Connie was my own doula trainer, and she has been mentioned a lot in the last few 31 Days project, as she was Monalisa's and Amber's doula trainer as well. I can't say enough kind, incredible words about Connie. From day one of me meeting her, she has championed me on in not only the doula world, but also the related world of birth. Connie brings her heart to all she does, and that has made her an excellent mentor and a dear friend -- we should all be so lucky to have someone like Connie in life.
23 years ago, when I started my work as a doula, I experienced some of the greatest highs of my life! After a birth I would sit on the phone for hours, processing this and that with my other new doula friends. I was excited to carry a pager, to know I had a prenatal visit coming up, to be thinking about my doula bag. My learning curve was steep and I was devouring every piece of information I could find. Newly married, my husband delighted in how happy I was. He said, “when I married you I knew I was getting a great woman. I didn't know I was getting a doula as well!”
The years have passed. I usually don't need to process a birth for several hours. Usually I come home happy, but not always high. I often feel pressure to get to bed at a good time, be sure my cell phone is charged, know that my childcare is perpetually lined up. The weight of being on call 24/7 sometimes feels heavy. I feel frustrated with marketing my work on social media because really, marketing is not what I love to do. Neither is social media.
And yet, the joy of this work continues to fill me. I feel honored to be trusted and invited into what is surely one of the most powerful experiences a woman will ever have. I am humbled as I witness her strength, his kindness, their love. I learn as I watch women make very hard decisions. I help her gather information. I act as a sounding board as she talks through her options. I am present for miracles.
Perhaps there is a selfish part of me as all this occurs. I learn so much from these birthing women and from these powerful experiences. When I return from births I try to write down what I learned from the experience. This is part of what keeps me thriving as a doula – it's the learning. While my learning curve about the labor process is not as steep as it once was, my learning curve about life still is. These women are my teachers.
One woman I labored with for a few days never once complained. Trust me – if I had been in her shoes, I would have complained. As we walked the hallways for the millionth time I told her that I was so impressed at how she kept a positive attitude. She told me her story of growing up watching her brother who was very ill. At some point she realized she could complain about their lifestyle, in which regular trips to the hospital were a part of her life, but when she considered what her brother was going through, she felt that to complain would be an unnecessary indulgence. She had developed a mantra in her life: I will not indulge in complaint. Listening to this I began to realize that, in fact, I sometimes did indulge in complaint. The hours we spent together taught me a valuable lesson about myself. I still complain, but maybe just a little less. And my life is better for it.
Then there was the mother who had everything stacked against her, but she just kept making these great calls for herself as she labored toward having a much desired VBAC. After two sleepless nights of non-progressing contractions, her doctor told her that even though her labor was very mild and she wanted to go home, she couldn't advise her to do so because there had been a few dips of her baby's heart rate in the last several hours. The mother listened to what the doctor had to say, asked a few questions, and then made a decision to leave despite her doctor's advice. This was not someone I thought would ever even consider signing out AMA (Against Medical Advice), but she said she dug down deep and just knew it would be worse to stay. She had never heard of signing out AMA but described doing so in her own words to the doctor. The doctor said she completely understood what the mother was asking for and that she only was telling her the hospital's policy. As I followed the mom out of the hospital, her nurse whispered into my ear that she would have made the same decision for herself. The laboring mom left the hospital, got some much needed rest, but went on to encounter many other obstacles. Despite them, she and her baby had a very healthy VBAC. The lesson to watch for miracles was reinforced for me at this birth.
I have learned that slow and steady progress often makes big changes. Not just in dilation! But even in birth advocacy. I have encouraged and watched as women kept asking for their babies to be taken out of the warmer and placed in their arms. Now it's standard for babies to be placed in mom's arms after birth. I have suggested to women that they might consider delaying their baby's first bath. Now I attend births in hospitals that post that they prefer not to wash babies for 24 hours. Episiotomies were routine. Moms complained. I haven't seen one in 6 years. I've learned that health care consumers really can make change if they are supported.
When I think about why I keep doing this work, it is because it fills me up. It makes me smile. This work helps me to learn and grow. The highs are not always as high as they once were – but the lessons are so much richer. Where else could I receive these powerful life lessons than at a birth?!
