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There was a woman quiet and withdrawn, who only nodded yes or no.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.
When I was in college, I worked at a gift and candy shop. It was an easy gig, I got to eat all the homemade chocolates I wanted, and I worked mostly unsupervised and alone. I remember distinctly, an interaction with a customer where I just wasn’t feeling it. I decided I didn’t have any energy to add anything extra to my exchange with her. She brought me her merchandise and attempted to make conversation, and I sat with a sour look on my face, going through the motions of ringing her up. (This is all horrifyingly embarrassing to me now, by the way, but as a teen, I didn’t give it a second thought.) Suddenly the woman said, “It seems like you aren’t in a good mood today.” She said it kindly, without expectation, and it hit me: She noticed I wasn’t being nice!
Wherever doulas gather, there is a question often asked: “Can I thank a nurse?” Not meaning, can I say thank you when she brings us a chair or a drink, but, when I notice a nurse going above and beyond for my client, can I send her a thank you note later? Is this appropriate?
I have heard doulas answer, absolutely not! She is just doing her job. If she hadn’t been your client’s nurse, she would have been someone else’s. She did it yesterday, she did it today, and she’ll do it tomorrow. She is being paid to work as a nurse. She is just doing her job.
As a doula and a childbirth educator, I take clients in the Bakersfield, Visalia, Hanford, and Tulare areas of Central California. I recently attended a birth where I witnessed a nurse just doing her job. It wasn’t that the nursing care she gave was poor – it was just her flat affect showed she simply had nothing else to give. Just like the teenaged-Stacie in the opening story, this nurse was going through the motions with no smiles, no casual conversation, no empathy for the pain my client was dealing with. She was on autopilot, she could have been a robot, and we all noticed it seemed like she was in a bad mood. In that moment, it felt like she hated her job and resented the fact that someone dare be having a baby on her shift in L&D.
As people, don’t we like to hear when someone notices and appreciates the job we are doing? I know I do! Why not, then, send a note to a nurse you felt went above and beyond versus just doing her job? In fact, send it to her boss, and her boss’s boss! Send that praise onward and upward! Let the world know you appreciated this nurse’s attitudes and efforts, her care and concern.
Fortunately, I can say this is a rarity. Most of the nurses I encounter are helpful and kind to the families they serve. We all have bad days, and I bet that lady I served so long ago doesn’t even remember me and my attitude way back when. But the day your baby is born – every person who walks in or out of that room can become a permanent fixture in the recollection of that memory. I still have deep, personal feelings for the nurses who cared for me through all my births, and how grateful I am that they are filled with positivity!
“This nurse my clients had – she was excellent. I am wondering if I can send her a card, thanking her?” This is a common question doulas ask other doulas. Even before the ease of gathering in Facebook groups, there were doula message boards and email lists, and for those of us fortunate enough, real-live gatherings of local doulas. This question has come up since the beginning: Can a doula who witnessed excellence on the part of a nurse, send a thank-you?
Many feel a nurse is just doing her job – why should she be thanked? She would be doing it for someone else if not your client. She did it yesterday, and she will do it again tomorrow. That’s what she does – it’s her job, nothing extra is required on a family, friend, or doula’s behalf.
I work as a doula in the Bakersfield, Visalia, Tulare, and Hanford areas of Central California. I was recently at a birth somewhere out there where I truly saw a nurse “just doing her job.” It was the bare minimum required of her. And it showed. Did the mother receive nursing care? Yes, arguably very good nursing care. Was there any empathy, kindness, or understanding with this care? Absolutely none. If left me feeling three things: either she is lazy, power-tripping, or she really hates being an L&D nurse. Whatever the reason, “just doing her job” shone through as her mission statement for that shift.
