I had the privilege of attending this homebirth -- one of the longer births I have witnessed as a doula, 38 hours. Had this been a hospital birth, I am positive it would not have been allowed to progress at its own pace. All the while, Mom and Baby were perfect, healthy, and happy. Baby just decided to come out OP, face-up, and that made things happen a little slower than what we expected. There is just nothing like watching a woman bloom in labor -- no matter where she is -- when she feels safe, cared-for, and in-control.
I want to share what I think and how I feel about pregnancy and birth. I believe so much in respectful, evidence-based care for women and their babies. To me it's about choice; the choice to choose a care provider you're comfortable with, the choice to deliver your baby in the place you feel safest, and the choice to surround yourself with the people who will best support and love you during labor. Not everyone will make the same choices, and that shows how important it is for women to have safe options for whatever method they choose. Below are some photos of me in labor with our sweet baby boy and right after birth. We are all familiar with what hospital birth looks like, so here's a look at the other side.
Here my midwife's apprentice is showing my midwife how to hold up my belly and gently shake it side to side. This was heavenly! It got the weight of my baby off my back and was such a relief. and my husband has his feet up, too! Power of an effective birth team!
Here we were trying to get my labor to progress. I had such a strange labor (to me at least, no one else seemed that surprised!). It was a lot of intense contractions followed by long breaks. It didn't progress normally and we were surprised when my midwife would check my dilation and said there had been significant progress. The sweetness and patience of my support team is not lost on me. I would probably have not been able to labor so long at the hospital without intervention and augmentation. I'm thankful I got plenty of time to labor, even if it was unconventional.
"This may just look like a picture of two blurry feet with toenails of pink. But what you don't see is the AMAZING way a woman blossoms while laboring at home with the support of her family, her midwife, and her birth team. One foot is mine -- offering leverage and stability to the other foot -- a woman as she works to push her baby out. Not seen is the midwife using creative means to look for baby while not disturbing mom's floor-crouching position, dad who is behind mom physically supporting her, a student midwife simultaneously uplifting mom while preparing to serve birthing women in the future, and grandma who takes care of us all with homemade food and hospitality. Homebirth with a midwife offers a respect and kindness for the woman that is hard to find in the hospital, at least I can say that is my experience. What a joy to witness the simple miracle of birth and the power of a woman in her home who has choices and support."
I just love this picture and think it sums up homebirth perfectly. My midwife and her apprentice are studying me and waiting patiently for my next contraction. The equipment behind them is ready for use if we need it, but do not rely on it, trusting that my body knows how to birth this baby. I remember them encouraging me; telling me what a good job I was doing and that soon my baby would be in my arms. My husband sits behind me, a rebozo around his shoulders so I can use the scarf to pull on while I push through a contraction. Not pictured are my mom and Stacie, who are also watching and waiting, ready with a drink of water or a cool washcloth to wipe my forehead. What a privilege it was to be surrounded by this excellent, prepared and encouraging team!
Our baby is finally born!! We eventually moved onto the bed and were surprised to see him come out face first! My midwife rubs him down and checks to see that he's breathing. I am pretty much yelling about how much I love this little guy. Haha! What a rush of emotions!!!
For us, homebirth was where we felt safest and most comfortable, and where we believed our choices would be respected, while still having professionals available to advise us on risks and look out for potential problems. It is how I have birthed all three of my babies. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
I recently met Nicole at a local doula gathering. When she shared her breastfeeding story with me, I was overwhelmed by emotion. I immediately asked her two things: 1-How will you work through this to help other women as a doula, and 2-Do you like to write? I am so grateful she generously poured her heart out to let others know how painful and confusing it can be to face the obstacle of not producing enough milk. I say it to moms everyday: We don't expect feeding our babies to be so hard. I have worked with many moms experiencing milk supply issues due to IGT, PCOS, breast reductions, and extreme blood loss during birth. Very often there is a deep sense of loss. Thank you to Nicole, for being vulnerable and honest -- I know it will help others.
"Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces." This, this right here has been my solid ground -- my strength when I just can't seem to stop beating myself up for things I cannot control. Let's rewind a second, shall we?
Being a young mother is never easy, especially when you're the first of all of your friends to have a baby. You have no one to look to for advice or wisdom, it's just you and a new baby who won't stop screaming and nurses who are less than helpful. I was 19 when I gave birth to my greatest accomplishment and I was so proud, but what was I doing wrong? Why wasn't she latching? Sure, I knew breast is best, but as a first time mom, the crying was overwhelming and I just wanted her needs to be met. The night after she was born she got a bottle of formula because she had been crying non-stop and hadn't eaten because she hadn't ever latched for more than two minuets at a time. I was sad but I was just happy she wasn't screaming from hunger anymore. I had about 6 women give or take look at my breasts (or lack there of) and touch them, without permission at that, and no one had any advice for me -- so I went home, formula in tow and with no regrets.
At home I continued trying to pump, trying to latch her, and just trying to get a supply when I only had drops at a time. I tried a nipple shield, pumping religiously, teas, supplements, and I just gave up because I read some women just don't respond to a pump. Afterall, she was fed so she wasn't really going without, was she?
I have since given birth again, 11 months ago to be exact. This time to my son and my second greatest accomplishment. Before I conceived him and during my pregnancy, I devoted HOURS to researching the best parenting practices, and that included breastfeeding. Breastfeeding: Natural. Normal. Tradition. Instinct. The reason the human race has survived for centuries. I learned that every woman should be able to breastfeed if she "tried" hard enough. I learned about proper latch, feeding on demand, skin-to-skin, the benefits of natural labor, tongue ties, lip ties, no pacifiers or bottles for a minimum of 6 weeks. The list is basically endless, I knew it all and I was confident. You can ask my doula, the one thing I wanted the most out of my birth plan was to be able to breastfeed, and my worst fear was not being able to breastfeed.
