How Can I Doula With No Experience?

How can I doula with no experience?

I have been a postpartum doula for over three years now – I have supported nearly 100 families and spent 1000s of hours in their homes, providing doula support.

I am the co-owner of a full-service doula agency and a trainer hatith ProDoula.

And at least once a week, I get emails from new doulas asking if they can “shadow” myself or my partner for labor or postpartum work.

You know, just to get some experience…

So before I tell you how I answer these requests, I want to back up. Let’s go back, over three years, to my very first postpartum job. I had only just completed my postpartum doula training two months before when I connected with my very first client through a word-of-mouth referral. She was a third-time mom and needed some daytime hours a few days a week for a few weeks. Not a very big job, but a REAL job, nonetheless.

How can I doula with no experience?

I was so nervous before that very first shift. What if she asked me questions I didn’t know the answers to?

What if I said something wrong?

What if I forgot how to doula !?!?

Not knowing entirely what to expect, I went to the client’s home that day with more false confidence than actual confidence. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? Upon arriving, we chatted for a few minutes about the birth and how she was feeling – surprisingly good for a third-time cesarean birth. She was formula feeding, so there were no breastfeeding questions to answer. And as a third-time mom, she didn’t have many newborn care questions for me.

We chatted for a bit more and then I did some laundry for her. For the rest of the shift, I did some small things like load the dishwasher and prep some bottles. I spent quite a bit of time playing with her preschooler, her middle child, who was adjusting to life with a new baby. My client got to sit on the couch and snuggle her new baby, while I made lunch and played monster trucks with her three-year-old. Her husband slept the entire time I was there.

And then my four hours were up.

I left that postpartum shift feeling totally deflated.

I truly believed that I hadn’t done anything helpful for my client and that she must certainly be regretting hiring such an inexperienced doula. Would she even want me to come back?

But she did. Only two days later.

And guess what? She was so excited to have me back!

She felt completely at ease and relaxed to have someone there who was not judging how she gave birth or how she fed her baby. She was relishing the time that she actually had to sit and snuggle her third baby while someone else kept the household running. She appreciated so much the one-on-one attention her middle child was able to have while I was there. And she confided that her husband was struggling with some severe anxiety and really needed sleep, something that he could do guilt-free knowing that I was there to take care of his family.

My perception and her perception of that day were completely different.

I left that shift with the actual confidence that I really could do this doula thing, regardless of how much experience I had. It dawned on me that being a great doula is so much more than how many births someone has attended or how many families a doula has supported postpartum.

No, being a great doula is about meeting your clients where they are.

It’s about providing actual non-judgmental support for the choices they make for their families.

It’s about attuning to them and being able to give them what they need in the moment.

And I did all that – on my very first day, with my very first client.

So when I get requests from brand new doulas to “shadow” me for some experience, I tell them no. And

I remind them that their ability to be good doulas has nothing to do with experience and everything to do with attunement.

It’s as simple as walking into your client’s home or birth with no agenda; just professional, non-judgmental support that meets them where they’re at.

And if they have taken a quality, professional doula training (*cough* ProDoula *cough*), then they have everything they need to be a doula – no experience needed!

Kelly Rutan is a ProDoula Certified Postpartum & Infant Care Doula, as well as a member of the ProDoula Training & Development Team. She is the co-owner of Doulas of Raleigh.