Connie Sultana, BA, CD(DONA), ICCE, LCCE has been a doula for over 20 years. She is a DONA-approved Birth Doula Trainer, and a Lamaze-approved Childbirth Educator Instructor. Connie is a former Director of Certification and Board Member of DONA International. Connie is forever grateful and appreciative to the over 700 families who invited her to provide support during their labors and births. She lives in Santa Rosa, California with her family and her two dogs.
I recently had an inquiry into my doula services. Knowing there was a slight chance I might be out of town for a couple days around this couple’s EDD, I offered a partnering situation, where a second doula and I share all the pre-birth responsibilities, and then whoever is most available attends the birth and the follow-up visit (for more information about ways to work with other doulas, contact me). In a case like this, we split the deposit, both attend all prenatals, and then have a way of determining who will most likely arrive at the birth (sometimes this is as simple as who is more rested in the case of another recent doula birth, sometimes we wait and see who the family contacts first, and sometimes it is just a pre-arranged agreement between doulas). The family agreed with this type of arrangement, so I contacted a doula friend, asked if she were game, and all of us met for an interview.
The partner I selected for this birth is much my junior in the birth world. We had recently partnered for a birth where I was asked to help a young mother-to-be in foster care – there were no funds for doula support, yet this situation was too important to let that stop me. Knowing I had a pretty busy birth schedule, I asked this doula if she would partner with me for this volunteer birth, and she heartily agreed. I loved her style, her knowledge, her heart. She has a real passion for serving, and I can’t wait to work with her more.
Our interview went well. The family originally found me through my website. They were impressed that I kept an active blog, and they appreciated my experience, certifications, and the seriousness with which I take this work. The expectant father is someone who deals a lot with numbers – he is a numbers guy. He did seem concerned that I might be out of town during their due-week. I also live about 40 minutes away from the hospital where the couple would be birthing, and my partner lived about 10 – this was another number for the expectant dad to absorb and think about. The expectant mother, because it was her second baby and she had a fast-paced job where she gets little rest and is always on her feet, had practically been assured by her doctor her baby would be early. With the dual coverage provided, and knowing babies don’t generally come lightning-fast, she seemed very comfortable with how the situation would work out.
Upon ending the interview, the expectant mother basically said, “Thanks for taking the time to meet with us. I will call you tomorrow to let you know how we want to proceed. But I am feeling pretty good about all of this.”
My partner and I walked away feeling really positive about the meeting, and we said our good-byes.
The next day came and went, and I didn’t receive a call. Because this family was due within a month or so, this day passing without hearing from them was a tiny, pink flag to me. The following day, I did get a call from the expectant mother. I could tell by her tone she was having a hard time putting her words together. That’s when I knew for certain: they were not choosing me. Okay, that sounds weird, as we were already aligned to work as partners. But I could sense they wanted to alter the design, and being as mine was the only contact information they had, that meant they had to, essentially, go through me to get to my partner.
Talk about awkward! I held the reins here. The expectant mother explained, it really came down to me possibly being gone, and that 40 minutes of driving for me to reach the hospital – her partner was not comfortable with these numbers (maybe they felt a better connection to the other doula? And if so, they did not mention this, but she is amazing, so of course it could add to their reasons, but they did not say that to me). I stopped the woman, as she was uncomfortably offering a finder’s fee, and apologizing all over the place – I knew she felt bad and this was hard for her to do. I told her one of my core values as a doula is that families find the doula who is right for them, and that won’t always be me. I hold true to that, and I really believe I get the clients I am meant to get.
I assuaged this mother’s guilt as best as I could. I told her not to worry about it one more minute. I gave her the other doula’s information, then asked if I could talk to my partner doula first? She agreed. I wished her well, again told her I was happy they found a match that felt comforting, and said good-bye.
Then I dialed my partner doula.
She was in disbelief, knowing I had more experience, and that the family found her through me. She was also extremely apologetic and humble. I assured her this family was firm in their decision, and I told her she should take the time to feel good! She was chosen! Relish in that and feel proud! I said I appreciated her being gentle with me, sounding and feeling disappointed and surprised, questioning their choice, and I wanted her to let it go to her head a bit – celebrate! I knew she would be a great doula for them, and I could honestly say I was happy with how things turned out.
I do, absolutely, feel everyone deserves a doula, and that doula won’t always be me. Families come in all shapes, sizes, and situations, and they have ever-branching needs. I feel confident in the work I do and the care I have to offer. And I know so many other incredible doulas I can say the same about. It is more important to me that we support families than I be the one supporting all the families. Because of this, I can still be happy and gracious when the right one is not me.