After 7 hours of labor I gave birth to my son, completely naturally. Yes! I did it! I was so proud of myself and immediately placed him to the breast. I remember looking at my doula and saying, "look, his mouth is big, he should latch nicely," and he did. He latched and we spent so much time nursing. We denied baths and took off that annoying hat they put on him -- everything was textbook. We went home after some time on the lights for jaundice.
Did I mention everything was textbook? It was...until it wasn't. He constantly wanted to nurse, which is normal for babies. But then I noticed he wasn't peeing much anymore, and he wasn't satisfied after nursing for what felt like an eternity. I birthed him on Friday afternoon, and by Monday he had extremely chapped lips, yellow skin, yellow eyes and little urine output, but I was basically in denial. The next day he was admitted to PICU for jaundice and had to spend 24 hours on the lights. I HAD to start supplementing because my son was starving. I was starving him. My body was failing him. I cried and cried and cried. From 7 lbs 6 oz, to 6 lbs 3 oz and NO urine output. I did everything right, why was this happening to me? I was devastated, but despite my pain I kept at it. I met with an LC who gave me an SNS and and an abundance of advice that included "if things don't change in 1-2 weeks then you just might be one of the small percent of women who can't breastfeed."
Can't breastfeed, what? Some women can't produce milk, but why?
We went home the next day and he was thriving from being supplemented, but I hated myself -- hated the body that birthed two beautiful children. It's an awful feeling, a feeling that left a wound that is still as fresh as when it appeared. I kept at everything I had learned and I never got an increase in supply. Between both sides I couldn't even pump to cover the bottom of a bottle. Prescription drugs, water, clean diet -- NOTHING helped, but why?
IGT: insufficient glandular tissue. I found a great support group on Facebook that was my saving grace, they encircled me with comfort and understanding. There are markers for IGT and I realized that I had most of those markers. Buy why hadn't I heard of this before? All of the articles I read and people I talked to and I had never heard of it. All of the medical professionals that had seen me topless and I never heard a word spoken about it. Why aren't people trained to notice this, and why isn't this a more well-known issue?
This has been a long road and I'm still suffering. I can't feed or nurture my baby the way I was designed to. He's missing out on the best kind of milk his little body was designed to live off of. We did donor milk but it's hard to come by, honestly. He's now exclusively formula-fed and I hurt every time I wash or make a bottle.
I have since became a birth doula, and I almost feel hypocritical about it. How can I offer breastfeeding support to women when I can't breastfeed myself?
I'm healing and I've come to be a huge lactivist. Just because I wasn't and couldn't be successful doesn't mean I don't know the dos and don'ts of breastfeeding, and it doesn't mean that I won't run in to someone who will struggle like I did (and still do).
My heart hurts often and I still cry a lot, but I am healing. I need to start loving my body again. My first step to forgiving the things I can't control is writing this in hopes that more people will understand this kind of terrible struggle. It may not be a big deal to some, formula vs. breast, but to others, it's extremely difficult to accept.
And that's what I have learned to accept.
Nicole is a new doula in the Bakersfield Area. The mother of two little ones, she has experienced a wide range in parenting beliefs and ideals in a short time. She understands birth and mothering isn't always about choosing what you want, and rather, adjusting the best to what comes your way. Nicole is dedicated to supporting women during birth AND breastfeeding, to help them find success as they define it, with some fine-tuning here and there according to what the experience brings.
You can find Nicole on Facebook.
Any doula knows, this profession can be taxing to family life -- who hasn't missed a holiday or milestone? Chelsea is a local doula and friend. Here she shares the struggles of not only working toward doula certification, but also what life is like for a busy mom whose passion is doula work.
From the beginning of my research about starting my doula career, I’ve heard nothing but: “You should wait until your baby is older.”
I started my certification just shortly after I found out I was pregnant with my second baby. I had just decided the month before to start the process of certification when I got two pink lines on that beautiful test. As I went through my certification, the process was slow and hard. I had a hard time concentrating on my assignments and getting my births done. Every time I started to struggle, those negative thoughts came into my mind time and time again: maybe I should wait, maybe I can’t do both.
But I wanted to. I wanted to be not only a great mom, but also a great doula. I persevered. I did assignments as often as I could, and I kept at it.
We then found out just three short months after giving birth to baby #2 that we were expecting baby #3. That’s right folks! Three babies in three short years.
Again, the thoughts came.
But I stuck through it. And you know something? I’ve learned that I can love my job and my babies at the same time. I admit it is hard to leave my babies for a birth sometimes. I just had a birth whre I was gone in bits and pieces for 38 hours. I had to pump every time I got a break! It was hard. No sleep. Missing my babies. First time away from baby #3 for more then a few hours since he was born. That's tough stuff.
I’ve missed putting them to bed and reading them goodnight stories. I’ve missed them having fun. I miss family events because like most doulas, I don’t travel within my on-call period.
The one thing I’ve had to learn as a doula, and as a mom of 3 under 3, is the importance of self-care. I was going to births, being there until the early hours of daylight, then coming home and trying to be super mom. I was trying to clean house and take care of all 3 babies. I was exhausted after my first few birth. I was already burning myself out.
I realized I needed to come home and eat, shower, and sleep, and with a supportive husband, I get help in this area. Bubble baths are still my favorite thing to do post birth -- you can’t give what you don’t have right?
Being a mom of 3 under 3 while balancing doula life is hard, but I get to see women at their strongest moments. I get to see life come into the world. I get to be a part of a family's greatest moment! And I can’t see much changing in the foreseeable future!
