This post was born from a Facebook comment Sejal made about not understanding why professionals are hesitant to share their knowledge. I asked her if she could think about it and share something for the 31 Days project. Sure enough -- she gives her back story, and then shares how fortunate she has been to be mentored by amazing, open IBCLCs.
A few days back while I was in the hospital visiting a friend of mine after their surgery, I saw a family with a brand new baby heading home from the hospital. As I walk past them, I see a lady walking next to them, pushing a hospital cart filled with a few balloons and flowers resting on top of a couple of Trader Joe’s reusable bags and a duffel bag.
This brought back so many memories of my own discharge from the hospital I gave birth at and how it was a cold December morning that we walked to the parking garage with our newborn daughter dressed in a red fleece dress and buckled up in her car seat. I don’t think we realized how cold it was for her tiny little feet to be outside in the breeze.
My baby girl was upset with the draft of the cold breeze and I was so upset with her crying as we tried to get her into the car. Fumbling through the seat belt and a bunch of other stuff to keep her warm, we managed to at least get out of the parking garage. I sat down in the front passenger seat (mind you this was the one time I hated sitting down because of the perineal pain). If I had known what I know about mother infant separation and how I could have been closer to her and kept her less stressed and more warm by being in the seat next to my daughter I would have been able to keep her calm. But what did we know as new parents, apparently nothing, but as they say ignorance is bliss and bliss we did feel when we had her in our arms after a long traumatic birth.
Here we were leaving the hospital, embarking on this journey as three of us instead of two of us, completely oblivious to what was ahead of us. The drive home was not too pleasant and every bump in the road was causing me pain. It felt like I was hanging on to the handle on the inside of car so I did not have to put any pressure on my perineum. At home my kind and loving parents were waiting for us to get home with our little nugget. I just wanted to lay down but the pain was too much and by the time I reached home, my feet had gotten half a size bigger. I still had no idea what was going on. I could not walk properly or sit properly and then the idea of breastfeeding my baby without any help from the nurses seemed daunting. My mom was really willing to help and she did try but somehow my daughter could not latch without a nipple shield. Also no one at the hospital had shown me how to breastfeed my daughter lying down and that was a completely foreign concept to me. Every time that my little girl needed to breastfeed I would sit upright in my bed, get my Boppy pillow ready, cover it with a receiving blanket to protect the pillowcase (mind you I was a clean freak back then) and have my mom bring my baby to me to feed, and every time she tried to latch, either the nipple shield would fall off or she would accidentally whack it out of place and then the whole saga of a screaming baby and flailing hands and crying mama would begin.
By Day 3, my breasts were getting engorged and my feet were super swollen. I could not walk to the bathroom, which was only 10 steps away from my bed. I called my OB's office and they said I needed to come in as soon as possible because they were not sure what was going on with my swollen feet. When my OB came in and saw my face, my feet, and my hands, she smiled and said, “You look like the Michelin Man”. I was unfamiliar with who the Michelin Man was but figured it was a character out of some movie. She gave me a script for diuretics and sent me home. She did not even tell me that the number of times I would need to get up to pee would be exhausting in and of itself. I came home and breastfeeding was still difficult for me and my baby. I kept using the nipple shield and having the struggles. I went to develop mastitis and had a really high fever which put me into a delirium. I kept telling my mom, that she should take care of my baby in case something terrible were to happen to me. The pain with breastfeeding was excruciating and I was feeling like I was going to die.
The doctor’s office called in a prescription for antibiotics and I started them immediately. They told me to use the manual pump that I had to relieve any engorgement. I ended up using the nipple shield for 3 months before I went in for a lactation visit at our local hospital where I met a lactation consultant who helped me breastfeed my baby for the first time without a nipple shield. I had never pictured myself not using the nipple shield.
Fast forward my life 10 years and now I was a veteran mom who has helped her friends through their postpartum journey, and my kids were growing up and I was doing the best I could to fit this mold of a supermom, partly created by the expectations of the society, the family and myself. Due to a life event, I had to make the choice of going back to school to get a vocational certificate that could get me a job and somehow I chose to go to nursing school. I became a CNA and then started taking my prerequisites to apply for nursing school. I was also working as a CNA at a private nursing home. I worked 4 half days and learnt so many things on the job as well. During my year as a CNA, my younger sister who was pregnant at the time sustained a fall and broke her leg. She could not move and had to have surgery. She had to stay in bed until her baby arrived and I left my job to care for her. She had her baby and I was there to help her during her postpartum recovery and so were my parents. She was having breastfeeding troubles, her baby was not gaining weight very well and had jaundice. The hospital lactation consultants came and helped as much as they could and then we went home.
The breastfeeding continued to be a struggle and she had to start supplementing with formula. We tried to look for someone who could come to her home for a lactation consult and finally found a lady who did. The lactation consultant started her visit and I was a mute spectator in the room, and all I could think was, who is this person who is so knowledgeable about breastfeeding and was able explain everything to us so clearly? Her name was Meg Stalnaker. Why did I not meet her when I had my first baby ? I absorbed and listened to everything she did and said, as did my sister and brother-in-law. I just had a lightbulb moment. I wanted to do what she does. That was it. I did not want to be a nurse. I wanted to be a lactation consultant. I talked to my sister and she told me that I should ask for the contact information for this angel who helped her. I don’t know why, but I did.
I kept doing my own research about what classes I needed to take and signed up for them at the local community college. I kept in touch with the Meg via email. After I finished my community college classes, I contacted her again and asked her if she could be my mentor. She said yes, but there was a caveat. I needed to wait until she finished mentoring two other students she had at the time.
I was really sad that there was not enough guidance on how to find mentors for the pathway I had chosen to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. It also felt like there were a lot of negativity in regards to choosing to become an IBCLC as a career. I kept looking to see if someone would be interested in being my mentor and taking me on as a student.
