It means joy.
It means remembering the wisdom of those who came before and often being the vessel for that energy, that message, that love.
It means creating a village where sometimes there is a small one, and sometimes there is none.
It means tiny babies covered in white stuff and that fur that only freshest babies have. It means sometimes being the first one to hold them, as the parents recover.
It means witnessing something beyond strength. Something that can only be witnessed in birth.
It means learning, so much learning, every time, all the time.
It means you see something related to birth everywhere.
It means nature becomes your ally, it becomes so much more awe-inspiring and beautiful.
It means doing the hard work of separating your story from those you are supporting, while also relating to theirs.
It means connection.
It means facing your fears, and going to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual places that you didn't know existed, when the family you are supporting needs that.
It means breathing, sometimes for your client, sometimes their family, and other times yourself.
Sometimes it means holding the hand of a trembling mother, with her belly cut open, asking you if she is dying.
It means slowing your breath as you remind those doing the hard hard work of labour to slow theirs.
It means safety.
It means being there for the new father who is overwhelmed. It means holding them as they hold their partner. It means reminding everyone to drink, and eat, and pee.
It means coming home absolutely exhausted, sometimes staying awake for 40 or 50 hours.
It means intensity.
It means hugs.
Sometimes it means helping a family whose baby doesn't breathe right away.
It means holding a new mother's face in your hands, and saying over and over, "You did it! You did that!" as the pride, amazement, and disbelief at her own strength reflects in her tears of joy and relief.
It means comfort.
It means low, deep sounds. It means reminding.
It means thinking about how other animals give birth and helping create a safe nest.
It means trusting. So much faith and trusting. Trusting that the raw sounds, the shaking, the constant hot and cold, the blood are all normal.
It means holding.
It means riding in a car with someone who could have a baby at any moment.
It means teamwork. It means educating. It means working with those whose role is very different than yours.
It means respect. It means dignity. It means working hard to make sure it is there for everyone.
It means carrying a bag full of tools, sometimes using all and other times none.
It means being briefed by the medical staff on what to do in an emergency, because sometimes, in transitions, you are the only one there who knows birth.
It means being there from the start and until the end.
It means honour.
It means witnessing.
Sometimes it means life and other times death.
Sometimes it means supporting a baby and a mother who would not have survived that birth in another time, place, or with a different team.
It means sacrifice.
It means softening into surrender.
It means self care is more like self abandon, self celebration, self rituals to make up for all the trauma you would otherwise carry.
It means waiting.
It means sometimes nothing happens for a very long time, and then it all happens at once.
It means the heavy work of not carrying trauma into your own future births and into how you parent.
It means hard conversations.
It means abandoning everything in your life without knowing exactly when you might be back.
It means life perpetually on call.
It means phones on sound at night, missed parties and moments and celebrations.
It means every commitment is contingent on not being at a birth.
It means listening.
It means research. It means giving the best evidence based information, and acknowledging even then that things change all the time and nothing is absolutely one way.
Sometimes it means being there for the family as they realize the birth they hoped for isn't possible.
It means helping others say no. It means the balance of when to speak and when to hold back.
It means trusting in the family knowing their way.
Sometimes it means being the only support.
Sometimes it means helping families who are grieving, moving, falling apart, newly coming together.
It means relying on others, and making elaborate plans so you can go at any time of day or night.
It means a new baby's curious eyes, checking you out.
It means the first smiles.
It means a miracle and a mystery, every time.
It means being there for the last moments a baby is in the womb, on the other side.
It means being there for the moment a mother touches her own baby's head, still inside, and for the first time they become so very real to her.
It means writing notes to the family and the baby and hoping one day that baby might read them.
It means hearing from families over time, whose babies are no longer babies, and growing in the pride of knowing you were there on their very first day earthside.
It means seeing families again for their new births and babies. It means you get to feel like family, even if it's just for a short time.
It means endless gratitude, and sometimes not knowing who feels it more - you or them.
It means being told all the time that others couldn't do your job, and yet feeling so very lucky to get to do it. Feeling like it's the only thing you want.
It means community. Because doulas make the best friends.
It means love, over and over again. For others, for yourself, for the world. Something happens when you see a new life start. Something hopeful. It stops you in your tracks and demands all of your attention. And you grow a little bit with it.