Chelsea is a birth doula in the Bakersfield, CA area. She is married to a strong, supportive husband, has a daughter and two sons, and loves Disneyland. She is a passionate breastfeeding advocate, and is happy to still be nursing her third baby after struggling with undiagnosed low thyroid and losing her milk with her first two. Chelsea is also a proponent of informal milk-sharing, as it has helped her little guy grow and thrive before she understood why her milk supply was decreasing. Find out more on her Facebook Page.
Using FaceTime during birth is always an adventure as a doula! What a gift, though, for a dad who happens to be overseas when his child is being born! Doula Andrea Gerdes shares not only about technology that brings Dad in from afar, but also the value of birth photos in situations like these. This mom has such foresight in wanting to create the best memories possible for their child's birthday -- memories that will be treasured for a lifetime.
When I first met Tara, I was immediately impressed. Here was someone who had done her research and was really committed to having an empowered birth. She was taking Bradley classes, had chosen a great midwife group as her care providers, and was now looking to hire a birth doula (me!). There was one big difference between Tara and all of the other clients I had worked with before: her husband would not be attending her birth in person because he was in the military and stationed overseas.
This didn't mean that Tara was going to be alone for her birth, however. She had assembled an amazing group of people to help her through her labor. Her mom was her main support person and Bradley partner. I attended as her doula, and her nurses and midwives also provided great advice and assistance. Her sister-in-law attended the birth and was in charge of making sure that Tara's husband was able to participate, not in person, but still present through technology (hooray for FaceTime!). The final member of Tara's "dream team" of birth support was her birth photographer, Alissa Bray of Alissa Bray Photography.
I have always loved birth photography but this was my first experience attending a birth where a professional birth photographer was present. I loved seeing the photos afterward and I was impressed with the way that Alissa was able to capture some of the special moments of this birth. I decided to talk to Tara after the birth about her experience with birth photography to see how it had impacted her personally.
I already knew that the reason Tara had chosen to hire a professional photographer was because she wanted those memories captured for her husband. She said that she found out about about birth photography the way most of us discover new ideas these days -- via the internet. She chose Alissa because she was excited about working with Tara, and she was affordable; and she was able to do Tara's maternity, birth, and newborn photos all for a great price.
When I asked Tara how she felt when she saw the photos of her birth, her first response said it all: "I cried." Tara had a fast labor which she said often felt overwhelming, but the pictures helped her to see the experience from the outside, and to know what the rest of us who attended her birth had seen. She was very pleased with the photos that Alissa had taken. She said," She was able to capture the emotion, the bond between me and my mom, and the unique aspects of my birth." She said that the images also meant a lot to her husband and made him very emotional when he saw them for the first time. When I asked her for her overall experience with birth photography, she said, "I am so glad that I did it. It was worth every penny."
Tara shared with me some of her favorite photos from her birth to share with you. I hope you love them as much as I do. I was so honored to attend Tara's birth and witness her strength and resilience. In my next blog post, I will be sharing three local birth photographers and their work with you. After this experience, I am an even bigger fan of birth photography, and I highly recommend if you are giving birth soon that you look into it and see if it is something that you would like to do.
Andrea Gerdes is a certified birth doula (BAI) and trained postpartum doula. Her journey to a career in birthwork began with her own births, each of which was very different and special in its own way. As a doula, she is passionate about sharing evidence based information with their clients so they can make the best decisions for them. She believes birth to be transformational and she enjoys supporting women and families through this transition.
Andrea lives and works in Charlotte, NC. When not attending to the needs of her clients, you will find her hanging out with her amazing husband, homeschooling her three wonderful kids, drinking lots of coffee, or reading one of her many unfinished books.
To learn more, visit her website, or her Facebook page.
I fell in love with this birth story! I have a penchant for birth stories written by doulas, and this one does not disappoint! As a woman in labor, I can also relate to how incredible and soothing water can be -- one midwife I used to work with called sitting in a big tub of water an "aquadural," and I know many find this to be true. I hope you enjoy this uplifting tale of birth!
I find childbirth to be an absolutely beautiful event. It is certainly not at all glamorous by any means, but it is such an amazing experience to view not only as a bystander, but also as a participant. I have had 4 children, all girls, with 4 completely different experiences. All 4 birth experiences, in addition to my losses, have shaped me into the woman I am today.
My youngest daughter is now almost 4 months old, and she was conceived the same month I had a miscarriage. The pregnancy went very well, but I was very afraid that my labor and delivery would mirror the delivery of my third daughter, Spirit, which was extremely traumatic. This led to a lot of anxiety and fear, despite my knowledge on the subject. It was for this reason that I hired a birth doula.
My due date was Saturday 11/21 and absolutely NOTHING was happening, only slight Braxton-Hicks here and there. My older kids were at my parents’ spending the weekend, so I figured it was the perfect time to put together my bed frame and make sure the room was arranged for baby’s arrival. So I took everything out of our room, and with a little help, put the bed frame together. My boyfriend Jermaine wasn’t too happy about it, but it needed to be done so I had access to our bedroom closet and I could start setting shit up. That probably should have been my sign that something was up since I was so determined to get it done RIGHT THEN, lol. Mind you, I had already partly cleaned my kitchen (still had dishes to do, but had cleaned the floor by hand and had already done enough dishes to fill the dishwasher and dish drain by the sink), and had cleaned my bathroom the day before.
Once I was done, I wanted to start putting everything back in our room, but Jermaine was hungry so we ordered food and I went to go get it. By that time it was about 8-8:30p, and still nothing was happening. I was exhausted and my back was starting to hurt a little, which I chalked up to it being from bending over to clean and work on the bed frame. We started getting ready for bed and I left the place a complete mess thinking “Oh, I’ll just get up early and move everything back, etc etc”.
