My doula didn’t answer her phone but I had a good hospital delivery anyway

Guest post by Marietta
By: Krystian OlszanskiCC BY 2.0

This is the story of my second birth, which brought to me my beautiful baby girl, now almost 11 months old. I had a planned hospital birth, but it took an unexpected direction when my doula did not answer her phone and only arrived at the hospital about 10 minutes before my baby was born.

In contracting with a doula, I did not wish to set myself up for a scenario in which I “failed” to meet my “goal,” but I wanted to try to pursue an unmedicated birth. I also knew that a doula could provide important support even if I chose medication. Moreover, my first child had to go to the NICU right after birth and my husband felt torn between him and me. If that happened again, I knew my husband could go with the baby and the doula could stay with me.

I enjoyed working with the doula and thinking about how I could “reframe” pain and manage my panic in labor (panic is a big thing for me). I also prepared “birth affirmations” and put them on index cards for the doula to read to me when I started to panic during labor. I also read a wonderful book called The Big Book of Birth that gave much information about labor both physiologically and psychologically.

I sailed past my due date, frustrated that I kept not going into labor. I was in frequent communication with my doula via texting. The night I eventually went into labor, we probably exchanged ten texts.

I went to bed that night at 10pm but was too uncomfortable to sleep. Around 11:30pm or so, I began to have some painful contractions that required my full attention to breathe through — but they were only every seven to nine minutes. This went on until about 1:45am. Time-wise, it seemed way too soon to go to the hospital as I wasn’t having contractions very often, but in terms of intensity, these were way more intense contractions than anything I had with my son that early.

Finally, at 2am, I decided to wake my husband, and we left the house around 3:00am. The drive was hard and I cried through every contraction, which were now becoming quite regular, but I still coped much better than on the car ride with my first child. This is one area where I believe my prep work with the doula helped me. I was also more calm arriving at the hospital than the first time, taking breaks at the check-in counter to get through contractions, but not begging or acting panicky. I felt calm and optimistic.

I was however starting to worry about one thing — I had been texting and calling my doula for 90 minutes by that point, as had my husband, and she was not responding. So, I was starting to freak out a little that SHE was not there!

Around 3:45am, a nurse checked me and I was at 6-7cm and 100% effaced. I should have known from all my reading that I was about to hit transition, and that it would be really painful, but that it would also be really short, 15 minutes to an hour. I also should have known that transition panic is a normal psychological response and that it passes. I was prepared for this, and I had my affirmation cards, and my doula knew what to do to help me with the panic.

But my doula wasn’t there! And, unfortunately, I had not been insistent with my husband that I would want him to step in and read me those cards if she were not there. He had not prepared for coaching me through an unmedicated birth. That’s why we paid the doula! And he was hardly going to tell his panicking wife “you can do it” when it came to experiencing significant pain.

So, I requested an epidural. I was especially scared of pushing without my doula.

The contractions — all in my back — were becoming stronger and “double peaked,” and I was really doing OK with them. The only really bad part was that after the epidural went in, I had to lie flat on my back for it to take, and that was really hard to do with double peaked transition contractions. But, still, I breathed through them and I was not going crazy. I was coping.

Then, the doctor came in, and said, “Well you are at 10cm,” and she broke the membranes and pronounced the baby at +2 and predicted just three pushes.

AND THEN THE EPIDURAL HIT. My legs started shaking out of control, and I tried pushing, but I was too distracted by the shakes and just could not do it. She then said the baby’s head went back in a little further. She said that without the epidural, I would likely be almost done (“it is good you came when you did,” she said, “or you might have had this baby in the car.”), but that she now recommended that I lie on my side at elevation to help the baby drop a bit and to allow my body to adjust to the epidural.

I began to SERIOUSLY panic that somehow pushing would stall out and that I had been 3 pushes away from being done and would somehow end up with a c-section because of the damn epidural! My husband and the nurse helped calm me down, and after 20 minutes, I began to feel the confidence to follow my urge to push.

Around this time, the doula texted my husband. She had awakened and discovered all our communications. She had accidentally left her phone on silent when she went to bed.

Sans doula, I began to push. I had a pretty good epidural because I was totally able to initiate the pushing myself. At some point my doula arrived. I did a few more rounds of pushing, and then somebody told me to relax my face (maybe my doula?), and I remembered from my reading that we are not supposed to push with our faces and I realized I had been doing so. So, I concentrated on slackening my jaw and transferring all energy to my pelvis, and at that very push, I felt the baby crowning — there was no “ring of fire” pain because of the epidural, but I totally knew the baby was crowning. And then one push later I felt the baby come out. Again, I didn’t feel pain, but I totally felt her come out.