During one of my lactation classes at the community college, we had a guest speaker by the name of Peggy Andrews, who was giving a lecture on the topic of jaundice and breastfeeding. I saw a tall woman with golden and white hair walk into our classroom with a smile. She had the brightest smile I had seen on someone’s face. She started the lecture and I was just mesmerized by her way of teaching and felt like I was back in India in my middle school, listening to my favorite biology teacher. At the end of her lecture she shared her email address with our class and something in my head said, “Sejal, you need to email Peggy and ask her if she could be your mentor.” I mean that was a spur of the moment thought and I acted on it by sending her an email asking if that was possible.
The next moment I thought, oh boy, have I made a big mistake by asking this guest speaker to be my mentor. I was hoping that I would get an email saying how inappropriate that question was. To my surprise, I hear back from Peggy saying she loves to mentor students. I was cooking and jumped up and down in my kitchen saying, YESSSSSS!! Wait that is not it, I actually got a call that evening from Peggy asking me if I wanted to go on a lactation visit in Washougal the next morning. I said, I most certainly would, but then I thought, where in the world is Washougal? Well it is in our neighboring state of Washington.
The next morning I meet Peggy at a designated location and she said to me that she will be driving me to the appointment since it is so far. I was so excited and off I went on my first official visit. I started learning about how to talk to a new mother, ask specific questions and give her plenty of time to tell her story. We were there for an hour and a half and I felt like I still made the right choice by asking Peggy to be my mentor. I have learnt so much about being a good listener from Peggy.
I never for one moment thought that Peggy was keeping any information from me when it came to lactation. I had asked a few other local lactation consultants and they said that they don’t mentor students and I was quite discouraged. I am sure other students like me were discouraged as well. Meg, also let me go on a few lactation visits with her and I kept learning from both Peggy and Meg.
One day I saw a class on hand expression at a local boutique taught by another lactation consultant named Bryna Sampey. I immediately signed up for it, and when I went to the class I was secretly happy that I was one of the two people in class, although I also felt sad that people did not sign up for this informative class. I felt like I had learnt so much about manual expression of breastmilk in this class and that little voice in my head said, “Sejal, ask Bryna if she would mentor you.”
After the class, Bryna asked if I wanted to have a bite to eat at the place next door. I jumped at the opportunity to hang out a few more minutes with this brilliant brain. I was practically salivating. We talked about what I did as a postpartum doula and how I was studying to be an IBCLC and she mentioned to me that she also mentored students. I almost wanted to give her a hug and say, where were you a year ago and why did I not meet you earlier. I did not want to be a total psycho so I did not hug her, but told her that I would love to be her mentee. She said that she would let me know as soon as a spot opened up.
What I learned from Bryna and her brilliance made me think critically about breastfeeding and the challenges that come with it and how she made breastfeeding a breeze with all the techniques and tricks that she shared with her clients. As I followed these three amazing women, as my mentors, each one of them taught me how to help with breastfeeding challenges in their own special ways. I feel blessed to have learnt from them and will be eternally grateful for them sharing their wisdom, knowledge and time with me.
I was talking to other lactation students like me one day, who were in the same boat as I was and one of them told me that when they asked a local IBCLC to mentor them, the local IBCLC said to them, and I quote, “Why would I let you shadow me ? You will take my knowledge and compete with me once you get certified.” I was so shocked to hear this. I have no idea who the IBCLC is and don’t even want to know, but it made me realize how fortunate I was to have mentors like Peggy, Meg and Bryna.
With the struggles I had in finding mentors, I had decided in my mind that if I ever become an experienced lactation consultant, I will mentor students. I am an IBCLC now, and I am a brand new IBCLC, but I hope to someday mentor students. I think it is our responsibility as professionals to mentor the future IBCLCs. My dad used to say, knowledge only increases by sharing. He is a brilliant surgeon and he has helped many other doctors become surgeons and I am certain he never thought this way.
So, why do some people have a hard time sharing their knowledge with others who are seeking mentorship in the field of lactation consulting ?
Maybe the experienced professional does not have the time or the resources to mentor someone. Maybe the experienced professional thinks that, sharing their knowledge with newbies will reduce their chance of personal success.
Maybe the experienced professional does not trust this newbie. Trust building does take time.
Maybe the experienced professional in the specific field is a knowledge hoarder.
Maybe the experienced professional wants to have monopoly in their field.
Maybe the experienced professional feels more powerful if they don’t share their knowledge.
Being a mentor and taking on mentees is also a huge responsibility and one that is not easy. I understand that it may be difficult to take on students, but in the field of lactation consulting, I wish we had more mentors. I wish students had access to mentors without having to wait for a long time. I wish experienced IBCLCs would be willing to share their knowledge and expertise with them.
Mentors are an inspiration. Mentors can connect you with opportunities. Mentors know ways to make you succeed professionally. Mentors keep you motivated. Mentors invest their time and energy in you to help you grow. Mentors teach you about finding a good opportunity. Mentors have been where you are and can empathize with your struggles and help you find your way through the obstacles and hurdles. I am so thankfull to have found such mentors who continue to be there for me and do not feel threatened by my success.
Sejal Fichadia, owner of Kindred Mother Care, is the first 31 Days participant to be featured four years in a row. In 2014 she wrote "Our Culture's Needs for Postpartum Doulas," in 2015 she added "Growing Happy, Healthy Moms." Last year she added "Hitting the Pause Button." She has a love for babies and mothers, and feels it is important to help families learn skills to help them on their parenthood journeys. Sejal works hard at expanding her education and working to improve her knowledge base so she can provide families with up-to-date, evidence-based information, which in turn gives them the tools to parent with confidence. This year she passed the exam to add IBCLC to her credentials. She has a caring heart, and as soon as she can, she will be mentoring others wishing to get to IBCLC.