So around 12:45-1a, the back pain was still just annoying and then suddenly got really intense. I posted on Facebook in a pregnancy group I was in asking if anybody had experienced back labor and what it felt like, and called my OB as I had began feeling some pressure as well. He told me to wait it out a little since I wasn’t having any contractions at all, but said he would call the hospital just in case I decided to go in so they knew to keep me. Right after I got off the phone with him, I used the bathroom and then went to bed. I woke up at about 3:45, 4a because I had to pee again (had been drinking tons of water to see if it would help the pain, which it had) and began feeling the intense back pain and pressure again. Still no contractions at that point, but I just couldn’t move much anymore so we decided to head to the hospital.
Because of the pain, it took me awhile to get dressed and then at about 4:30a, BAM! First contraction hit! And the back pain and pressure literally stopped and I was cool. Started timing the contractions and they were 3-5 min apart straight off the bat and lasting from 30-45 seconds each. So, through all the mess I had made, we grabbed my bag, got as dressed as I could, and we were out the door. In the hurry, I tried calling my doula, Sam, and couldn’t get in touch with her since my phone was acting screwy so to keep my anxiety down I just texted her what was going on and updates as they happened.
When we got to the hospital, we were immediately taken to triage after they verified my documentation and weighed me. In triage, they hooked me up to the monitors and checked me. I was a stretchy 4-5 cm dilated, had bulging membranes, and was almost completely effaced, this was at about 5:15a. They moved me into my room, which had a relaxation tub, and immediately started filling it up for me. That tub was AWESOME!!!!!! Definitely consider laboring in a tub of warm water if you can, it feels ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!
So, my doula comes and having her there was so relaxing and completely made the difference between a good, stress-free experience and a stressful, anxiety filled experience. I labored in the tub for about 2 hours and only got out to use the bathroom. At about 7:50, the contractions that hadn’t been bothering me suddenly felt different and I was feeling much more pressure so I asked to be checked. I told them that if I was a 7 or less, I wanted the epidural but if I was more than 7, I would tough it out. As soon as I stood up, I got hit with the most intense contractions back to back that I had EVER felt. After about 5-10 min of contractions where I couldn’t move, I finally made it over to the bed. I couldn’t sit, it was unbearable so I was on all fours moaning through the contractions.
The nurse checked me and I was at a 7, so they hooked me up to fluids and called the anesthesiologist for my epidural. My Dr. and a midwife came in and right then I got the unbearable urge to push and couldn’t stop, so they helped me roll over, my water broke, and in 2 pushes (about 2-3 minutes), my little rainbow was Earthside and super alert! 6lbs, 19.25in long, no stitches or repairs needed, and the anesthesiologist walked in not even a minute after she was born to give the meds, lol.
Oh, and did I mention that this was my second VBAC!
Jennifer Silvera is a pediatric LPN, RN BSN student, and mother to 4 beautiful little divas. She loves all things to do with birth and has a passion for birth and helping others. Ever since she can remember, she has loved pregnancy, children, and learning. In 2005 Jennifer was motivated to learn all she could about birth when a close friend became pregnant -- and she delved even deeper during her first pregnancy in 2007. Since that time, she has had 4 completely different birth experiences ranging from your typical hospital birth to an unmedicated almost home birth. She is a Birth Arts International trained birth doula. "I believe every woman should feel supported, educated, and empowered in her decisions regarding her pregnancy and child's birth, none of it has to suck or be a horrible experience."
Jennifer is currently working toward her BSN, hoping to work in L&D. Once that is accomplished, she plans to continue school and become a CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife). She truly believes an informed woman is an empowered woman. You can find her through her website, as well as on Facebook.
All images copyright Wanderlust Birth & Photography 2015 -- go and visit her website, her images are amazing! Find her on Facebook as well.
Veronica's piece reminds me of a quote I received from a dad: "Hiring a doula was the best decision we made. It turned out to be way more important than what color we painted the nursery, what kind of crib we got, or cloth or disposable diapers. Stacie helped us so much the day Joshua was born. Whoever you are, wherever you are, unless you have had 16 kids, your mom's a midwife, and you're an obstetrician, you need a doula (and maybe even if that does describe you, you still need a doula!)." As doulas we recognize partners are in all different places, and the ability of a doula to make up the difference is her unique addition to the birth team.
This month is International Doula Month, and as such, I’ve been thinking about what I really wanted to say about doulas that I maybe haven’t said before. There have been a few interactions I’ve had lately that really got me thinking, although this is nothing I haven’t thought about before or even mentioned in classes.
We expect FAR too much from dads during birth.
So, here’s the deal:
Back in the day, like 130 years ago or more, when a woman went into labor, the local midwife would come into her home. The mom’s female friends and family would come to help– they would prepare her a birth space, soothe her, help keep her fed, hydrated, and reassure her. Birth was a normal part of life, something that most woman would be familiar with long before it came time for them to give birth as well.
I’ll say this again: Birth was a normal part of life.
The role of a birth doula is to try to bring into the picture those women who were very experienced when it came to birth. Unless you’ve been around a couple of women as they give birth before, birth is a pretty weird process that no amount of videos can ever prepare you for. So while I’m not saying we should go back to the time when it was considered “improper” for men to witness births, I’m saying that the idea of a partner having to bear the responsibility of caring for emotionally and physically supporting a mom through birth is unfair to everyone– it’s unfair to the partner, it’s unfair to the mother, and it’s unfair to the baby.
We have mounting evidence of dads (there is no info out on same-sex partners) experiencing PTSD as a result of being at the birth of their babies. Even if there aren’t ANY complications, while we should try very hard to prepare partners to be active participants at birth, there’s nothing to really prepare anyone for the twists and turns of birth. Doulas can’t predict how a birth will go, but they are prepared to walk the journey with families, no matter what that ends up looking like. Doulas provide that reassurance to EVERYONE during the process, no matter what, helping reduce trauma.