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!
I have a son who was born with an aortic stenosis. This means his aortic valve is narrower than it should be. He just turned 14 and up until his cardiology appointment last month, there has never been an issue.
Before we found ourselves back in the office, we had been rescheduled twice, so I was already feeling on-edge. Walking into the waiting room, there was not one place to sit. This added to my feelings of annoyance. When we finally met with the doctor, I was relieved, until after placing the transducer on my son’s chest his first question was, “Have you had a growth spurt recently?” Not what you want to hear when your child has a heart defect.
The most recent reason we had been rescheduled was our doctor had a spider bite on his leg that needed treatment. I rolled my eyes when the receptionist shared this with us (good thing it was over the phone). I thought it sounded like an interesting excuse – who has to go to the hospital for a spider bite? But another part of me wondered: Why is she telling me this? Is that my business?
At this bad-news-appointment, we were told medication would be needed to lower my son’s blood pressure – not because it was high, but because the rate of flow through the narrowing could cause damage to the area where the blood comes through, like spraying a pressure washer constantly at one spot on your house. We were also asked if we had other children, and if they had ever been assessed by a cardiologist? We have 4 sons total, and no one has ever told us this before – that was jarring. The doctor was adamant my husband and I be checked, as well. Our heart-son’s health is monitored fiercely because there is a known issue – but if this were genetic, any of us could have an issue and not know. That was frightening.
We were the last appointment of the day and the office was shutting down. As the doctor was performing the echocardiogram, he kept sharing details of his spider bite, occasionally shaking his leg or letting out a sigh or “ouch” here and there – it was obvious he was not feeling well. He also said he couldn’t wait to get out of there that day and change the dressing.
So here’s us: bombarded with overwhelming information.
And here’s our doctor: trying to help us while being distracted with his own issue.
I left that day feeling sad, scared, and unsure about all his recommendations. Knowing we didn’t have his full attention added to my stress and confusion. I questioned our relationship with this professional, and again to my mind came: Why is his issue my business?
So how does this relate to doula work? Let me share another story.
A number of years back I had a couple I loved, and I think they loved me. We were so excited to work together. A week before they were due, my grandma passed away and the funeral was in another state. Of course I was going to attend – in the grand scheme of things, my grandma’s funeral is going to be more important to my health and memories than the birth of a client’s baby. So I let my client know my plans.
It was an emotional phone call, because she was one of the first people I told. I did cry when I let her know I was going out of town, and of course I would provide a back-up for her. I felt good about everything. I was gone for 5 days, and just as we hit the California state line again, I knew I would be home by nightfall and things would return to normal! I could still be there for her birth.
I was unprepared for the phone call I got within an hour of that feeling. It was my client. She said she didn’t want there to be any bad feelings at the birth, and they had decided to proceed without a doula. I felt confused because I knew I didn’t have any bad feelings – had I been clueless to their feelings?
The next day we talked it out more. I felt I had made it back and things would proceed as planned. But what I didn’t realize was, my business had become her emotional baggage, as she worried about my loss and whether I would be back in time for her birth.
At the time I remember thinking, “No one cares about me.” Meaning, clients don’t offer the same emotional support and empathy that doulas do. Our lives don’t get the same priority as the pregnant families we serve. It was an acutely painful realization made worse by the loss of my grandmother and exhausted nature of the trip.
Of course, I was wrong. That’s how it should be when I am being contracted to provide a service. And once I was mature enough to realize it, I decided I wanted my clients to feel like I don’t have a life. Never again would I burden a client with my personal business. I want them to realize, when it comes to their expectations of me, there is nothing more important (even at the most inconvenient times), than their call of: “we need you.”
I have heard from many women over the years, words and situations that haunt them, where a professional’s business was made the mom’s business (which is really bad for business).
-A mom was waiting for her midwife to come for a postpartum home visit. The midwife told the mom she couldn’t find childcare for her little boy, so she would need to reschedule. The mom experienced a pretty traumatic birth, and she was eager for this visit and the need for someone to look over her baby again. She was so worried she took her baby to the ER just to have someone tell her the baby was safe and healthy (which she was).
-A mom who wanted a TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean) ended up with a repeat cesarean birth. It was very emotional, everything leading up to this and ultimately, having an unexpected surgical birth with an unexpected provider. Toward the end of the birth, the doctor said, “Can someone take over for me? I have to get to my granddaughter’s piano recital.”