Debbie called me at 8:30 am to let me know contractions had started. I joined her and her best friend Lisa at the hospital – Debbie was 2-3 centimeters. Debbie and I worked through the contractions. She would really have to focus. Lisa and I would stand on either side of the bed rubbing Debbie’s arms and shoulders, smoothing her hair, and giving her space to focus. Lisa was not quite respectful of Debbie’s need to focus and go within herself to endure, and Lisa would ask Debbie questions about unimportant things while Debbie was trying to concentrate. I kept redirecting Lisa respectfully, reminding her that Debbie needed space to focus, and could we wait until the contraction is over to get an answer? A vaginal exam at 1:15 revealed Debbie to be 100% effaced, 4-5 centimeters dilated. Debbie had AROM followed by her epidural at 2:00. The contractions spaced out to 8-10 minutes, and Debbie’s blood pressure dropped dangerously low. Debbie’s nurse, Mary, stayed with us in the room for almost 2 hours charting and watching Debbie and her monitors. Debbie’s blood pressure did eventually increase. At 4:30 pm Debbie was checked and found to be complete. She started pushing at 6:00, and baby was born via Mighty Vac at 6:52.
Debbie is a single mother and she felt a doula would help her feel supported and informed. My primary goal for Debbie’s birth was to make her feel special, strong, and empowered. I knew Debbie wanted an epidural. Debbie had a severe knee injury which happened about the time she became pregnant. That, coupled with being very overweight, greatly reduced her options for movement. I helped a lot before Debbie got the epidural with coping techniques such as counting backwards through contractions, and massaging her hands, which grew tired from gripping her bed rails. Debbie’s situation reminded me of something Penny Simkin wrote of a client who left an abusive relationship: I think Debbie did not need to feel any pain on this birth day.
Debbie reacted well to her labor! She really had to focus from about 11:45 until 2 pm. She seemed to leave for a minute and find someplace in her mind where she could cope, and once the contraction was letting up, she would slowly open her eyes and release her grip on the bedrails. When I would say, “Debbie, that was great. You have found a place and you are really doing a wonderful job focusing and relaxing,” Lisa would discredit what I was saying by replying with, “Yeah, Debbie’s thinking ‘Whatever,’” or “Debbie’s thinking, ‘Shut-up already.’” I don’t think Debbie was thinking any of those things. It really felt like I was being undermined. When I would ask Debbie the, “What was going through your mind…” question she would usually reply “I just wanted to get through it.” She never had a panicked or scared reaction. Debbie reacted very sweetly to her new baby.
I learned some good people-coping skills. Lisa is a tough kind of gal. When Debbie’s blood pressure fell, and then her legs went numb, Lisa was upset and wondered why they didn’t stop the epidural? Lisa ’s personal experiences led her to believe the numbing aspect of an epidural was abnormal (“That did not happen with my epidurals”). I tried to explain how epidurals worked, but she got very defensive. I finally said I did not know, and she should ask the doctor about it (he was also Lisa ’s doctor). I learned sometimes it is better to “not know.” I learned sometimes I need to stand away and be useless, like while the baby was being delivered and I was not by Debbie (Lisa was to her left, doc at the end, nurse at her right). After Leah's birth, I was able to help more practically. Lisa had left, and Debbie was alone. I stayed longer helping with breastfeeding and ensuring Debbie got a nice meal as well. Debbie’s father arrived about an hour later, and I was able to help him hold his granddaughter for the first time -- he swayed and shooshed her right to calmness. I learned even though a person only thanks you for bringing them dinner, that can mean a whole lot more.
Marivette is one of the doulas I have the pleasure of knowing in real life. She is an amazing woman I admire, look up to, and learn from. I loved this piece she sent me -- and with permission from the others involved, this creates a picture of what support can look like from your fellow doulas.
After being a doula for 20 years, I got the calling to become a midwife. I didn’t accept the calling haphazardly. About a year passed by, lots of contemplation, discussion with my husband, and then the application process, before I became an enrolled student in a MEAC-approved school. Now I’m in my third year, and things are getting hectic.
I have a circle of doulas around me, though! And do you know what these doulas do best? They doula me through this midwifery journey. Some of the best times I have is when we get together for doula lunches, and we just hang out together around a good meal. It never fails that they ask me how school is going, and encourage me with their kind words. It’s like I have my own support team, and they are wiping the sweat off my forehead with a cool rag.
I sent several of them a message a few weeks back, including Stacie. Just knowing that I have these few doulas, surrounding me, giving me encouragement, and simply being there, is a huge boost to my morale. They are helping me get through this active stage of labor! I don’t even think they know that they are doing this for me. It’s such a part of the fabric of being a doula, that it comes naturally for them.
Hey you all! I am just so thankful to have you all as part of my business circle, but I also consider you all my friends. You all giving me your support through this challenging midwifery school journey means so much to me. I'm in tears as I think about how your words lift me up. When I feel down and heavy with all the school work, your words encourage me. You don't even know how much your words of kindness mean to me. I truly appreciate your friendships!!!
To all of you Doulas who are there beside me, rooting me on, THANK YOU for being my encouragement doulas. Thank you for being MY Doulas during my labor as a student-midwife. Don’t stop doing what you do. I really need you all!!
Do you know someone who is going through a difficult time? Or do you know someone who has chosen to move forward into the midwifery journey? What do you do to encourage those people? A simple, “You’ve got this,” goes a long way!
Marivette Torres is the founder/owner of Tender Doula Hands, a rebozo trained instructor and distributor. She is a CBI certified birth doula with 19 years experience serving the Bakersfield, California area. She has eight children ranging in ages from 26 to 8 years old. Her first child was born via surgery at a community hospital due to breech presentation. Her subsequent seven children were all VBAC births, two of which were born at a hospital birth center and five were born at home attended by a midwife.
