Even if you're a doula, stuff happens unexpectedly and you cannot be available for your clients. When my father went into hospital six weeks ago I had to leave town to go and see him and help my mother. One of my clients gave birth while I was away, and of course she was well taken care of by my backup, but I was sorry I missed her birth.

Then last week I had to go again. I was definitely worried because I have three ladies due in the next couple of weeks. But luckily the babies were kind and no one missed my attendance at their birth. I did miss meeting up with a lady who is looking for a doula, but she found someone else and I know she will be in good hands.

When I went to visit my father a month ago, as soon as I walked into the hospital I felt like I was slipping on a comfy old sweater. I knew what to do. I helped my father with the little things, like rinsing out his mouth, putting an extra pillow under his head, making sure he could reach his iPod. I spoke with the medical staff about his care and helped translate some of the information for my mother so she wouldn't feel so frightened and anxious.

There was a lady in his ward who was having hallucinations because of a bad reaction to one of her medications. I spoke with her about the bug she saw in my father's ear, and the mice that were climbing up the wheelchair. I made everyone laugh when I threw one of my father's special drinks in the garbage can. He wasn't allowed liquids so he had been given a bright red "solid water", which I thought was like Jello. It wasn't. As it hit the bottom of the garbage can, it splashed up all over everything. That took everyone's mind off their pain, for a little while.

Another gentleman was having trouble getting his slipper back on. I went over and asked him if he wanted a hand. Only after I explained that I am often seen putting people's socks on, being thrown up on, and generally helping out, was he happy for me to lift his foot and put it into his slipper. He asked me if the women ever got mad when they were giving birth. I had noticed that he had been pretty frustrated with himself, his immobility and in turn with the nurses. I told him that I had seen several women get angry during labor, and often just breathing it out could help.

During the next few weeks, after I came back home, I found I was often back at the ward with my father. I spoke to his nurses and doctor on the phone, and I found myself getting frustrated. I knew that my frustration was because life is so unpredictable, but I felt myself being upset with the vagueness of their answers. I realized that I sounded like the first time mother when she is thinking that she will be pregnant forever.

My father was very sick during that time. The doctor told me later that she was surprised that he made it through. Finally last week they said he would be going home, so I went back out to help get everything ready. gain, when I went into the hospital I put my doula cap on. Of course, I was more emotionally connected than a regular doula would be, but I found myself tidying up around his bed, organizing the things on his table, making sure what he wanted was in reach, covering him with the fleecy from home.

My questions to the doctor were also familiar to the doula: what is going to happen? Will he survive? Can he stay home? What if...? What if...?
These are the questions a doula deals with all the time, not only from her clients, but from partners, and their mothers and fathers. We feel so vulnerable in the face of life's events. Each chapter comes as such a surprise. I didn't think I would live past 31 (when John Keats died). How could I now be taking care of my aging parents? How could my father have gotten sold so suddenly?
New parents feel the same way: "I can't believe I'm actually going to have a baby! How can I take the responsibility for someone else's life? Will everything be okay? Will I survive?"

The doula is there to answer questions, and to let the woman (or her partner) know that some questions are unanswerable, and that that's okay too. She may just be there to provide a shoulder and a box of Kleenex. She is the companion that we take with us when we have to cross a bridge, whether its a bridge into life or away from it. She accompanies those who are here, waiting for someone to come in or someone to leave. She is probably the most important person on the care-giving team. She accepts and assists, and she knows that some questions cannot be answered.


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