-A mom who experienced terrible postpartum anxiety and depression who was desperate for support. She sought out a therapist recommended to her by a friend. Once there, sharing her story in an uneasy fashion, with tears, and memories, and guilt, the therapist let this be an opening to share her own struggles with depression after her brother’s suicide. Suddenly "a little postpartum depression" felt minimal compared to this professional’s loss.
We pay professionals for a service. They should be taking care of us. When the tables turn and we are suddenly made aware of their personal lives, it can stir up feelings of empathy and sympathy. It can make us feel like we should be the caretakers now – we need to look out for this person and not bother them with our trivial matters. “I don’t want to load too much on her, because she has struggles of her own.”
But then, what are you paying that person for again?
Professionals need to leave their personal business out of their professional lives.
That’s not to say clients are rude or uncaring – they aren’t. And the focus still needs to be on them. What can we do when something comes up?
As a doula serving Bakersfield and Visalia, California, I strive to build families up and let them know I will be there for them, come hell or high water. I also contract personally with a back-up doula who attends prenatals with us, thus laying a foundation of support in the small chance I am unable to attend a birth (it rarely, rarely happens, and the cost of paying for a back-up’s time is absolutely worth my peace of mind). It shows a family: I am committed to you, and sometimes things come up; if that happens, here is my trusted back-up so you won’t be alone in this journey.
Ultimately, I believe me making my business your business is bad, overall, for business!
Being on-call as a doula can be hugely stressful. I appreciate hearing how other doulas manage their lives and calendar -- there is always something to be learned from the experiences of others. Thanks to Staci Plonsky for this helpful guest post sharing the ways she keeps it all together when she could be pulled up away from daily life at any moment to support a woman in labor.
I get asked a lot, “How does your family manage when you’re on call?”
Here are a few things we do to make life manageable for the on call times. (Typically, I’m “officially” on call 5 out of every 6 weeks. “Officially” means I have 1 or more clients at 37 weeks pregnant or greater.)
1) Flexible husband. My husband has some flexibility in work and can take off enough time to pick up the kids from school and man the fort until school the next morning. He puts in extra hours when I'm on call to prepare. This picture shows my husband treating our youngest to lunch in their favorite restaurant.
2) Backup babysitter. My mother has finally retired! That means she’s my new backup babysitter. The kids love it when Nana comes over to take care of them. She's much nicer than I am, they claim.
3) Frozen meals. I try to keep some frozen dinners on hand. I make a double batch of pancakes, meatloaf, chicken noodle soup, etc. when I make dinner and then freeze one for times when I’m not home. The funny thing is, my kids usually talk their Dad or Nana into McDonald’s. Then I use the freezer meals when I’m home recovering from an overnighter. Here’s a great meatloaf recipe, by the way.
4) Google calendar. I religiously record all events and upcoming activities and kids’ school project deadlines. There shouldn’t be any surprises, as long as the calendar is checked.
5) Schedule caveats. “As long as I’m not at a birth” is added to any invitations I accept when I’m officially on call. And I try to purchase (and gift wrap) birthday gifts, teacher appreciation gifts, and other items before the day of the event to save my husband trying to figure out what to buy.
6) Reasonable expectations. I don’t expect the home to be spotless (although my husband usually cleans better than I do.) And the family knows when I am on call. There are no surprises if I can’t make it to a function, although I do try to give the kids a heads up so they’re not missing me.
7) Excellent backup support. I know that if my children have a medical emergency, I can trust one of the Brevard Doulas to provide excellent doula services to my client. (I’ve never needed to use my backups so far, but I love that they are just as committed as I am.)
8) Professional approach. This is my profession. I realize it’s unpredictable in timing, but I am as committed to my work as the 9-5ers are to theirs. My family understands that I get paid to support clients and that income enriches our lives.
Those are just a few ways we prepare for a spontaneous work week!