She is currently halfway through her dream of pursuing a midwifery career. You may visit her website and Facebook page. She also has a page dedicated to specific rebozo class information.
For Mother's Day, a birth-day slide show! My friend, Jen, just had her third baby. They didn't know the sex of the baby, and they already had two boys. Jen's first two dealt with tongue ties, and she fully expected her third baby to be tied -- she wasn't wrong! That's how we met, when we helped create Advocates for Tongue Tie Education. Jen has since moved from California to the East Coast, and I am thrilled she got to welcome her baby at home with a birth team who supported her in all the right ways.
Jen, her husband, and their three boys live in Washington DC. They love exploring all DC has to offer in the way of parks and monuments, and this new baby will fit right in on their adventures. Her doula was Justine Robinison.
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.
Do you remember what it was like for those first couple years or those first few births, when being a doula was new and invigorating? Monalisa is a newer doula on fire for this work! I love hearing about her feelings, experiences, and excitement -- it stirs those feelings up within me and reminds me why I continue to love being a doula. Monalisa and I had the same doula trainer, and I am confident she learned the skills (to add to her already huge heart) which will help her on her doula journey.
I am a doula working in the Porterville and Tulare County area of California. I have worked as an in-home care provider for 15 years. In 2015, I attended a DONA-approved birth workshop. I quickly realized that I had not only found my passion, but I also found a tribe of strong, like-minded, loving and selfless women. I had never met these women, yet they accepted me and supported me -- they believed in me! These women instilled confidence in me and what I held within. My two-day workshop quickly came to an end, but these friends have remained close to my heart.
February of 2016 was my first experience as a birth doula, and it was EXTRAORDINARY! I knew without a single doubt this was my calling, this is what I was meant to do.
The remainder of 2016 was spent focusing on my family. Before I knew it, 2016 had come to an end. I had been feeling disappointed and very unsatisfied. I reflected back to remember the last time I had felt genuinely happy, fulfilled, and ALIVE: February of 2016, almost a year before, when I had helped welcome little Miss Katalina into this world. It was crystal clear: I needed to get back into my doula journey -- I need these mommies and they need me!
February 2017, I was on Facebook and came across a friend who had just announced her pregnancy. I quickly private messaged her to say congratulations, and in the course of our chatting I mentioned I was a doula, and I shared what doulas do. Then I offered my support if she wanted it, to which she quickly replied, “OMG, that sounds good. Yes!!”
I was shocked! What just happened ! Did I just get a client!?!?!?! YES!!!!
Our journey as mommy-to-be and doula had begun. She didn't seem to have a lot of support for pregnancy-related things, so I called around to get information about services in our area. Classes were being offered at our local hospital. I asked if she was interested in going, and she said yes. Every Monday evening, we got together for a quick snack, a review of her week, and we went over ideas for her labor and birth. Afterwards we attended the birth class together. Mondays, for the first time EVER, were now my favorite day of the week!
At home I read my doula books, strategically put together my doula bag, and went over our family plan on what to do when I got called to a birth. I was very thorough and clear to my family that I could be gone for 24 hours or more, and they needed to take care of each other.
April went on so slowly, it seemed like the days dragged! What does one do when their client’s due date is April 20 and it’s barely April 10? Role play! My family helped me out. We acted out different scenarios as laboring mother and doula. I have the best family! I must give credit to my daughters and my wife, they are always so willing to play along with my crazy ideas!
Every night I checked my phone, synced my Fitbit notifications so that my watch would alert me when my client called, and made sure my doula bag was all set and ready. I woke up numerous times a night to check things, and then I’d go back to sleep (but not a deep sleep because I was so worried I’d miss the call!).
Finally, April 20 had come -- this was the day we had all prepared for, this was the day we had reenacted over and over and over. But no baby came. My client felt great! She had no signs or symptoms of prelabor or labor. Every morning and every evening we’d chat: “How are u feeling? Do u feel any changes?” And she’d reply with a smiley face: “I feel good!”
The week went on like this, until one morning, I got the call! My client had been up all night with small inconsistent “cramping.” She was at the hospital. She assured me she was okay and she’d get back to me after getting checked out.
I went about my normal day. I took the kids to school, went to work, and gave my boss and coworkers a heads-up that I’d probably be clocking out early. Everyone was super supportive; we had all been waiting on this very special day. By noon my boss said, “get out of here, I can see how anxious you are, we will be fine.” So by 1pm I was clocking out and on my way to Sierra View hospital in Porterville.
Aril 26, 2017, I walked through the hospital doors and was asked where I was going? I proudly said, “I’m going to labor and delivery, I’m a doula.” Along the way I was asked again, where I was going? And again, so proud and full of glee I said, “I AM A DOULA here to see my client” I got buzzed in and at this point I think I was floating through the halls -- not even walking!
I opened the door to see my client in bed with the biggest smile I have ever seen. I calmly said “Hello, Honey, this is the day you have been waiting for!” She replied back with, “Yes, I can’t wait to meet my son!” I then introduced myself to the father of the baby and his mother. They looked confused, nervous, and unsure. We had never met, and it was now becoming apparent they had no idea who I was or what on earth I was doing there.
I gave them a brief description of myself and what it was I had to offer as a doula. Still confused-looking, they said, “ohhh, okay.” I then excused myself to get things ready. Again, they looked at me like I was crazy, and I know they wondered what the heck I had in this bag that I held onto so closely. Little did they know that my doula bag was my MAGIC BAG, my bag of TRICKS, my Other Half.