Fortunately in my experience, this is a rarity. I see nurses smiling, helping, giving emotional support, and scaffolding families as they welcome new babies. So I say it is not only okay and appropriate to send your thanks to a nurse, it is imperative! Even better, send a copy to her boss, and her boss’ boss! As doulas we see both sides of the coin, and there isn’t much we can do when a nurse is “just doing her job.” Let us, instead, send praise forward, and recognize nurses who provide excellent nursing care in conjunction with empathy, kindness, and dare I say, heart!
I love this post. It reminds me of Jennifer Kara's post last year, "There Will be a Time After This." I am amazed by these doulas and the work that comes with being on the receiving end of help and service. Health is something taken for granted, and when our state changes suddenly, adjustments become necessary, and often the biggest one is within our brains. What also happens, though, is a change in the heart. I love that Sejal shares her change of heart here.
Today as I sit and write this, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be sitting in this cozy bed with all my gadgets and chargers next to me, and my constant companion for now (my pain, that is), motivating me to write. On the morning of March 28th, 2016, as I am going down the stairs outside my clients’ home from an overnight shift, I slipped on a thin layer of ice. I heard a snap and I saw my left ankle being twisted while I tried to hold on to the side rail to avoid the fall. I screamed loudly due to the excruciating pain, and I thought I must have woken up the whole neighborhood. I started to see stars and began crying like a baby getting his vaccinations, surprised by the needle. I felt sad for myself, and then I tried to remember my client’s address because I am in no position to get up on my feet.
I called my client instead, since I am sure she knows her own address. She comes and calls 911 for me. I am so grateful she was there and that she picked up my phone call. The firefighters come first, and they ask me if I am hurt anywhere else. I am so happy to see them since I am thinking they are paramedics! Pain messes with your brain. They put a temporary splint on me while I tried not to scream.
The paramedics and firefighters tried to carry me down the rest of the flight of stairs, since I am in no position to walk. At this point I am blabbering stuff at them about how sorry I was that I had to call them, and blah-blah-blah. I get nasal Fentanyl since my veins are fried, from panicking probably. I think I am in a good place as they take me to the ER. The x-ray tech comes and wheels me out to the x-ray room, and I hear myself begging, “No! No! No! Please don’t!” as she is trying to position my leg the best she can without causing me pain. The x-ray results confirm there is a fracture of the distal tibia and I am going for surgery the next morning. Loads of morphine helped me come to my senses, and I start thinking, “Oh my, I have to work tonight and tomorrow night for the same client!” I texted my client and asked her if she wanted someone else to come for the following two nights. She says she will be okay.
I talk to my husband about how I am feeling. He says that he understands, but that is why we call incidents like these accidents. I think in my mind, he does not understand me at all, and I quietly lay in bed. He has been working from home for the past year developing his own business, and many times it has been difficult on our family to adjust to that financially and emotionally. I am worried about our income, and I know he is too. We had to cut down on our kids' extracurricular activities and extra spending to meet our budget. I thought I was helping ease the financial burden by doing my doula work, and that income is gone as well. I am not good for anything. I am not a good wife, mother, or postpartum doula.
I am really grateful that he is at home and ready to help me anytime -- if I need to go to the bathroom, or if the pillows under my leg need to be adjusted, or if I need to hold his hand while my pain meds kick in. Besides doing all that, he also takes care of the kids and all the household chores while still trying to build his business. I am just overcome with guilt and fear. That does not help me or anyone else, but that is the reality.
I am very fortunate to have a circle of friends, family, and clients who have brought me food, flowers, chocolates, and given me their time to just sit and hangout with me. I am still recovering from the injury, and my splint has come off and sutures taken out. The hard part now is the physical therapy and rehab. The hardest thing for me to learn from this accident is accepting help from everyone and not feeling guilty about it. I had to practice what I preach, and it is not as easy as I used to think it was, even to this day. I thought that I was being a hypocrite to feel that way, and then to expect mothers to follow my advice. I decided to learn to accept help, even though it is still one small step at a time.