Serving families on the Space Coast and Brevard County area since 2010, Staci Plonsky CD(DONA) is a certified doula, committed to providing exceptional support to families through their pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience. Passionate about keeping her skills sharp and her knowledge current, Staci is also a certified childbirth educator through Florida Outreach Childbirth Education Program and pre-certified as a Labor and Postpartum doula with ProDoula. Along with these certifications, she stays current with Spinning Babies, VBAC Facts, La Leche League, midwifery assistant training and pre-nursing college classes. She achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida Southern College in 2001. Staci serves as the leader for the local Brevard chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (inspired by her own Cesarean and subsequent vaginal birth after Cesarean "VBAC".) She has presented on the benefits of doula support, Cesarean prevention and natural comfort techniques in labor. A native Floridian and 14 year resident of Brevard County, Staci lives with her husband, 3 children, and Basset Hound. She enjoys riding her Irish Draft Cross Horse and gathering eggs from her resident hens.
Looking back over all these guest posts for May, I am in awe of the collective wisdom, courage, and ingenuity shared either by doulas, or about doulas. I remember once having a conversation with my oldest son. He was very young, and he and a neighbor boy got into a little spat. Frustrated, my boy called this other little guy "dumb." We had a conversation about this. "Everyone knows different things. Some people are good at math. Some people are good at riding bikes. Some people are good at making friends. Some people are good at cooking. Everyone has something they know or can do that makes them smart, the key is figuring that out. So you see, no one is dumb."
I have a belief that everyone has something incredible to share that the rest of us can learn from. Even when we think there is nothing interesting about us -- no talents to display, no skills to speak of, no formal education, nothing that makes us special -- there is always something. It has been such a privilege to solicit some of these stories from specific people -- knowing a bit about them. I was able to suggest topics I knew writers had experience with. I was convinced the stories were there, and by asking or suggesting, these moms and doulas (and one dad!) came up with beautiful true tales of healing, of love, of overcoming obstacles and families coming together -- doulas supporting, and doulas being supported. I truly did little more than ask.
A few of these posts were already written before I came along begging, but the majority of them were created just to be shared here, and I hope those doulas and moms continue to write, because you have words and experiences of value and interest! Occasionally I had to fill in the gaps, and this was also fun, pushing myself to create content! The Birth Footprint essay had been sitting in my drafts file for months, maybe even a year, and I had been stuck with it, so the pressure to fill a spot on the calendar got that finished. I know some doulas still intend to share their stories, and as they come to me, I am happy to add them as guest posts here and there.
At this point, I feel I am out of words! I can only say amazing so many times to describe this project. I am grateful for all I learned. I am grateful for the help you gave when you participated. I appreciate the time it takes to dig deep, sort, and get it all out on the computer screen. Thank you. I have learned so, so much from all of you.
All you Doulas out there, keep loving and serving families and being shaped by your experiences. And when you get a few minutes, don't forget to
Alicia Wild is a doula and mother of two near the Bakersfield area. Many women experience healing from their successive births. In today's guest post, Alicia shares how she found a second healing in an unlikely place -- by the side of a doula client.
Every birth is different. This is a motto that we, as doulas, reiterate to our clients time and time again. It is something that birth entusiasts from all across the spectrum believe fiercely in. It is a saying that is proven true again and again with every birth we witness, hear about and have. No two births are alike, but just because one birth is different from another does not mean that it cannot heal the long held wounds of someone else's birth story.
Like many birth workers I've met, I too have a traumatic first birth story. While we often share these stories with sadness and often anger, it is usually these stories that brought us into birth work to begin with. I was 23 years old when I became pregnant with my first baby, our rainbow baby, but even as that was the case I still felt in my heart that he would be a boy. I loved being pregnant. The feeling of growing a person inside of your body is unlike anything else, and with little to no negative pregnancy effects I had nothing to complain about. I could feel that my baby and I were both healthy and I continued on in my pregnancy, soaking up as much information from the internet and the couple of mainstream baby books that I had. My mother-in-law repeatedly told me how proud she was of me for educating myself and being more prepared than she was when she had her own children. I was young and smart and I really did feel prepared.
At a 37 and a half week appointment my doctor told me that I was going to have a "big baby" and that she wanted it born that week. I was naive and trusting; every resource I was looking at told me to trust that my doctor had my best interests at heart. I now realize that while this is sometimes the case, it is not often so. She did my first ever vaginal exam and said that I was 2 centimeters dilated and 50% effaced. The problem is that this exam hurt more than I had ever been led to believe from friends and family who had had babies before me. This was painful. I cried because it hurt and I was not ready to go into labor while my husband (a forest firefighter) was out of town on a fire. She hugged me and told me again that I would have my baby in the next couple of days.