Doulas aren’t emotionally attached, nor do they have to bear the responsibility for the medical care being provided.
Hiring a doula isn’t a value judgment on the state of your relationship; in fact, having a doula can help provide the space and time for those critical moments during labor and birth that can bring couples closer together.
Hiring a doula will not take away from a partner’s role at birth; having a doula present will give him more confidence to be involved in a way that he’s comfortable with.
Hiring a doula means that the laboring mother will have what’s very biologically normal– the care and support of an experienced woman who will stay with her through the whole process.
Hiring a doula isn’t a luxury. Hiring a doula should not be a status symbol. Hiring a doula should not be political. Hiring a birth doula is a logical, critical, SMART choice that can help ensure that no matter what happens at a birth, everyone in the room was able to benefit from the professionalism and reassurance and care that a birth doula provides.
I believe in birth doula care SO MUCH that I have created a non-profit that, in addition to providing mental health services, provides doula care on a free and sliding-fee basis.
Hire a doula. It’s important.
Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CD(DONA), CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE, Owner, BabyLove, Executive Director, The BabyLove Alliance, Ltd.
Veronica started with a B.A. in English and a Certificate in Asian Studies from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. After the birth of her daughter, she attended the training to become a doula in November 2006, and became a certified doula through DONA in August of 2007. Veronica was so in love with helping families with birth that she became a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator in December of 2007. In April of 2008, she trained to become a Certified Lactation Counselor, and earned the designation of a CLC by the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice. Veronica taught childbirth, breastfeeding, and sibling classes at a small hospital in Rochester, MN. She has also worked as a volunteer birth doula and still provides support to mothers who are experiencing a suspected miscarriage through a local hospital program.
“I take great joy in helping mothers with traumatic or disappointing birth experiences that require extra support and understanding, and I love to help every family through this wonderful journey!”
I cannot say how much I enjoyed Bryna's contribution. Isn't there enough of a language gap in the birth world? Dilation when we could say open, and effacement for thinning? What about other terms, such as advanced maternal age (which perhaps is a step up from geriatric pregnancy!)? Or fragile pregnancy? Often these terms serve to make the distinction between doctor and patient. What about words that make the distinction between doula and parent? I hope this gets us thinking!
I’ve worked in the birth world for 10 years, this year. At first, I had what I thought was “burnout” or getting tired of being so emotionally and physically available for clients -- which causes a sort of cynicism and laissez-faire attitude toward one’s responsibilities. I went to work for a couple of weeks thinking this -- visiting clients and being as helpful and present as ever, I realized how happy this work continues to make me, and how capable I feel -- without cynicism. So, if I’m not burnt out, what am I?
I can’t figure it out -- and I’m still sorting through my feelings on this, but let me lay out for you what I’ve discovered so far:
Our language as birth workers, as a general whole, sucks. I’m sick of it. I am so tired of “trust the process” and “it’s not stronger than you, it IS you,” and a thousand other cliches we fall back on as birth workers. As doulas, lactation consultants, midwives, and other affiliates in this world...if I hear about one more person “re-centering” I might scream!
Is there a place for self-care and energy work? Sure. Is it imperative we learn the language and speak circles around our clients? No. No. No. When you tell a client that their “energetic blockages might hold back their labor” you are not giving them information. You are disempowering them, at best, alienating them at worst.
Maybe your particular client needs to move past a fear, a worry, or whatever the heck before they can go forward -- we have all seen this happen. Once, I had a parent hang out at 6cm for HOURS until we FaceTimed their blissfully sleeping kid at Gramma’s house. Baby came within the hour. Was it their “energetic blockage?” Maybe. Or maybe they just needed to know their kid was ok. Or maybe those are the same thing -- but which one uses the flowery language?
Why do we feel called (even saying “feel called” makes me twitchy) to use this flowery prosaic speech when we discuss birth? Some of us use it our whole lives! What difference does it make? What harm could it possibly cause?
I’m working on that part.
I suspect it does make a difference and it can cause harm. I’ve made an active shift away from the “birthspeak” this past year or so. Working to actively remove the embroidery from my words, I am seeing more and more that it’s elitist, exclusive, and I think, harming our communities.
To use “birthspeak” (which I’m shortening to BS for brevity) you need to be trained in BS. Which means you need the disposable income and the funds, as well as the childcare (potentially) and the time to be taking these workshops in which BS is heavily featured. I am acutely aware of the time, money, and support it requires to attend these things -- and the privilege afforded me as a cisgender white woman with an employed partner, higher education, and middle-class income.
This doesn’t make me bad, nor does it make me better -- but it does give me an unfair advantage over someone who doesn’t have the same opportunities due to circumstances beyond their control. Using BS means having learned BS. If you were able to learn and are able to use BS, check your privilege.
To understand BS, you need to have an education which requires introduction to concepts well beyond Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic. For example, you’d need to know what “energy” means outside the status quo definition -- which means you need exposure somewhere in your experience and education. In the same way that you’d likely have had to attend a yoga class to know how to “yoga breathe.” These concepts are not something you run across in everyday life!
Even if you say “let’s do some yoga breaths” and go on to explain the concept and action in an easy-to-grasp way, you’re reminding your client (who needed to ask you for an explanation) of somewhere they don’t have access -- whether by financial or social exclusion. You have also brought forward a lack of knowledge in a way that isn’t necessary. This can cause more feelings of exclusion. Perceived or real, exclusion is exclusion. You have already lost a little bit of common ground with your client. This is harmful. I won’t go into microaggressions here, because they’re much better explained here and you can see the impact on those who have experienced them here. These things can add up, and diminish your client’s self-efficacy, or pride and feelings of capability.
