You’re thinking of becoming a doula. You’ve done the research, chosen a training program, and maybe even spent some time in the delivery room. Excited for your new career, you start to imagine what it will be like when you get that first frenzied call from a mother saying, “I think it’s time!” How will you focus? What if you’re exhausted? Should you start making a list of all the things you’ll need to pack?

When you imagine the inside of a doula’s bag, an overflowing, Mary Poppins-like carpet bag might come to mind containing everything but the kitchen sink. As a new doula, you may be dying to know the best gadgets and gizmos on the market, but Randy Patterson of ProDoula sheds some light on what doulas really need to bring into the delivery room.

Filling A Void

With more than 1000 births under her belt and almost twenty years in the industry, Randy Patterson is one of the nation’s most respected doulas. Today, she offers her services through Northeast Doulas while serving as Director of Training and Development for ProDoula of Peekskill, New York. Not only a nationally recognized training and certification program, ProDoula is also a resource for expecting parents looking to connect with experienced doulas in their area.

Back in the 90’s, when Patterson was seeking her own certification program, there was only one option, and, according to her, it seemed to be grossly lacking a focus on business training. Through ProDoula, Patterson hopes to comprehensively educate new doulas on all aspects of the business while elevating the industry’s standards of training and professionalism.

Though their offices are located just one hour north of Manhattan, ProDoula is serving expectant families all over the US and Canada through their international network of trainees. In their annual nonprofit event, No Child Wet Behind, ProDoula’s network of independent doulas and agencies organize a 5k race and diaper drive that has grown to include 33 locations in just five years! Currently with over 1300 members, ProDoula is making a national impact while bringing awareness to the growing profession.

A Woman Who Serves

Though Patterson started her career as a birth assistant, the doula profession is not a medical service in any way, shape, or form. Providing compassionate support, doulas serve their birthing clients through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.

“Being a doula is a profession-not a philosophy,” says Patterson. “Historically, the word doula has been associated with a certain philosophy about birth. That’s simply not the case.” In ancient Greek, the word “doula” translates to “a woman who serves.” Patterson continues, “When you’re serving someone- like when you’re in a restaurant and the server comes to serve you, they don’t tell you what you want to eat. You tell them what you want, and they support you.”

Besides support and service, we wondered what else Patterson brings when she’s headed to a birth. Trendy baby toys? High tech breastfeeding gear? Some secret gadget to keep babies sleeping through the night? When we asked Patterson to dish the very specific details of what she keeps in her own personal doula bag, we were surprised at the answer…

You Are Enough

“I might disappoint you with his,” says Patterson, “but we really encourage families to buy the items they need.”

“The truth is women have babies in grass huts on dirt floors, and no one comes with a bag of lovely things,” she adds. Besides a change of clothes, a few granola bars, and maybe a Red Bull if the adrenaline isn’t enough, Patterson’s doula bag seems to be lacking the glitzy gadgets you may have hoped for. When it comes to delivery room must-haves, Patterson teaches her trainees that they only ever need these three things:

  1. Head. First and foremost, a doula should bring her head filled with knowledge. When working with a well-trained doula, mothers can expect to have their questions answered fully, with a basis in research and statistics, and without judgment or bias. Patterson explains, “When a client says, ‘Maybe I actually do want the epidural, but can you remind me, what are the risks?’ If you’ve trained with ProDoula you better be able to answer that question, and you better be able to answer it in a non-judgemental way.”
  2. Heart. Before Patterson personally attends a birth, she takes a few minutes to get quiet. She talks to God, puts out positive energy, and asks that the family receive anything they need through her. On her way to the hospital, she blasts a heavy metal mix featuring some of her favorites, Metallica and Led Zeppelin. However you personally get in the zone, doulas should come to the delivery room with an open, compassionate heart ready to fully focus on the present moment.
  3. Hands. “We’re not licensed massage therapists, but there’s a lot of comfort in touch. During labor, touch is a huge part of it, sometimes (it’s) just taking a cold compress and wiping the mom down.” If a mother doesn’t respond to touch, instead try verbal affirmations: “You’re doing great. Your body is doing just what I would expect it to do.” Not only are affirmations comforting for the mother, but, oftentimes, they’re incredibly helpful in calming an anxious partner.

In the throes of labor, expecting parents can be so focused on getting through the pain that they lose sight of the fact that with each contraction they’re getting closer to meeting their baby. As a doula, it is your job to help parents focus on the miracle of life using your head, heart, and hands to provide compassionate support. But… it’s also your job to know that you are enough. When it comes time to attend a birth, Patterson reminds doulas everywhere, “Everything you need is right there within you.”