Immediately after leaving the appointment I began having small contractions, and within two days my water was leaking. The mainstream books I was reading told me that I needed to go to the hospital right away and so I called my husband home from his out of town fire and we went to the hospital. The first hospital that we went to said that I was not leaking amniotic fluid and released me. My husband and I felt a sense of urgency based on what we had been reading and decided to go to another hospital. They also said that I was not leaking amniotic fluid but since I was now dilated to 3, they would keep me and start pitocin. 9 hours after my induction was started the partner of my doctor came in and told me that it was time for a c-section. Being the informed but not selfishly stupid parents that we were, we accepted the word of this doctor whom we had never met before this moment.
After about half an hour I was prepped for surgery and quickly after that my son, Jacob, was born. I was given the briefest of looks, and I gave my baby a quick kiss on the cheek, and he was taken away to the nursery with my husband. I was cold, scared, alone and desperately longing to hold my new baby. After two hours of mandatory post c-section isolation, also called recovery, I was released to my room where I would surely get to be with my new baby. I quickly found that that was not the case. It would be another 4 hours before I would finally get to hold him and an additonal 6 after that before I would get to keep him for any length of time.
What amounted to essentially 12 hours without my baby became some of the most traumatic hours of my life. Even after we were finally released from the hospital I longed for those hours back. But I had a beautiful new son and certainly had nothing to be sad about. Yet, I still found myself secretly crying and mourning my experience. I had done everything I was supposed to so why was this feeling not going away? I did everything right? Didn't I? After 18 months of research from less mainstream sources, I realized that the number one thing that I had done wrong was that I did not properly educate myself.
I discovered that the reason my first vaginal exam hurt so much is because my doctor had stripped my membranes without my consent or knowledge. This is also why she was so sure that my baby would be born within a few days. I didn't realize that this procedure can cause waters to leak or even rupture. It can be especially dangerous in women who are not ready to go into labor and at 37 and a half weeks, I was certainly not ready to go into labor. Next I discovered that leaking waters is not nearly as dangerous as those mainstream books make it out to be. Women have gone up to 72 hours with complete ruptures and have had no ill effects. Lastly, after getting my medical records, I was able to refute every reason for having been given a c-section. My 7lb 12 oz baby was no where near "macrosomic," the records themselves indicate that I did not have a fever and my waters were not actually leaking. So why is it that these things were all written as reasons for my c-section? I can't honestly answer that, but I can speculate that because I was scared and started to get vocal and because it was 11:00 on a Saturday night that the doctor on call simply ran out of patience. But the only factual answer I can come up with is because I just didn't know better. It's a reason that I find many women end up with the births they are given and not the ones they want or could have had.
When I became pregnant with my second son, I did things differently. I had a home waterbirth with a midwife who I love and cherish. My baby was never taken from me and I do not still yearn for any missed time as I do with my older son. I was healed, completely and wholly. At least I thought so.
Fast forward another 2 years. My oldest is now 4 and a half and my youngest is 2. I have been a part-time doula for about a year and while every birth I had been to helped me to grow as a doula and each one was unique and beautiful, none of them reminded me of my own births. They were indeed different. I have one client who I have known since kindergarten but we were acquaintances at best. I would soon grow to love and cherish her as a friend, which is so often the case with doula work. The time spent sharing and talking with women cannot be erased just because the job is done.
My new client is pregnant with her second child and she is also looking to overcome a traumatic first birth experience Though her first birth did not end a c-section, it still left lasting scars which she, too, wore upon her heart. She calls me one May day to let me know that her water was leaking and she thought they would be heading the hospital soon. Like my first birth, she was not having any significant contractions at this point. Immediately I felt a similarity to my own birth and I encouraged her to weigh her options versus going in right away. I let her know about the studies I had read. She agreed that it was probably too soon but she wanted to be near the hospital in case she changed her mind. Since we live about an hour away from the hospital where she was going to deliver, we decide to make the trip sooner rather than later.
Ordinarily a doula would not go so early in labor, but I felt that my presence was needed. We spent the day window shopping at the mall, watching a movie in the theatre, and having dinner together. I joke that I was dating my client and her husband as we are all out enjoying each other's company and waiting for labor to kick in so we can go to the hospital. By nightfall we are all starting to get tired so I suggest that they get a hotel room and I will stay with a friend. All through the night and into the next day still nothing has happened, labor has not kicked in. Her waters have been leaking for more than 24 hours and nothing we try is moving things along. She is growing increasingly worried so we decide to go to the hospital.