Then, it was exciting: my husband pronounced her a girl, and the best part of all, SHE CRIED. A LOT. Our son had not cried! I got to hold her for a really long time, breastfeed on both sides, and just KEEP HER.

Initially, I was frustrated at my doula for not answering her phone, but not angry. I was thrilled with my baby and I wanted only positive energy. I didn’t like it that the doula charged her full rate even though she arrived about ten minutes before delivery, but I just had my husband pay her because I was tired, and I wanted her to leave, and I wanted to focus on my amazing baby.

Over time, I have had more complicated feelings. I do truly believe it was an accident that she left her phone off, and I know she felt very bad. However, she never properly apologized.

Despite my complex feelings, I refuse to view a labor and delivery that results in a healthy baby and a healthy mommy as anything less than wonderful. And I got a lot of what I wanted — a spontaneous vaginal delivery, no pitocin, no catheter, and no episiotomy (I did have a level 2 tear, and I prefer tearing naturally to an episiotomy).

I also learned a lot about myself in the process. Even though I did get the epidural, I still withstood higher levels of pain with more calm than I ever would have thought possible. The reading I did and the birth affirmations I created were valuable exercises in helping me find more confidence in my body, as well as understand the process of labor and delivery more clearly.

I also learned about giving myself a break and cutting myself slack. I wish I hadn’t gotten the epidural, but I did, and that’s OK, and that’s that. Time to move on. And most important, I got an amazing beloved child at whom I marvel each and every day, and that is what (to me) matters most of all.

Comments on My doula didn’t answer her phone but I had a good hospital delivery anyway

  1. Go mama! Way to work through a situation where your plans didn’t turn out as they were made, and way to claim your birth for yourself! Thanks for sharing a story that is so real and relatable.

  2. I know you’ve moved on, but I still want to send big hugs for you and your birth without your doula. People are fallible and life gets in the way and mistakes can be made, but I’m sorry you didn’t get a more satisfying apology.
    Hiring a doula was one of the first things I did when I got pregnant (and even wrote in to Offbeat Family about how to convince my husband that we needed one!) and I ended up with a c-section due to a breech baby. She was there for my procedure and I was grateful for that. However, when I was finally home and having serious issues with milk production and post-partum depression and I really DID need her, she never got back to me about coming for her post-partum visit. Emotionally, it is hard to know that you put your trust in someone who encouraged you to lean on them, and they let you down; and from business standpoint, it’s tough to think about paying someone in full even though they didn’t fulfill their contract.
    However, you labored for a long while and even though you were scared, you found the strength to go through it. I hope that you are proud of yourself, because I’m proud for you! 🙂

    • Thank you so much! And I am sorry you had your own disappointing experience with a doula. It is true that we invite people into one of the most intimate experiences of our lives, and it is disappointing when it doesn’t work out as we had hoped. Thanks for your response! I am sorry this is so delayed. I was traveling!

  3. dang, you go mama! look how strong you are, sorry to hear how that all went down though, as a Doula I do hope never to make a client feel this way, and knowing that there will be times I make mistakes (hopefully not big ones!) I will do my best to humbly apologize.
    so stoked that you still did this, Doula’s are often just there to help you tap into your own strength and sounds like you did it on your own!

  4. This was great to read and think about what can happen if your doula is unavailable.. I have thought about this before but it was good to hear a story that still was positive because mommy and baby were just wonderful on their own!

    • Thank you so much! I wish I had thought ahead of time of the “what ifs” — and I hope my story might encourage others who work with doulas to have a Plan B too!

  5. I can’t believe you were able to get yourself all the way through labor with the worry about your missing midwife. You are a rock star!

    • Actually, a doula is not a midwife. A doula is a “birth servant”, there purely to attend to the mother’s needs. A midwife is a trained medical professional there to catch the baby and attend to the baby and mother’s health. Just didn’t want anyone confused about terminology.

    • Well, it is a big help that I had a fast labor, it was my second time through, and my membranes were intact until 10cm! I know slow labors without intact membranes can be much harder. Thank you!

