We'd already cultivated our relationship, but I needed fewer anxieties in the weeks before the baby was due and more reliable, trusted people in my life. Despite this, I kept meeting with my doula, in part because I didn’t know of any other doulas in town, and also because I figured this was one of the hazards of choosing an extra person to attend your birth. Then, one month before my due date, my doula mentioned casually that she'd be out of town until two weeks before I was due. That did it.

I emailed her and explained that I didn’t want to depend on her emotionally to be present at the birth. I told her that the thought of being disappointed at the last minute was too much for me. I fired her in that email, and I tried to do so gently. I thought she'd be upset, even angry, but she didn't even respond to the email, and I never heard from her again. I continued to practice the techniques she had taught my partner and me for massage, stretching, and relaxation during birth, but I no longer had to worry about whether or not she would make it to the birth. I was relieved, and my instincts about her lack of commitment were spot on.

Courtesy of Samantha Shanley

In the end, the timing worked out. I went into labor just as my mother was boarding a plane for Germany. My babysitter arrived in time to spend the night and care for our daughter. My partner and I hopped in a taxi by ourselves and made it to the women’s clinic in plenty of time, with enough support from the midwives for both of us. The best comfort of all was the idea that we could take our time without worrying about how anyone else’s schedule would interfere with our plans.