At the hospital she is told she can't get out of bed anymore. She refused to use a bedpan and fought for the birth she wanted. She accepted the pitocin but not the epidural, something I know she is still so proud of having accomplished for her and her son. Pretty quickly after the very low dose of pitocin started I looked on the board and saw that the on-call doctor is none other than the woman who called my c-section. There is a sinking feeling in my chest and throat as I look to my client who is in the same position I was in 4 and a half years ago. Waters leaking for a day and a half, pitocin started and not yet working, the same time of night and this doctor. This doctor whose face is at the front of every sad memory I have about my older son's birth. I prayed I wouldn't see her, but knew I would need to hold back my emotions for the sake of my client.
Despite the similarities between our stories up to this point one key thing made all the difference in the world: my client really was educated and more than in the mainstream way I had been. She knew what she wanted and she had support to achieve it. Just when it seemed like she was destined to have the same birth experience that I had life reminds us that every birth is different and this was no exception. One simple turn and she dilated from 4 to "can't help it pushing" in 15 minutes. She pushed her baby out into the arms of a very shell-shocked nurse. When that doctor did finally show up the dread I was feeling was not there. My client did it and I helped her! I realized that the doctor wasn't the evil I had been imagining for so long. She was just a fallible person like us all. And while this was not my birth and I did still end up with a traumatic experience, my client's birth was like a second healing to me. It was a do-over in a world where do-overs don't exist. I was given the chance to change my own circumstances through her and for that I am thankful and I feel healed.
I am a mother to two wonderful little boys. I was born and raised in Kern County and though I moved to Orange County for college, my heart eventually found its way home in the end. I possess a Bachelor's Degree in Social Sciences from Chico State University, and while this is one of my biggest accomplishments, my heart truly lies with birth and ensuring that women receive their own perfect birth. I believe that women relying on women is crucial to seeing birth dreams come true, and I believe that every birth is unique, just as every woman and child are unique. What may be my perfect birth may not be yours, and that's okay. My job as a mother's assistant is to ensure that you get your best possible birth. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments that might you have.
Last summer, with a new baby and living in a new place, I felt the desire to gather with doula sisters. I offered to meet with doulas in different areas and share how I helped set up the Chico Doula Circle. A handful of doulas in Modesto (a few hours north of me) were interested. It was lovely meeting all these ladies. They were already thinking about creating a doula group, and this was a chance to hear how it worked in Chico -- the basics of putting it together and keeping it going.
These women have true synergy and passion. It was exciting to see their ideas flowing as we came together as doulas. Months later I was thrilled to see the birth of their doula group and excited for what they have to offer area families. If you know anyone who is pregnant in the Modesto area, I would whole-heartedly recommend Rebecca, Teri, Jennifer, and Melissa. Be sure to check their website for service areas -- they do expand beyond Modesto.
The Modesto Doula Group states "We believe all women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to have educational, physical, and emotional support throughout pregnancy and the transition into the postpartum period. We respect a women's right and ability to make informed decisions about her care and that of her baby."
How did such a diverse group of women come together? They are united by passion and belief, and committed to combining their varied skills to best serve expectant families. By meeting prenatally with families they get to know their clients. Each doula has a 12-hour span of time where she is on-call for a birth. This enables each doula to be rested and ready for whatever support a family requires. Beyond the initial connection between doulas and the desire to work together, preparation and behind-the-scenes business to figure out logisitics takes a great amount of energy and time -- because it isn't seen it is easy to think these kinds of groups just come together. That is not so. There needs to be ample communication, some give-and-take, and a plan that suits not only the doulas as professionals, but also the families they serve.
And then, a doula group is born! For more information about creating a doula group, contact these ladies, or contact me -- we all love helping our doula sisters find ways to gain more satisfaction from their work.
Our lived-in houses say so much about us -- from the paint colors, to the furniture, the pictures on the walls – even the wear of our carpets which reveal paths like game trails on a hillside. However lovely the décor or the price of the art within, a potential buyer has to be able to shape your home into her home and envision her life and experiences there.