  6. I’m so glad you ended up having a good experience, but as a doula myself, I want to apologize for your doula’s really truly terrible behavior. I can’t believe she still charged you the full price when she barely was there to support you! That is really wrong, IMO. It sucks to hear stories about doulas who fail their clients, because I think it makes other people less likely to hire a doula, fearing we’ll all be that way. I’m sorry that happened to you.

    But it sounds like you coped so well, and still had a great birth. Yay! Huge congrats to you!

    • Thank you so much. It has left a sour taste in my mouth. And in fact she did not cash the check for a few weeks and I kept thinking maybe she wouldn’t. But she did. And that’s that. Like I said, I have much for which to be grateful and my baby is now one and just wonderful!

  7. I’m a few months away from meeting my little one, and it was really encouraging to hear your story. I feel similar to you in terms of wanting an unmedicated birth, but being willing to go with what needs to happen; I’m a bit panicky in general; I’ve hired a doula to assist with the birth, and I’m trying to get in the right head space.

    It has been good to read the “ideal” stories – magical birth, etc. etc. – but it’s also so good to read a story like yours where things didn’t go as planned, but it was ultimately okay. I think that’s a signal that you released even more anxiety. Way to go!

    • A wonderful book I read as part of this process was called The Big Book of Birth. It has a non-medicated slant, but only slightly, and it is full of fabulous info on laboring and delivery and about coping with pain, and it contains loads of birth stories, including many involving planned and unplanned interventions. It is the most balanced book I have ever seen, and I found it hugely helpful for planning for an unmedicated birth but being open to many other possibilities, too. I highly recommend it for you. Good luck!

  8. I fired my doula for being flaky and unprofessional before our first prenatal visit. She created a lot of stress for me for months even after my daughter was born but in the end, I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about her flaking out during labor. I’m so sorry your doula did what she did. And she kept the money because most doula-client contracts favor the doula and offer zero protection to the consumer. Couple that with the fact that ANYONE can call themselves a doula, and it’s a real disaster. I trained as a doula and I believe good ones can be helpful. But there needs to be more oversight and professional decorum if doulas want to make the claims they make and be respected as a profession. I would encourage you to contact your doula’s professional certifying/training organization (i.e. DONA or Birth Arts, etc) if she was affiliated with one and tell them about this doula’s negligence and complete inability to take responsibility for her actions. I did that and the person I spoke with was appalled and told me she’d follow up with the doula I’d hired. Your doula shouldn’t think forgetting to turn her phone on is an acceptable reason to nearly miss a birth, offer you no support during labor and still keep her fee. No way! As you can tell, I feel angry on your behalf. Too often, those of us inclined to use doulas, midwives, etc. excuse behavior we otherwise wouldn’t tolerate because we want to believe people care about birth and about us. But, as an RN and an adult whose been in the workplace, I say screw that. Your doula messed up major and she shouldn’t get away with it. You still did an amazing job and I congratulate you on your strength and your child.

    • Thank you for your perspective. I think you are right that many of us assume the best in people and that can lead us to be taken advantage of. At this point, the birth is now a year in the past, and I have basically moved on. A related issue is that this person overlaps in many circles in which I have found nice pregnancy and baby-related community, and on the one hand, I guess I should “warn” people (though I doubt she will ever do this again), but on the other, I hate awkwardness and guess just feel inclined to be “nice.” I also know that my doctor and some others in her practice no longer endorse her (though that is not because of me — I only discovered that from a friend who works with a different doctor in the practice who brought up doulas with her doc and was warned about one who does not always show up.) I do agree with your bigger point, though, that we deserve good care and shouldn’t accept mistreatment. Thank you for your comment!

  9. Your doula was unprofessional, period. She was, for all intents and purposes, your employee for your birth. She is very lucky that you paid her (which I totally understand – sometimes, a fight is just not worth it). I toyed with the idea of a doula (which, in retrospect, I’m happy I didn’t have one, since I had a precitated labor that removed any need for a birth attendant!). The one woman I did meet with was very taken aback that I wanted to negotiate over her form contract (despite knowing that I am a lawyer). Most people don’t negotiate – but that isn’t their fault. They don’t have a legal background and they can’t afford a lawyer to negotiate it for them. Depending on income, I’ve told clients in the past that if they qualify, there are organizations that will do contract review for a really low cost. Or, there are copious resources online for people on how to read contracts and learn for themselves. But there are many people out there who hide behind contracts. You are, in short, a far better person than I to pay her and treat her better than she deserved.