Perhaps the internal dialogue of your client then goes like this: “How can I be a good parent if I don’t even know what a yoga breath is?! Once she explained it, it was so simple -- just breathing in my nose and out my mouth! There’s too much to learn, I’m too overwhelmed…”
Was this your intention? Of course not! Is it sometimes the unintended consequence of BS? You betcha. That sentence above is taken directly from the experience of a former client of mine, describing their experience with one of their childbirth educators. BS can impact us all.
Something else to consider as potentially harmful -- a lot of the language is appropriated from other cultures without thought or permission. Co-opting other cultures’ sacred rites & rituals because it feels “more spiritual” is not okay -- especially if you don’t know the significance of the words you are using. Think about it. Think about the things that you do every day as a birth worker -- do you really need that “Namaste” email signature?
How to remove BS from your vernacular:
Real-life example time! One of the things I do as a doula is “holding space.” Holding space is a concept, and doesn’t quite fall into BS territory, in my mind. It can be explained easily and doesn’t draw unfairly from any specific cultures who do not benefit from its use, and can be explained without presumption or condescension to clients.
In practice, it can look like an awful lot of doing nothing, but it can be a really powerful tool in an emotionally fraught time. To “hold space” you simply remain focused on your client while they process something difficult. In most folks’ vocabulary, it’s called “being there for someone.”
Do you have to call it “holding space” even though the concept itself is called that and is taught with that title? NOPE. If your client doesn’t have a working knowledge of BS and it would not benefit them in any way to know what the technique is called, do they really need to know? Especially when they know exactly what you mean when you say “I’ll be there for you if it gets tough, emotionally -- and here is what that looks like…”
Does this mean you can’t describe your client’s birth to another birth worker as a “totally transcendent experience!”? Not at all! Does it mean rethinking how you describe your work to the general public? I hope so. We all want to “find our tribe” but we don’t often stop to think where those words came from or what they really mean. You don’t need to use BS to be a good birth worker. You can use plain language and continue to witness miracles on the daily.
Obviously, this is not a commandment, nor is it a one-size-fits all manifesto. It’s just a personal exploration of thoughts and feelings on a subject that turns out to be quite sticky. All I know is that the BS is grating on my nerves. Totally anecdotally, I have noticed a significant uptick in my client diversity since I’ve dropped it in both speaking and marketing. I have clients and friends thank me for being more “genuine” and “straightforward.” I had no idea I was being confusing and not coming across as genuine. I’m glad I dropped it.
What has your experience been with BS?
Bryna has 3 kiddos, a seafaring husband, and a sweet pup named Amelia Earhart. She loves to climb rocks, play in the surf, and camp in Big Sur.
She has been working with families since 2006, and became an IBCLC in 2010. She owns Doula My Soul, llc -- a private practice in the Portland, Oregon metro area. She works as a doula specializing in high-risk and surgical birth, a lactation consultant offering home, office, and online consults, and teaches classes through both Doula My Soul and OHSU Center for Women's Health.
Bryna has mentored many students through their IBCLC hours, and loves to share the joy of helping families meet their individual definitions of success!
Are you a doula who likes to write? Join us for the "31 Days of Doulas, 2017," as we enter our 4th year of guest blog posts for, about, and by DOULAS! Not an experienced blogger? That's ok! I will help walk you through your idea to get a great result. Don't even have an idea? That's also ok! I have a penchant for helping early writers find that seed of an idea to nurture, grow, and share as a blossoming story of interest and heart, to others. There are still spaces left for 2017 -- contact me today!
Being the mother of four boys who love comic heroes and villains, I am constantly hearing characters' origin stories -- how they became who they are. I have pulled this over to the doula world, the idea of the origin story, and it is something I love to hear: how a doula made her way into the world of serving families during birth. Emily learned about doulas but had none locally to connect with. Here she shares how she has made her way in the doula world. Enjoy her origin story!
I grew up in a town of 10,000 people. We had 3 stoplights, five 7-11s, and both hospitals 20 minutes away. When I learned I was pregnant I began to research everything. What foods should I avoid? How active should I be? What type of birth would I have? Through my research, one term stood out to me. This word was “doula.”
It sounded like an interesting word so I dug a little deeper. The definition I found was “a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth” (Merriam-Webster). This sounded like the type of person I wanted to know! I began to find out anything I could about this seemingly magical profession. There could really be a person who is there solely to help me remain as comfortable and calm as possible during labor?
I discovered that finding a doula wasn’t always easy. In my town, delivering in a hospital meant travelling at least an hour away. Homebirth was an option but not possible in our circumstances. On top of that, who would drive all the way here? So I came up with the next best solution. I decided to become a doula!
I poured my all into discovering the different pathways to becoming a doula. I looked at different certifying organizations and what they each had to offer. After discovering all the amazing possibilities, I decided I would become a DONA International Certified Birth Doula. Now came the fun part: immersing myself in all things birth!
I’ve since moved to Richmond, VA. The birth community is large, and steadily growing. I’ve learned that doulas in my area work together like a large, close-knit family. Though I haven’t attended any births to date, I feel comfortable knowing that there are so many people I can rely on to help give my future clients the best service I possibly can. Pursuing this path has been one of the best choices I’ve made and I’m so excited to be a part of something that can positively change the lives of so many families.
Emily Mozingo is the owner of Little Love Birth Services, LLC in Richmond, Virginia. She is a Certificated Lactation Educator Counselor and is certifying through DONA as a birth doula. When she is not with clients she is spending time with her husband and their daughter. They spend time exploring the city and at home with their many pets. Currently, Emily is also working on childbirth education certification as well as continuing education to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She hopes to one day become a Certified Professional Midwife.