I am pretty keen on watching HGTV. What happens time and time again is a person or couple's inability to see past the décor, dated furnishings, popcorn ceilings, and linoleum to make that space theirs. I am constantly shouting at my TV, like the enraged football fan yelling at the ref: "You can paint over that!" or "You can buy new appliances!" or "You aren't keeping their furniture!" It seems simple to me, so I take for granted it would be simple for them -- and once in a while, there is someone who sees the potential of a house so drenched in someone else's life and style, but that is not the norm.
Potential. How I love that word! What amazingness it comes with -- growing fat with ideas and hopes and hard work -- ready to push into shaped reality! But it can be hard to see potential...it hides inside, where there is no light.
Do we help our childbirth students, our doula clients, our friends and family we love, see their potential when it comes to birth? Many of us have our own stories -- our own incredible stories we wear like badges of honor or turtle shells. As we carry these parts of us, are we able to share them without offering them as a template to others?
Planning for birth is like buying someone's house. There are many tools needed to renovate and personalize the space so it feels right. There are many tools to offer moms -- amazing tools we have read about, learned about, practiced, and have extensive experience using. As doulas and educators, time and time again, the most important tool we have to offer is trust -- we can simply offer trust.
When I read this piece by Sejal, I was surprised by things I had never thought about before -- she makes some excellent points about how we care (or lack thereof) for our new moms in this culture. While reading, I longed to have the kind of nurturing of new moms she says is common in her culture. This loss is what inspired Sejal to work as a postpartum doula. Sejal saw a need, and she worked to fix it. I can't say how that touches me -- it is a reminder that we can all work for change, one at a time, and even though there seems to be so much to do, the moms, babies, and families we help will benefit from our heart and hands.
Mother-friendly Care Initiative
Postpartum period, the fourth trimester, maternity leave time, call it what you may but this is the most underestimated time for new mothers in America. We have made gender equality, marriage equality and other things a priority, but until we make the postpartum period a valuable commodity to be invested in we are not building a stronger future generation. I am a postpartum doula and I came to America and fell in love with this country.
My home country India, is where I learnt the basics of postpartum care growing up in a family of women taking care of each other during the time after the baby arrives. After years of helping my friends during their postpartum time I decided to make this passion of mine into something that could be used for helping moms who are not my friends and family. The amount of time needed to rest after giving birth cannot be generalized as each and every mother who has given birth recovers differently.
We have all the information on speeding up the postpartum recovery, but we fail to realize that it is a rebirth of the mother too. Baby steps are not just for baby but they should also be for the mom. The uterus, the vagina, the abdominal muscles, the breasts and the entire endocrine system go through a reorganization in the time following birth. All of these systems need time to heal and some more than others. Let us all unite to value the postpartum body and its recovery and help the new family have a wonderful time together. How do you get the rest when there are dishes to be done, laundry to be folded, house to be cleaned and baby to be fed? The postpartum doula will be there to help you with all of those and other things so you can have more time bonding with your baby and creating beautiful memories for your new family.
Sleep deprivation, stress from delivery, blood loss, pain associated with cesarean recovery, hormonal changes affecting the mood, and household chores are just a few challenges faced by a new mother. Add to that the worry that comes with taking care of this precious being who is solely dependant on the new mom is not a small challenge. The incidence of baby blues or postpartum depression in other cultures, including mine from India, are so less that it is sure in my mind that if women get the help at such an important transitional time as a new mother we could change the statistics in America too.
The dads need help too, and why not? There is enough research supporting that. ASKING FOR HELP does not make anyone weak, but on the contrary, it makes you see the REALITY and prove to yourself that you are HUMAN and we are a social being who needs people around us to help us.
I hope to work with families in empowering them to be stronger together by getting help at the right time. I strongly believe that it takes a village to raise a family and I would love to be a part of your village.
My postpartum doula career was inspired by a lactation consultant and the birth of my niece. My need to care for people has been fulfilled in this career. I come from a family of healthcare professionals like General Surgeons, Ob-Gyns, Pediatricians, Plastic surgeons and I grew up with babies being born around me. I am also very proud to be from India, a culture that is known worldwide for its heritage and hospitality. I feel that when you help a mom you are helping the entire family to grow and be empowered. With my education and interest I believe that I can be a part of the village that is needed to raise a child for a better future. I love to cook for my family, friends and even my clients. I love that food connects us all in one way or another. My primary goal as a postpartum doula is to empower new parents with all the skills that are needed to raise their child. I have also helped many of my friends during their postpartum recovery. To promote healing through evidence-based information and getting the family to be confident as caregivers is very important to me.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)