I tired to explain that sometimes moms just want me there and I end up "holding space". "Holding space"? I said it then realized I had no idea how to explain exactly what that meant.
As a doula, I sometimes just sit there with mom in the quiet listening to her birth music and ever so often she will look up at me during a wave and I just look into her eyes with confidence in her strength and full of love as I breathe with her, slow, cleansing breathes.
At my most recent birth, mom just wanted me to hold her hand during each contraction wave and looked me in the eyes searching for reassurance as I whispered words of encouragement "You've got this. You are so strong. You are beautiful. You are going to meet your baby soon." And then when the contraction was over, she closed her eyes and just rested. But if I moved to grab her water from the night stand or went to the bathroom to grab a cool cloth, she would call out for me. She just needed a reassuring presence by her side throughout her labor.
Julie Byers, a birth doula and childbirth educator, from Greenville, SC wrote a beautiful blog post about Doulas doing nothing in labor and even found a better word then the phrase "holding space" for it: Pacers. Doulas are Pacers for labor.
Doulas focus completely on mom (and take note of partner too). While healthcare providers (your doc, ob, midwife, etc.) and nurses are there for a job that interrupts the focus on mom's mental and emotional needs, such as listening to baby's heartrate, checking mom's blood pressure, etc plus needing to pay attention to other patients. Then if things become hairy in labor, a pacer is so important to remain focused on mom and to be calm and reassure her (and even give partner a pep talk about what's going on and why and what to expect).
This is where just having a partner, friend, or family members as a Pacer can be difficult for mom. They can get emotionally caught up in the experience, as they should be. These people are emotionally invested differently than the doula and could be seeing labor/birth for the first time. Sometime that person is not sure if the laboring mom is feeling normal labor progression and can get concerned. Moms have a sixth sense and can feel that fear or uncertainty brought into the laboring space.
This is why doulas are so important, even if they are doing nothing. As a doula, my focus to keep my posture, my emotions and my movements soft and exude confidence to the laboring mom (as well as the partner by her side). I am a pacer.