I went behind the curtain and begin using my electric pump to air up my peanut ball. My pump was not working! I felt my face turning RED, how could this be? My peanut ball was my main tool! Then I remembered I had also packed a hand pump just in case something like this happened. After airing up my peanut ball I set up a diffuser, battery-operated candles, a portable speaker, and massaging lotion just like my client and I had discussed.
Next I asked my client if she’d like to get up and “walk the baby out?” She smiled and got out of bed. We walked around and around and around -- I was definitely putting in my Fitbit steps! Every time the nurses came into the room they oohed and awed over how relaxing the room felt and how it had smelled so good!
Contractions got slightly stronger but still were not consistent. It was now 6 pm and my client's progress was slow. The doctor recommended Pitocin. My client declined -- she knew the pros and cons and opted not to take it at this point. Her doctor supported her decision and said she’d check back in at 9pm. 9pm came and still not much change had happened. Father and grandmother were sitting in the corner of the room and were now starting to look a bit more concerned. They were unsure how to help the laboring woman.
I knew I could role-model for them if they didn’t want to jump right in. I proceeded to sway, dance, and hum through contractions with my client. I continued to give her words of encouragement; I continued to remind her of how strong and capable she was. I reminded her to trust in her body and to “let it go.”
Let It Go was a song my client loved and was very passionate about, so I was sure to have it ready on my phone along with earbuds and a few play lists for her labor journey. With every passing hour, my client held on strong. She trusted me, but more importantly she trusted herself. We got through every wave together. At midnight, she decided to try the Pitocin in hopes that it would help her dilate and make more progress. My client went on for the next three hours with back-to-back contractions, stronger and fiercer than before.
I looked at her partner and gently said, “She needs you, your son needs you.” I coached him through the double-hip squeeze and applying pressure to her back. After just a few minutes he was saying “let it go,” and humming through the waves. They found their rhythm and they were riding the waves together! While he worked her back, I worked her feet and legs. And his mother encouraged him and she supported him, and she supported the laboring woman. We all worked together as a team to give this woman and her baby a better, healthier, birth experience.
It was now 3 in the morning and my client fought with everything she had and then some, but she needed rest -- she opted for an epidural hoping it would take the edge off so she could get some sleep and finishing dilating.
The epidural did not take, and she was still in agonizing pain around 5. The staff decided to turn off the Pitocin hoping we’d see some change. The nurse came in and checked but my client was still at 7 centimeters, 90% effaced.
9am came and the doctor checked -- she was now at 7-8, but the doctor was concerned she had already endured so much and was not dilating accordingly. A cesarean birth was suggested. For the first time in almost 24 hours, my client cried. Her mother was holding her and saying, “Baby, I know this isn’t what you wanted, but you have to do what’s best for your baby.” My client signed the consent form and the doctor went to make the arrangements.
Meanwhile the nurse and I are still rotating my client from side to side with the peanut ball, hoping it would expand her pelvis and allow for baby to come down.
It’s now around 9:50am and the laboring woman says she has to push! She’s told not to push, to breathe through it, that they are almost ready to take her. She says it again, and this time she adds, “ I KNOW MY BODY!!!”
Wow! She had remained so soft spoken her entire labor, but when she said “I know my body!” I knew that momma lioness was roaring, and by golly, we had better listen!
The doctor checked and said, “We are having this baby!” By now the room was filled with at least half a dozen staff. Everyone was spread out in their strategic little stations, waiting for their role in the birth, but right now it was all about the woman!
The doctor was in position, the nurse was on the right side and the mother of my client was holding her baby tight, encouraging her, cheering her on, coaching her through. Father was a wreck! It was all becoming reality. I stood back next to him, rested my hand on his back, and said, “It’s all going to be okay. Your son is coming, and you did amazingly good job, Dad.” This is what being a doula is. We are not there to take away from the family, we are there to guide, to help, to support.
On April 26, 2017 at 10:41, I witnessed three miracles: One was watching a beautiful baby boy enter this world. The second was seeing a family evolve and come together to work as one unit. And the third was understanding a boy became a father and a girl became a mother.
April 26 was nothing less than magical, REVOLUTIONARY! Why wouldn’t I want to live my life being a doula? Birth is the closest thing to magic out there.
Monalisa Orduno serves families in California's Central Valley. Other than working as a doula, she lives a pretty typical mom-life, caring for, shuttling, and cheering on her children and her wife. When she isn't enlisting her family to doula role-play with her, she spends her time devoted to her kids' various activities -- football, horses, ghost-hunting, or shopping for make-up. Monalisa takes time to continually educate herself with personal study and trainings. She loves being a doula and is excited to dig into this calling. "My kids are my BIGGEST accomplishment, and being a doula is my second." Visit her on her Facebook page or her website.
I'm sure we have all heard different myths about doulas -- whether it's thinking doulas catch babies like midwives, or they come together to dance beneath the full moon -- there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Becky amazes me -- not only is she a comic genius when it comes to doula humor, her graphic art choice is the perfect medium to convey her message. She addresses common myths about doulas, and leaves us full of happy feelings for the work we do.
There is often confusion over what a doula is. Many times I have talked with couples nervous about a doula possibly taking over their birth. They are afraid that a doula may guilt them into a certain type of birthing. To add a little silliness I have illustrated examples below with my subpar Window’s Paint skills. These show the differences between someone that will fight against your birth, a duel-a you could call her, and a doula, or birth support for your choices.
This may be new to you, but doulas are not just for natural birth. They are for anyone wanting more support for their birth. Doulas are helpful in cesarean births, medicated births, natural births, hospital births, home births, single parent moms, and so much more. Whether you have a plan or not, we are here for you, no light sabers involved. Note: In the odd case that you want light sabers at your birth, we can help you with that. We do not discriminate against nerds; we just won’t use them to stop your choices.
The next concern often had regarding doulas: "But I want my husband involved. I want him to intuitively know what I need.” If he helped start this baby business, then it totally makes sense to want him right there involved in the birth.
