Managing child care for a birth

My girls the month I attended my first birth

I did births (as a doula) when my kids were little. Very little. I started when my kids were 2 and 6. Took time off when my 3rd was born but went back to doing births when she was 15 months old. It’s hard, but here’s what I did:
1. Have multiple options for child care. Family, friends, neighbors, parents of your children’s friends… I started with one. Then decided I needed two. Eventually I had four people willing to be on-call babysitters. And once, even that wasn’t enough! (one out of town, one with chicken pox, and two with pink eye…) As my kids got older, I aimed for people close enough to my kids school they could walk there after school. I paid my babysitters well for the babysitting. I never paid them just to be on call, but some people do this, too. I tried to rotate the babysitters so that no one would get burned out, though sometimes I’d use the same one as the first call consistently. (Like the woman who traded me birth babysitting through her whole pregnancy in exchange for my doula services. So for those 7 months, she was the #1 call.)
2. Pay your babysitters well! I would pay each of them $10 an hour for the time they were watching my kids and to cover any food she fed them. I built that cost into the amount I charged for my services, planning for 9 hours of childcare per birth. Nine hours was the full time dh would need for work + commute time. If I was lucky enough to get a birth on a weekend and didn’t need child care, that money helped subsidize the longer births.
3. Have a supportive husband/partner who doesn’t mind using a vacation or sick day if needed. (See above for the time four on-call sitters wasn’t enough.)
4. When it comes to things like car pools, etc. volunteer for more than your fair share so that when you need someone in a pinch, they don’t feel like you’re using them. I once had a carpool with 2 families – we had 5 days a week of preschool. I drove 3, she drove 2 on a regular basis. She didn’t mind so much last minute calls to drive because she knew I was “paying it back” in advance.
5. Have a plan for after school, and for if you get called away during school. I learned VERY quickly that my kids’ school did NOT pass on the message that mom was going to a birth and they needed to go home with Billy and Susie. I learned to stop at the school and tell them myself. And yes, I was pretty angry the day my kids were not told and walked home to an empty house with no idea which babysitter’s house to go to! So I sat the kids down and we had a talk about what to do if it happened again. (Go to neighbor’s house and call dad at work to ask what the plan is!)

Those same girls, plus a little sister, today.


6. I wrote little notes and letters and set them aside where my dh knew where they were so that my kids would get a note from me if I was gone at bedtime.
7. Had a second diaper bag for the birth babysitters that was always packed and never used for anything else. That way dh never had to think about packing a bag. I was (and still am) very aware that when I take off to a birth, he’s left juggling a lot more than usual, so I do what I can to ease that for him.
On-call child care can be one of the more challenging parts of birth work, but it is not impossible. There were times that were a little frantic trying to make sure everything lined up, there were times my kids were unhappy about the situation, but I know that they grew up watching me do something I have a passion about. Now that my oldest is in college, she has told me that she noticed, and hopes she will find something she is just as passionate about someday!
As my children have grown older, child care has been less and less of an issue. I’m fortunate now that I have 2 kids old enough to babysit the youngest, as well as a supportive husband who has a job that allows him to work from home when the need arises. So while child care can be a huge issue for those with young kids, it does get easier!

by Andrea Lythgoe
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