      • I totally agree! And I thank you for your comment. I agree that there is a lot of blind trust in this process that can lead many women who assume the best to get raw deals. I would love an OBF post on this issue!

  10. As a doula, I want to apologize for what happened to you! It was not right and not just. Yes she is human and its seems like an honest mistake, but it was her mistake and you had to pay for it. I am so sorry!

  11. I had a similar doula experience. I was texting her my possible symptoms all day, and she was writing back fairly promptly. Then, when I actually went into labor that night, she was nowhere to be found. I texted her “We have a baby!” once he was born and she replied a couple of hours after that to congratulate me… but never apologized, or contacted me again!

    Luckily, my husband was able to step right in and did a fabulous job. I’m glad I had been prepping him to coach me as well. (My first baby came very quickly and I wanted him to be prepared in case of an accidental home birth!)

    It sounds like your birth was a good experience overall, but I understand how much it sucks to have that blemish in your plan. I was so excited to hire a doula and even though I didn’t really need her, I still feel cheated.

    • Oh my goodness — she did not even show up at all! That’s just awful! I hope you did not pay her. And I am SOOOOOOO glad your husband was well prepared. My husband rocks — and he WOULD have been a great support for me to go all the way without meds — but we just weren’t prepared for that possibility and things proceeded so quickly and I was in strong pain and he just wasn’t going to dissuade me from the epidural under those circumstances. I wish we had prepared better, and I hope this story at least encourages other women to consider the possibility of a doula not showing up and working with their husbands to plan for that possibility.

  12. Yikes. I’ve got to say, as a doula myself, that’s a pretty big mistake. When you’re on call your phone should never be off or away from you. I know people make mistakes, I’m not perfect, but I don’t think I would charge if I made a mistake that big. In fact, my contract says clearly that if I miss a birth due to my own mistake, nothing will be due.
    I’m glad that you still had an awesome birth though! Congrats! I hope that if you have another baby one day, you have a better experience with a doula!

    • I remain very high on doulas — but I do now encourage people to be prepared for Plan B — and I value the point above about contracts and taking them seriously and not having too much trust. I do, however, think the pursuit of an unmedicated birth with a doula was a good journey for me, and I think most of the time, a doula is a huge benefit. Alas, that was my last labor and delivery — but that’s OK. Like I wrote in my piece, I want to focus on all that was positive in the experience.

  13. Boy, that seems crazy unethical of her to accept the full payment. We hired a decent (albeit not super experienced) doula and actually forgot to call her until I was being wheeled in for the c-section. Since she didn’t have to do any actual work during the birth, she only charged us a third of the price… and brought over a sweet gift and card afterwards. I think we all felt a little dumb, but no feelings were hurt.

    • Yes, seriously — I can see how people would have such a nightmare! What I would tell people now is: make sure you and your birth partner have a plan in place in case the doula doesn’t or cannot come. But know that most of the time they can and do — my story should be a slightly cautionary tale, but not a discouraging one, I think!

  14. As a doula, I am horrified for you!

    When on call my phone is never far from my side, and its never on silent.

    I’m sorry your doula wasn’t able to be there for you.

  15. I won’t say I’m sorry that happened to you. Im not sorry. It showed you tour power, and you have embraced your birth story, and that is awesome. So i don’t want to demean that feeling. Congratulations on your bravery and precious baby!
    What I will say, is that it is unfortunate that the doula aspect of your birth turned out the way it did. Accidents happen, but I’ll tell you this, my clients have my husband’s number as a back up, and we both stop silencing our phones, EVER, 3 weeks to a client’s due date. I think an apology was the least that you deserved. She did help you, and that’s excellent, however, she didn’t meet the needs she promised to meet. I find the fact that she charged you her standard fee obscene. Maybe at some point you could write her a letter, or ask if you can meet her for coffee to discuss any remaining negative feelings. Also, if she is certified by DONA or CAPA, you might want to think about reporting your story. If you’re ready to just put it behind you, that’s cool too. I just want you to know that I am grateful you shared your story, and that I hold it with respect. You are awesome!

    • Thank you so much. I love how you start this post — it made me feel really good! I do think I might some day want to talk it out with her, especially since, as I posted above, we circulate in some of the same circles. I have found myself avoiding some events where I know she might be in attendance — or at least I did when I was still taking my baby everywhere — as I didn’t want her to coo over the baby as “one of hers.” So it is possible that I can and should talk to her. Right now, I am not ready, but I might be. Anyway, I love the tone of your comment — thanks so much!