As doulas, we must plow through and process our own birth experiences -- and those we have grown up hearing -- before we are able to help other women face theirs. Although Denise is not technically a doula, as a counselor, she surely has felt this weight. Her thoughts and experience on this are too valuable not to share. It is our responsibility, as doulas, birth workers, and professionals serving women, that we take the time to process our experiences of birth or they can easily get in our way, making themselves known to all those we try to help.
I had all the tools I thought I needed to overcome my fears, my doubts, and my worries about my first child. I researched everything I could about natural birth. I enrolled in an expensive birth education class, and, obsessively, I read everything I could get my hands on. I was determined to make my birth different from what my mother experienced. I would be the natural-birthing, breastfeeding, attachment-parenting warrior I often criticized my mother of not being.
To be fair, my mother had the chips stacked against her. She was from Puerto Rico, spoke very little English, and had little support from my father. A mixture of mental illness and lack of family support made for a scary experience bringing her first child into the world. When my mother told me my birth story, it was filled with fear of the unknown, being in horrible pain, being drugged and knocked out for the “main event”, and ending in my mom only having vague and indistinct memories of the process of my arrival. “This will NOT be me!” I declared triumphantly. But inside, the fear turned over and over in my stomach. I rehearsed my birth plan in my mind and told the father of my children to do the same. As a therapist in training, I was engaged in my own therapy, and discussed in depth with the therapist my fears related to the baby. My therapist gently reminded me that I was not my mother, and that I was not doomed to repeat her mistakes; but the ghosts of my mother’s “not-so-perfect” birth lingered inside of me. What if things didn’t go as planned? What if one of my choices caused me to experience exactly what my mother had been through? I couldn’t enjoy my pregnancy fully thinking about the potential hazards that may or may not lay ahead.
Anxiety can suck the life out of you. Worse yet, many people fail to understand how a person suffering with anxiety feels. Hearing someone tell you, “Oh, stop it”, or “Just stop thinking about it,” or my personal favorite, “Relax!” can actually cause more anxiety. Anxiety disorders can cause distressful emotional and physical symptoms, and can be severe in intensity. It can range from a general uneasiness and worry that won’t go away, to feeling an intense amount of fear that causes you to believe you are going to die. With the ebb and flow of feelings one has during a pregnancy, anxiety can be easily exacerbated, especially if you have struggled with it in the past.
After the birth of my daughter, I was severely traumatized. Things did not go as I had planned. My midwife and husband stood by me as my “perfect birth plan” unraveled. I got an epidural after 2 days of slow labor at home, followed by Pitocin at the hospital. After my baby was born, the doctor cut the cord right after birth, and I didn’t get to hold the baby very long after she was born. Then, my uterus would not contract and the doctor had to manually and painfully stop me from bleeding out. I almost died giving birth; after the birth, the thought of this would not leave me alone. Looking at my baby would cause a wave of fear to flow through me, and I fought tooth and nail to keep close to her at every moment. Truthfully, there were times I wanted to be away from this “little reminder” that everything I had planned went wrong, and I had almost lost my life because of this. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt because I blamed myself for what had happened. My dark fear was that I had missed out on attaching to her, just as I believed my mother had.
To add insult to injury, I tried to get my daughter to breastfeed; after days of trying on my own, I tearfully gave her a bottle full of formula. I must have cried every single time I filled that bottle with formula for at least two weeks after that day. After all that planning and prepping, I felt the ghosts of my mom’s “not-so-perfect” birth were haunting me. I started berating myself; telling myself I had failed. I would look at my child every feeding and think how much of a failure I was, and how much she would suffer because of it. I imagined gloom and doom for both of us, because I had not achieved the perfect birth.
Weeks later, in therapy, a thought struck me. What if the “not-so-perfect” birth could be a way to exorcise the ghosts from my mother’s experience? If I made an active choice to walk a different path after the events I had been through, maybe the ghosts wouldn’t control my emotions and actions the way they had for my mother. Instead of living in fear that I had done some incredibly damaging things to my child, maybe I could believe that despite the “not-so-perfect” start, I could have a “pretty-damn-awesome” motherhood. Maybe I could learn to hear the ghosts’ voices and gently reply, “Even though I hear you, you will not be as loud as before, and I don’t have to follow you.”
I won’t pretend doing that was easy. It has probably been the hardest thing for me to do in my life, and still have to do it every day. Because wish though I might, the ghost lingers. Albeit a whisper, it is there. I don’t believe it will ever go away. What I do know is, it no longer holds me the way it once did. I faced the nightmare and the fears it contained, and it served to birth a stronger, more vibrant birth story for myself and my daughter. Not one of being a victim to circumstances, but one of taking adversity and transforming it to fit my life, my vision, and my version of motherhood.
Two years later, I found myself in the same situation, ready to give birth to my son, with a plan in hand; but this time I held the loving intention in my heart that “even if things don’t go the way I plan, the birth will still be good.” I cried as my midwife told me we couldn’t have the water birth I wanted, and as I got the epidural and Pitocin once more, I grieved because I knew this was my last child, and my vision of a “perfect birth” was lost. The voices rose up in a chorus, yelling to me of impending doom, and of critical insults; but I moved forward. My son, to everyone’s surprise, was born in the caul, which brought many a nurse out from behind the nursing station. My midwife exclaimed that this was indeed a special birth. “Take that ghosts!” I thought to myself.
