IKEA furniture is designed to ruin friendships, wreck marriages, give you blisters and make you cry. If I’d had an IKEA doula, though, my gently used, slightly beaten up Expedit shelf would be standing right now.

When my amazing neighbour Erin was moving and downsizing her apartment I got a bunch of cool stuff. I bought or inherited a ceramic Christmas tree, vintage Pyrex, a Dutch hex sign and a used 5 x 5 IKEA Expedit shelf. You know the ones: they have a bunch of square cubbie holes in them, are big with record collectors and appear in every hipster design blog ever.

This one was white and in pieces.  “It’s easy to put back together. And you can download the instructions from the website,” Erin told me. And I believed her.

My husband and I laid out all the pieces the way the pdf on my phone told me to. It was a bit of a challenge, despite our enourmous kitchen.  If anyone had to go to the bathroom they’d have to crawl under the table which was blocking the exit.

I noticed the boards in the pictures were different from the boards on my floor. This was the first sign of trouble.  I don’t really handle IKEA related stress well. I’m not proud of it but the more problems I ran into, the more my anxiety got triggered. And, the more my anxiety got triggered the more I turned into a horrible, nasty, rotten person.

This is where a doula could have really made a difference.  She could have read out the instructions to me and my husband in a gentle voice. And then given us a few suggestions to get the job done together.

When it was clear we needed a tool that was in a different toolbox she would have quietly asked my husband if he knew where it was.Then, while he was off finding it, she would have suggested I stop, take a drink of cold water and breathe deeply a few times to calm my nerves. She would have walked up quietly behind me and put her steady hands on my shoulders to massage my tense neck.

The IKEA instructions show a little illustration of two people and it basically means: don’t put this together alone; you need a partner.  IKEA doesn’t know what they are talking about, though! I’m sure my blood pressure would have been much better had I just done the entire thing myself.

Like a woman in labour, terrible things came out of my mouth.  I was short tempered and snapped at every comment and answer. I treated my husband like he was out to make my life worse instead of help me.

A doula would have stopped me in my panic and rage and would have firmly called my name. Then, she would have told me in a serious but compassionate voice, “you will figure this out and I will help you but first we are just going to breathe together until this panic passes”. And I would have stared fiercely into her eyes, heaving my breath out until all the rage drained away and I could think straight again.

When it became apparent that two of the outer boards had gotten reversed and we’d have to take it apart and start over, that doula would have talked to me honestly about how far I’d come. She would have pointed out the things I should be proud of despite this bend in the road.  Most importantly she would have slowed me down a little. As a result I could clearly think through a plan for taking apart and reassembling the parts that were misaligned.

Doulas are really good like that.  They can take your fear and upset and tears and accusations and let it all roll off their backs while quietly helping you recover your resilience. They will refocus you when you get off track. They will help you see your accomplishments when you’re perspective is obscured by a difficult emotional reality.

An IKEA doula doesn’t necessarily know everything about building IKEA furniture.  They know how to help you learn how to follow the instructions and, most of all, they will help you through your emotional experience of putting it all together.

Now, if an IKEA doula could do all that while building a shelf, imagine what having a doula for your birth would be like?