  16. I agree with all of the comments thus far about the doula’s unprofessional manner and that you should have at least gotten a reduced rate, considering such a major mistake on her part. Whether or not it was intentional is irrelevant; everyone makes mistakes, but you should not have paid full price for her mistake which resulted in less of a service to you. Especially since she knew you were about to have a baby at any moment–it might be slightly different & more understandable if you had gone into labor early, but knowing you were already late and had been texting all that day means she should have been on high alert & made sure to be available.

    With that said, though, it does sound like you benefited from the training you had had with her prior to your labor, and even though there were panic moments and you decided on an epidural you were able to do more than you would have thought you could before training yourself, so you were able to calm down and get through it. Our doula actually got to the hospital very close to the time I delivered our daughter too, but it was because my labor went so fast and I hadn’t called her in time, thinking we’d have a long day ahead of us. I labored on my own at home with my husband massaging my back & basically just being there for me while I walked around, leaned over furniture & rocked on the ball. I was ready to push when we got to the hospital and had to really try not to when they told me I had to wait (there were no open delivery rooms available). I very much believe all of the classes we took together, books I read and the discussions we had with our doula prepared me to labor without panic & trust in my own body (thank you, Hypnobirthing!). She did make it in time for the delivery but honestly I was only vaguely aware of anyone else’s presence besides my husband’s. She was a big help after the delivery though and campaigned for whatever I needed, from ibuprofen to water to homemade snacks she brought, to suggesting/encouraging when to begin breastfeeding.

    Good for you that you got through it as well as you did, despite the kink in the plans. I second the thought that if you’re not happy with having paid in full–and not willing/able to let it go–you should have a talk with her to address the issue and hopefully she would be reasonable and return a portion of the fee considering the situation. I wouldn’t say she shouldn’t have been paid at all, but clearly missing the majority of the labor that was so important to you is an issue, and you should be compensated for it. You don’t want to have any kind of lingering bad feelings about the memory of your daughter’s birth, so if this is still bothering you a conversation with her about it may help with that–and give her the opportunity to sufficiently apologize and consider the conditions of her contract as well.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, which well captures how I felt. I did learn and benefit a lot from work with her — and though I never took a Hypnobirthing class, my birth affirmations I wrote were inspired by the hypnobirthing context. I am frustrated by what happened — and I remain open to discussing it with her. Honestly, I think an apology would matter more to me than money (and I would have been happy paying her half of the balance, too). So, perhaps I will do that. But I also do want to look back on my daughter’s birth as the amazing moment when I met my daughter! I don’t want bad feelings. And so I fear an unpleasant confrontation would taint some of the narrative I have developed of my daughter’s birth. We will see. We will be in the same area for a long time, I think! I am so glad you had a good experience with your own labor and delivery and that you were able to hold out at home for so long. My biggest regret, I think, is that I hadn’t worked enough with my husband to prepare for a possible plan B. I think we both put too much expectation on the doula. But also, I think one reason I wanted the doula was that I knew he would have a hard time if I were screaming for medication to say “but honey, you said…..” If I could do it again, we might have still used a doula and I would have booked one sooner — I did not get the one I originally wanted — but we definitely would have done a Bradley class together, I think.

      Thank you for your comment.

  17. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story. I to had an absentee doula for my labor and delivery. I had so much faith in her that she truly broke my trust with in this profession. However, after lots of forgiveness, I forgave her and know how to teach others about what to look for in a professional doula

  18. Your story resonated with me! I was determined to have a natural birth and a doula assisting me and my husband 2 years back. When I went into labor, my husband tried paging my doula’s pager and calling her home phone (no replies, her land line phone was dead, and she didn’t own a cellphone) So we headed to the hospital while I was in active labor. In between riding through the contractions, I kept worrying that something bad had happened to her (stuff like: oh no, what if her house caught on fire, or what if she got into an accident?!)!

    On top of that, my doctor was on summer vacation so we were surrounded by a team of unfamiliar faces at the delivery room. When my husband said to me: he’s coming! I went: Who? The doctor?! Or the doula?! And the next moment I pushed and out slid my son!

    We managed to contact her a week after I gave birth and she was apologetic about missing the birth, but she paid us a home visit and we had a good chat. Now that I’m expecting again, we’re still undecided on whether or not to hire a doula after our first experience.

Join the Conversation