Can I tell you my secret? We LOVE it when dads are hands-on and involved. It is our biggest goal to facilitate the best connection between you and your partner. We know that dad helps get the oxytocin and birthing hormones going. Some men need a little direction along the way. They are new to this. Our job isn’t to replace dad, it’s to help him help you best. If dad isn’t there this works the same for grandmas and friends. We will not erupt in flames if someone else gives you counter-pressure.
I met with a doctor today. He was a little on-guard, and he felt the need to explain how he goes out of the way to help his patients. Sadly, too many providers have met some kind of duel-a, or have heard stories of them. All he knew was that I was a doula and he assumed that I had a negative view of him as a doctor. In reality, I have yet to meet a provider that did not want the best for mom and baby. Sometimes they have differing opinions on care, and different points of view, but they all care. Doulas are not out to defy anything medically related. We need the medical team so that we can focus on emotional support and comfort for mom and the family.
Doulas work with mom’s birth team to help her best reach her desires. Doulas will encourage you to choose a provider that you feel you can trust that you can work with together. They encourage mom to ask questions, find evidence-based information, think over benefits and risks, and if needed, help mom stand up for herself. Our job is not to have a show down with the medical staff. Our job is not to speak for you. Our job is to help you get the information you need to make choices, and to support you as you speak for yourself.
I am not a duel-a. I am not out to fight or prove anything. I am a doula -- a supporter of women, babies and families.
Becky Hartman serves as a birth, postpartum, and bereavement doula, birth and pregnancy photographer, Benkung belly binder, and energy worker. She has been shaped by her own births, and the realization that education factors into creating an empowering experience. Becky strongly believes women can follow their hearts and they will know the decisions that are right for their situations. She encourages families to learn, explore, develop ideas, and then go with the flow of their birth experience. Becky lives with her family in Clearfield, Utah.
When it comes to doulas and the support they offer, I'm a sucker for a good, old fashioned, positive birth story! Today's feature is just that. I also appreciate how Dorothy shares she did all she could to prepare herself for birth, yet she still credits luck and genetics for her experience, because when it comes to birth experiences, we don't always get to pick how things will go.
“Why are you still working?! Your due date is next week, what if your water breaks while you’re at work?”
“Oh that’s not going to happen to me, they do that in movies for dramatic effect. In real life, the water breaking in a gush only happens to about 8% of women, that won’t happen to me, I will be fine”
This was a conversation between myself and my good friend Jammie one week before my October 13th due date with my first child. I had an easy pregnancy, no morning sickness or vomiting, and I had not taken a single day of work off the entire nine months. I manage an office, it’s not physical work and since I had felt fine, I felt no reason to stop working even with my due date right around the corner. I wanted to maximize my time off after the baby arrived. Little did I know, I was about to be one of those 8%...
On the morning of October 14th, one day overdue, I awoke to my dog barking. She doesn’t usually bark at night unless she needs to be let out to answer the call of nature. I groaned internally. “Ugh, it’s 2:30 a.m., I don’t want to get up and let her out,” I complained internally. Then I thought, well I probably have to pee anyway, it’s only been an hour since last time I peed and everyone knows how often pregnant ladies need to pee. I heaved my big, pregnant belly up and began walking to the bathroom. "Oh, I guess I really had to go," I thought, as I felt fluid trickle. By the time I got to the bathroom, there was a gush and a lot of fluid. Apparently my water had broken, signaling that the arrival of my baby was imminent. I called to my husband and told him to get up and let the dogs out while I cleaned up.
The first call I made was to our doula. I had made the decision to hire a doula fairly early in my pregnancy, and she came highly recommended from a mother of 6 that I have known my whole life. I hired a doula because I was afraid of having a hospital birth, I was afraid of being forced into taking unnecessary medical interventions during labor, and afraid of being bowled over by a medical team that had never met me, knew nothing about me or my baby, and didn’t know what I wanted from my birthing experience. I envisioned an intervention-free birth, preferably at home, with a midwife. My husband, rightly concerned with my health and that of our unborn baby, objected to my home birth plan and preferred a hospital setting. The compromise came in the form of our doula, who I wanted to help me through an intervention-free hospital birth.
“My water just broke, should I go to the hospital?”
“How do you feel? Have your contractions started yet?”
“I feel fine, I am not in pain and having no contractions yet.”
“It’s up to you whether or not you’re ready to go to the hospital. However, it can take some time for the contractions to catch up once the water breaks. Since your water is broken, if you do go to the hospital, it's likely they won’t allow you to leave once you’re there.”
“Ok, well I don’t want to go too early, I think I will wait a while and go later. I should not go to work though, right?”
“NO!!! Do not go to work, and keep me updated.”
After getting off of the phone, I called my mother and told her the news. I told her I wasn’t going to the hospital yet and I didn’t expect the baby to arrive for several hours, probably not until late evening. I expected a long labor, everything I had heard and read said that most first time mommies have a long labor so I was prepared for a marathon. With this in mind, I decided to go to work. This decision was made because I knew I couldn’t get someone to cover me, I work at 4:30 am, and I just planned to go briefly to give a quick morning meeting and inform my staff that I would be out until the end of my maternity leave. My husband got dressed and drove me to work, and I was there for half an hour before we left and drove through McDonald’s for breakfast to be fueled up for all the work ahead of me!
At home around 6:30 am we both laid down, I wanted us both to try to get some rest for the long day ahead. I was having minor contractions at this point, 15-30 seconds long and 5 or so minutes apart. At about 9 am I sent my husband to drop our dogs off at a friend’s house. My contractions had increased in frequency and length but I was still not ready to go to the hospital. I was texting our doula and asked how long I could safely wait to go to the hospital? She said it was up to me how long I felt safe staying home, and she advised me to contact my doctor for an appointment to check my progress. If I had progressed enough, I could go directly to the hospital, but if I wanted to go back home, I could do that too. That sounded ideal to me, my doctor’s office was located in the parking lot of the hospital I would deliver at.
