In the United States, many people are preparing for a major holiday tomorrow. It will soon be Thanksgiving in the USA, practically a four day food-fest accompanied by football games and bargain shopping for many (That’s another post entirely though). For doulas, particularly birth doulas, major holidays can bring all sorts of additional stress, and it’s the stress of being on call and potentially missing out on festivities with family or friends if a baby decides to come on the holiday. I am starting my 15th year as a birth doula and I am pretty sure I have missed every major holiday possible at one time or another, including my own birthday (more than once) and the birthdays of both of my children.

For the families and friends of doulas who have planned to celebrate with them, there is another layer of stress, wondering if the host will be able to join the festivities in their own home, what food will go unprepared, or how things will have to be juggled to compensate for the fact that the doula has randomly disappeared for an undetermined amount of time. Many a partner or housemate has nervously wondered if they will be abandoned and forced to pull everything off themselves, while the doula is supporting another family through a labor and birth. If the doula has children, particularly young ones, explanations will need to be provided yet again, as we try to help them understand why their parent cannot be with them on a special day.

Doulas are not the only ones on call and likely to be pulled away from celebrating with loved ones. Other professions also miss holidays and special times, but often their work shifts are scheduled and known in advance. Those babies don’t read the rules and usually come at the most inopportune times, including when 16 people are arriving any moment expecting a full Thanksgiving dinner or someone special is getting ready to blow out the candles on a birthday cake.

Travel plans also are affected when a doula is on call. Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house may no longer be possible if grandma lives in an area with poor cell phone reception, or just beyond the limit of what is sensible when on call for a birth. In areas prone to poor weather, traveling may involve being unable to return promptly due to road conditions.

Birth work requires finding the balance between being on call and taking time off, but that may come at a cost. Time off call often means taking a financial hit as well. During celebratory times, holidays and special occasions, doulas often cross their fingers, hoping that things will remain quiet and babies will wait just one more day. I am often reminded (and share with new doulas during my DONA birth doula trainings) of what my dear friend Teri Shilling always says: “I would do the birth for free, but pay me well for the on-call period.”

How do you handle the stress of being on call, especially during holidays and important dates in your personal life? What do you do to assure those who have made plans with you that it will all work out, though truly you might disappear at any moment? How do you ever plan to host at your home with the threat of a birth hanging over your head? Please share in the comments section below strategies that help you manage the on-call life so that those doulas who still struggle can read your wise words and take your guidance to heart.  Also, please let us know about some of those times that you have been at births during those important personal days in your lives, while still respecting client confidentiality.  And if you are on call this holiday weekend, you are not alone, I am right beside you waiting for the phone to ring too!