Since these events, I have felt a pull to work with women who have been through similar situations, and describe the birth of their child as traumatic. Some have a great sense of fear surrounding their upcoming birth because of what they have heard about birth in the past. I hear them filled with resentment towards well-meaning people who, trying to help, do more harm than good by minimizing their fears or telling them to “relax.” They suffer silently at times, not wanting others to call them crazy, and they feel a deep sense of shame, guilt, regret, pain, worry and fear when things don’t go exactly as planned. Birth can be a wonderful, orgasmic, enjoyable, life changing event for most. It can be a traumatic, scary, life changing event for others. In my opinion, no matter what the circumstances around the birth are, it is life changing. You have the choice of how you will move through the events that shape your birth. The ghosts of the “not-so-perfect” births of our mothers, our sisters or even ourselves may try to lead you down a dark path, but remember the steps you take regardless of where you are on your walk into motherhood are yours to take. And if your birth was “not-so-perfect”, there is support, counseling, and a sisterhood of other women out there that have heard the ghost’s voices, and can help you lower the volume to a whisper.
So, how do you transform a “not-so-perfect” birth into a “pretty-damn-awesome” motherhood? It’s a long journey. It’s a different journey for everyone. Some women can say they walk it on their own. Others need to walk with a professional counselor. Some need medical interventions, natural or pharmaceutical. Some need to process the past, and learn to live in the present. Some must come to terms with the trauma they survived and walk a path towards healing. None of the paths are easy or short.
You may be trying to keep positive, and I encourage you to hold that warm intention in your heart for your birth; but if outcomes don’t occur as planned, the ghosts of trauma, guilt and shame may be screaming in your ears. Instead, voice the fears but welcome the possibility that things will go well. Hold the possibilities of the good and most positive birth experience possible while holding the knowledge that what will be, will be. Most of all, love yourself and accept the birth for what it is – a transforming, movement into motherhood full of excitement, joy, hardship, disappointments, courage, strength, awesomeness, sleeplessness, feminine power and a little of all of the above – regardless if it is an ideal birth or a “not-so-perfect” birth.
Denise Varela, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in New York, has been in the field for over 14 years, and has worked with clients from infancy to age 101. Denise is the founder of Nurture We, a team of professionals who desire to help women find the fun in life again in easy and healthy ways. Nurture We is dedicated to providing classes, blogs, life coaching and counseling on mental health and related issues. Denise understands depression, anxiety, stress and other issues drain our joy and our childlike desire to have fun. When we address these issues, we can take back what we were born with -- the ability to enjoy life through its ups and downs, acknowledge all of our feelings, and still have fun in our daily lives! Our joy and laughter and fun will be contagious to those around us and our loved ones will be nurtured by our well-being.
Some doulas strive to venture into the world of birth as no-frills and intervention-free as it can happen. Other doulas, like Julia, offer their experience and knowledge to help families considered "high-risk." Julia and I agree -- we need both kinds! Julia also is passionate about mentoring doulas through the certification process, so virtually and on the phone she is able to provide support, feedback, and heart to help grow new doulas. If this is something you are curious about, contact your certifying organization and ask how you can help as a volunteer, ultimately helping your fellow doulas.
Around a year ago, I was hit by a drunk driver. While I recovered, I was unable to do what I loved most, parent. But secondarily, unable to also do the work I loved, doulaing! So, I decided there was one thing I could do, help doulas who were certifying. So, from my bed, I sent out my resume and letter of intent to become a volunteer certification packet reviewer for DONA, and so began a journey that has taken me on a fantastic ride with a organization I’m proud to be a of.
When I certified, I felt overwhelmed by the process, it felt daunting, and the organization felt large, with seemingly nowhere to turn… and so as soon as I was approved to be a reviewer, my goal became clear, and the doulas spoke this to me… I needed to help make certifying accessible, smooth, straightforward and personable for every doula. So, I set my sights on doing just that.
This year, as a reviewer, I started the “Tips from your Friendly Certification Packet Reviewer,” a Monday post on the DONA Facebook Boards where I bring frequent “bump in the road” items I come up against in the packets I review. Some of the tips I’ve covered include:
The conversations that have emerged from the posts have been insightful, and I’ve started to see cleaner, more organized packets since these posts. As a result of having cleaner packets, I’m able to really sit back and relish the best parts of the packets, the birth stories. One of the best parts of packet reviewing is that I’m basically part of a doula birth story sharing circle every single day. I get to read how doulas experience birth, their tips and tricks from all over the world, and glean their knowledge. And let me tell you something, as someone who is “seasoned,” I’m learning from them every single day. I’ve certified close to 200 doulas in the past year, and every birth story I learn something.
Just today, I called a doula to let her know I had her packet to review. She told me that she had an acting background and how it played into her doula career. I couldn’t quite picture how, and she explained that if she had to meet a client for the first time in birth, she needed to improv into the role, and read the room immediately. GENIUS. In another birth story, a client was having a hard time focusing because of the people in the room, but still wanted them there. The doula pulled out an eye mask for the client to wear, and it worked like a charm. GENIUS. This is what I get to be a part of.
I’m proud to play a small part in the big world that is DONA, and to hopefully continue to show that certification can be a straightforward, personable, welcoming experience. If you are certifying, or mid-process, please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions that I can assist you with! I would love to help you along the way!
Julia has been a practicing Birth Doula since 2013. Her passion is supporting families prenatally. Her main goal is to make sure that each birthing client (and partner) feels that they are well prepared for birth. Julia specializes in high-risk births and families expecting twins or triplets. She is confident and knowledgeable when it comes to navigating the medical system and helping families feel informed and empowered to participate and lead their own birth story. She has written a twins-doula curriculum that she has subsequently taught to doulas around the country.
She is currently certifying as a Childbirth Educator as well in addition to her work as a birth, fertility, postpartum and bereavement doula. In her free time, she volunteers on the Birth Doula Certification Committee for DONA International.
You can learn more about Julia on her website at www.northwestbirthservices.com, on her Co-Op page, www.doitalldoulas.com/julia/ or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org!
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)