This is why I wanted a doula and why I decided to go with our doula specifically; she listened to me, asked me how I felt, and asked what decision I thought was best for me. Essentially, she helped me to decide for myself instead of just telling me what to do or what she thought was best. From our prenatal courses, she knew my concerns about having a hospital birth and advised me with that in mind. Our doula knew that I was concerned about going to the hospital too early in labor, and that I was concerned about having my movement in labor restricted by monitors and hospital rules.
The most important thing that I learned from our doula was that I had choices for this process. I could be in charge. There were productive ways to communicate with hospital staff to facilitate the birth that I wanted, and decisions that I could make to affect my birth, like the decision to stay home and labor for a while instead of going straight to the hospital when my water broke. I didn’t have to be merely a participant in my labor, I had choices and a voice. In our prenatal courses, we had talked extensively about my birth plan, making 2 or 3 drafts before we were satisfied with it. I also made a gift basket for the nurses and doctors in the hospital, to thank them for their hard work, and partly to schmooze just a little bit! The birth plan would help to communicate what I wanted in the heat of labor, and the gift basket would help them to remember me in a positive light.
I called my doctor’s office. When I told them my water was broken, they told me to go straight to the hospital. I explained that I wasn’t ready yet and that I wanted my doctor to check me first. Fortunately my doctor was working and agreed to see me at 11:15 am. I took a shower, which was the best shower I have ever taken in my life, so relaxing! And my husband and I departed for the doctor. We pulled into the parking lot shortly after 11 am and I knew in my heart that we weren’t going home. My pain level had increased significantly since 9 am, but I was still unsure whether or not to go straight to the hospital. In my mind, I was clinging to the 4-1-1 rule (contractions every 4 minutes, 1 minute in length, happening for at least 1 hour) and I wasn’t there yet! My contractions were only about 30-45 seconds long, and I didn’t think they were long enough for me to go to the hospital.
Once in the doctor’s office, I had trouble disrobing from the waist down and getting up onto the exam table. When my doctor arrived and checked me, we were both surprised to find that I had already dilated to 5! It was time! I was going to the hospital! I was put in a wheelchair to go across the parking lot. I texted our doula: “I am at 0 station and 5 centimeters dilated, I need you here ASAP!” “I’ll be there as soon as I can!” My husband accompanied me to the room and I sent him back out to the car for the hospital bag. The desk nurse gave me a hospital gown and asked for a urine sample. I got into the gown but the urine sample wasn’t going to happen. I was in too much pain, and I curled up on the hospital bed in the fetal position instead.
When my husband got back from the car, I was crying. “I need an epidural, I can’t do this, I’m going to die!” Cue the theatrics! He went for help. The nurse checked me and immediately ordered a birth kit; baby was coming faster than any of us anticipated. I asked for an epidural. My husband asked if I was sure, and in that moment, I certainly was! The nurses told me it would be at least an hour before I could get one; in retrospect I am sure they knew there simply wasn’t going to be time. The baby was going to be there before the anesthesiologist anyway! Our doula arrived around noon I believe, and everything became a blur. I was very lucky that my doctor was on duty and was there for the birth. Between her, our doula, my husband, and the nurses, everything seemed to happen at lightning pace. Almost immediately, they had me pushing, I had plenty of help and support. My dear husband, who had pledged to stay by my head during labor to avoid the potentially traumatizing show, found himself holding one of my legs up while I pushed, after a nurse said “here, help her." Before I knew it, baby was crowning. My doctor asked if I wanted to touch the head? “No! What are you talking about?! We are wasting time, let’s get her out of there!”
At 1:13 pm, Tegan Janine arrived. 7 pounds, 3 ounces and 18.5 inches of pure, healthy perfection. I remember seeing her for the first time, her arms outstretched. As they laid her on my chest, I was overwhelmed with emotion and disbelief. She had arrived so quickly, I was caught off guard and burst into tears, “I’m just so happy." Delivering the placenta was slightly problematic, it didn’t want to dislodge itself. The doctor massaged away at my abdomen for 20-30 minutes, and I cursed loudly…but it was eventually delivered. I was given a shot of Pitocin in my thigh because I was bleeding a little more than they would have liked, but otherwise everything was fine.
All of the preparation and planning were worth it. The decision to hire a doula and educate myself on my choices and decisions was crucial. I am extremely fortunate that I had an easy pregnancy and a fast labor, many mothers aren’t as lucky as I was. I recognize that genetics and pure good luck played a huge part in me having a positive labor experience. I hope that by sharing a positive story of birth, other mothers can feel more confident. There are so many terrifying stories of labors gone wrong, I feel that women need to hear that labor can be a positive experience.
Dorothy and her husband reside in Bakersfield, CA. Along with Tegan, they share their days with two adorable Daschunds. Dorothy is currently pregnant and getting her out-of-the-hospital birth wish: her baby will be born at a local birth center.
I am a lover of doulas and what they do for families. We need to hear how we are doing, how we are being perceived, if we ever want to improve! When we get those bits of negative feedback, it is an opportunity for us to change and be better, not shrink and get resentful. We are all just people, trying to do the best we can. Communication is an important piece of the doula-client relationship -- the more we can communicate, before and during a birth, the better satisfied we can all be.
I hate to be Debbie Downer, that is not in my heart at all. I hired a doula for what I thought were realistic reasons. Like so many others, I read the statistics: shorter labors, lower uses of epidurals, happier feelings after the birth; those were the ones that stuck in my mind. I just didn't expect things to go the way they did, and when they went, they went fast. I felt like my doula went along with that, while I was left behind feeling alone.
