I’ve had a lot of folks ask me, ‘What does it mean when you’re on-call?’ Usually clients are curious what they’re paying for, or prospective Doulas are curious what it entails. Since I’m finally off call for the summer, I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on the experience!
Whether I’m on-call for a doula or Midwifery client, the call period begins when the client is at 37 weeks gestation and ends at birth.
When I am on-call, I am committing to make sure that I am not without phone service for any unreasonable about of time. In West Virginia this isn’t always easy. I can’t spend too much time at my favorite places in the forest or in Thomas without checking in with WiFi each hour. If I want to go for a hike in the woods this means leaving my cell phone with my husband where he can answer for me if a client calls, and assure them that I’ll be able to leave when I return.
When I am on-call, I am committing not to travel further than a few hours from my clients (typically not much further than I already). I need to stay close enough not to miss their birth. This means no trips to Pittsburgh to go to the zoo with my son (unless my client is in Morgantown) and abstaining from many other small adventures that we enjoy. I’m constantly googling the distance from where I am going to my client’s chosen birth place.
When I am on-call, I am committing to always having a back-up plan. Maybe my family takes two cars to a destination instead of one, maybe I’ve had to call around to make a plan for getting my husband and son home in case I need to leave for a birth, maybe I’ve made plans to get dropped at the hospital and get a taxi to a friend’s house whenever I’m done at the birth. I always tote around my birth bag, and maybe extra (more birth appropriate) shoes. I always have a few babysitters to call if my husband won’t be available, and I try to check in with them so they know the period in which I might need them.
When I’m on-call, I’m committing to check my phone before bed. I make sure it’s charged or plugged in, I make sure the ringer is on and turned up! I am desperately hoping I won’t sleep through a call and hoping that I can relax and sleep despite the worry. I turn it on vibrate during a movie and set it in my lap. I always have it in my pocket or within reach.
Here’s a special one for me: when I’m on-call, I’m committing to say no when my friends ask if I’d like to raft down the Cheat Canyon, or the Narrows, or the Dry Fork. Sometimes if a client’s birth place is close to the river I’m planning to paddle, and the run is short, and I’ve checked in with the client about it, and I take my phone in a waterproof case….then maybe I can go. I love rafting, particularly with my partner and son. It’s one of our favorite activities, but I’m willing to wait until my client has had their baby if necessary.
When I’m on-call, I’m committing to my clients above all other commitments. I tell everyone that I will leave when I am called: my family, my friends, my students, my co-workers. I am asking my family to adapt and change their plans at a moment’s notice.
To a lesser extent, this is even true for my encapsulation clients. I need to get to them within a few hours of birth to pick up the placenta so that it can be processed quickly.
So there it is: working births is amazing, but being on-call can be trying. I’m adapting my plans and habits to work around being available for clients, I’m spending extra money to bring two cars somewhere just in case, and I’m always thinking about how this might affect my plans. Maybe after reading this you’re thinking, ‘wow, this sounds really difficult’. It certainly can be, and that’s why I have a built in fee compensating me for being on-call. I guess the end message here is: appreciate what your doula or midwife is doing for you, even when you aren’t in labor yet!