I know one admirable quality of any doula worth her salt is good working relationships with the nurses and doctors at the place of birth. I was impressed by the stories I heard from my doula, the goings out to lunch with nurses, the sittings next to doctors at conferences. I will admit, it made me feel like she integrated well into the hospital process. What I didn't expect was that she might need to maintain that balance. When push came to shove in my situation, I did not feel she was with me, on my side. I felt like she was on their side, and it was her job to get me to feel good about coming to their decisions and preferences.
In a way, this was the beginning of the isolation. I had heard hospital doulas who are provided by the hospital or volunteer/work for the hospital sometimes have a hard time being neutral. I did not worry about this, because my doula was independent and nonaffiliated with the hospital. She did have a family member who was high ranking on the infrastructure of the hospital board, but again I saw this as a bonus, not a deficit. In reality, I think it aligned her with the hospital's way of doing things. It made it seem like her job was to help me buckle to that agenda in a less threatening way than if it came from a staff member.
I had a complication when it came time to push. Suddenly I was being rolled over, yelled at urgently, and told to push, even without a contraction. Extra people came rushing into the room. I was hearing all kinds of instructions at once. I closed my eyes and tried to do what they told me. My husband was no where to be seen or felt. My doula was also lost in the haze. I had no clue what was happening. I needed the tiniest bit of an explanation. The one person I would have expected this from was not there. My doula.
After the baby came out there was an audible sigh of relief. She was taken to a flat table to be given air and make sure she was breathing like she should. I felt the smallest touch from my husband's hand, and I wanted to gobble it up and have it take me away. He was scared too. We watched as our baby was being poked and prodded, mask on her face, lights flashing and alarms beeping. I looked for my doula and she was talking to the nurse about how frightening that was, and how she was sorry the nurse had to get up on the stool to help move me because the nurse was pregnant.
I could have used the emotional support my doula was giving my nurse.
It took a while before anyone explained what happened. It took even longer before our baby was brought to us. I felt pretty insignificant. I felt alone and afraid. Soon after the bustle in my room went down and I was considered recovered, my doula announced she needed to go move her car before her meter ran out. She said she would be right back.
"That's ok. I think we are ok now." She looked at me with a puzzled expression. "But the baby isn't back from the nursery. Do you want me to wait and see if we can get you nursing?" I let her know I was really tired, and I would ask for help from the staff if we needed it. She came over, gave me a hug, and said, "Thanks for having me as your doula."
Really I just felt sad. I felt let down. I wanted more mothering, and I got what seemed like a bubble gum teenager who was only with me until the cooler kids came (her friends at the hospital). I am not writing off doulas forever. I still can't deny those statistics. But next time, I am going to ask different questions, and remember to be impressed by different answers.
Lindsey is a high school math teacher and new resident to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her husband, daughter, and Shar-Pei, Bluto, are expecting the arrival of a new baby around Thanksgiving. She is just starting to reach out to potential doulas.
The parallels of birth and death aren't unknown. They both require suspending judgement, supporting in the moment, and holding space to respect individuals' journeys and nature's timeline. Today's feature isn't as happy and joyful as many others in the 31 Days project, and yet every doula knows endings are inevitable. Hold on to your hearts.
There was a woman who named herself after the mountains where she had communed with other women and wrote poetry. In the end she went berserk with agitation, climbed out of her hospital bed in an attempt to lie on the earth again. We covered her in blankets as her community of friends took turns sitting vigil. Her strong body and spirit would not give in to disease without a great fight. Back in bed, she lasted for weeks like that, feeding off the fuel she had accumulated over a lifetime until one day, the flame burned all the way to the core and released her free at last.
There was a woman quiet and withdrawn, who only nodded yes or no. Yet when a dear one entered and approached, she open her arms to bring them in close. Her adult children had lost a father just two years before and her illness had mostly been a secret, a failed attempt at protecting her loved ones from pain. All we can do is be there to support and minimize suffering. The existential journey is their own. At a time when one can no longer deny death, loved ones gather with tears and smiles for all the healing that can finally begin. In the end, friends and family gathered in the chapel to acknowledge and honor her life. Then came a parade of flowers our way, grandiose bouquets perking up the solarium.
A volunteer angel drops in every now and again, effortlessly singing A cappella, opening the portal within the spirits of the dying, attempting to free them of blocked emotional meridians and move them forward on their individual path, on the labyrinth of existence.
An emaciated woman already a skeleton slowly turned to look at me and offer a weak smile, appearing to wonder about my treatment or judgement of a lifelong multi-drug abuser lying on her death bed before she was even old. She is estranged from all family. I offer reassurance that she will be cared for with kindness and respect. She replied "thank you". I suggest that she has experienced a lot of trauma in her life. She replied "scary". Perhaps at birth, or in the mother's womb, she was already addicted. Maybe now, in a time as vulnerable as birth, she can finally just receive love and care without having to do anything to earn it. She seeks to have her pain and anxiety resolved, just like any other human being. And in a couple days, after a week hiatus in the desert, I will return to this work, wondering if she survives still. As a death doula, I will either care for her with kindness and compassion, or if she is gone, I will care for the others who come next to this house.
It's no surprise to me that Christa's heart holds room for these monumental bookends we call the beginning and the end. She and I had the pleasure of meeting years ago when she moved to Chico, CA as a birth doula, wanting to connect. This was serendipitous, and she, four other doulas, and I went on to create the Chico Doula Circle. Christa was planning to attend nursing school in New York as soon as she had all her pre-requisite classes. Knowing her passion for mothers and babies, I was surprised to learn she was working as a nurse in a hospice home. She admitted she didn't imagine herself there -- life brought her to serving those on the other end. She holds a reverence for nature and its ways, and I know she is right where she needs to be.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)