I had to acknowledge the fact that I did help people when I could, and it would not be so bad if some of them chose to help me and family. I started calling people to see if they were available to visit me, and as daunting as that question was for me to ask, I was surprised how many actually said yes. I am a social person, and I felt the best way for me to heal is to socialize. I didn't think people would have the time to hangout with me, but even if it is half an hour, it is worth my sanity. I kept talking to friends via Facebook, text, and phone. Some even stopped by to view an online conference with me, or to bring me lunch or dessert.
I called my brother up on my worst day of pain and told him to drive from Washington state to come hangout with me, and he did that more than a few times. I asked my sister to stop by to see me on days that she may have been doing something else, and I felt guilty about it, but seeing her and my nieces made that guilt go away very quickly. I learned that no matter how busy I thought she was, she was happy to come see me. I am learning not to feel guilty for laughing with people when they visit me while my husband is cleaning the kitchen or doing laundry. There are good days and bad ones, but most of them are good and I learn a new thing everyday about having patience and bowing down to my circumstances instead of fighting them.
Some very important life lessons that I have learned from my injury and the process of recovering from it:
Hitting the pause button has taught me how to be the gracious receiver of help that is offered. It is not easy, but it is helping me become a better and more understanding caregiver for all my future postpartum families.
May is International Doula Month. And here we are again! The third year of celebrating 31 days of stories for, by, or about doulas! For day one, we feature my dear friend and fellow Bakersfield doula, Emily Willett. I will admit, a year ago a nurse mistook me for my client's mom! I wanted to say to her, "I am only 9 years older than she is!" I simply said, embarrassed, "I'm just her doula." I really appreciate Emily's response, and I fully plan to steal it in the event this happens again!
When I began my work as a doula, I envisioned myself as a laboring Mom’s professional peer. When I would attend a birth in the hospital, the OB would generally ask the laboring Mom, “Is this your sister?” And, I didn’t mind at all. Because it was quite obvious that we were close enough to the same age.
Fast-forward 5 years…I’m sitting in a client’s home and we’re talking about standard childbirth topics. She looks at me and says, “I’m not sure about in your generation, but in my generation...” And inside a little part of me is totally caught off guard. I think to myself, I’m not that much older than her. Remember, we could be sisters, right?
And then about a week later…I’m with a client in the hospital. She just had a beautiful birth, and the OB turns to me and says, “You must be one happy Grandma!” Grandma? I’m supposed to pass as her sister!
And then I remember…6 years ago I was sitting in the home office of my midwife. I was recounting to her how my husband and I were so surprised when we met her that she didn’t have gray hair, or knit, and that she was young. And she said, with a gentle smile: “But someday I will have gray hair, and I will be old. And I will still be a midwife."
Today…I don’t have gray hair, YET, but I am beginning to feel the change of no longer being seen as a birthing mama’s peer -- maybe being seen more as an experienced woman or mother and doula instead. And as much as I enjoyed the sisterhood of age, I think I am learning to appreciate and cherish the role as an older doula.
There are moments when a woman presses in, burying her face in my chest and gathers her strength to pass through her next contraction, and I have words for her. Words that have brought many mamas through intense moments in their journeys. And I am thankful for the years of experience I have had leading up to that moment.
There are moments when a daddy looks at me, referencing my face, to see if what is happening is “ok.” And, when he sees my soft lines and smile wrinkles, he finds comfort in that visual embrace. For that, I am thankful.
There are moments when a nursing mama calls me in tears, wondering what is happening in her body, and I can share the stories of all the women who have come before her, feeling the same feelings, wondering the same things, and ensure her that she too will find her way. And, for that, I am humbled, and blessed, and thankful.
Yes, being young and new can be thrilling, and exciting, and somewhat ego-stroking. But if there is anything that I am learning as the years add up, it’s that there’s nothing like settling into something you love, and being allowed to pour out all that has been given to you. And, age is just a marker of all the time I have been given to learn to love, and cherish, and pass along to this world the beauty of women and babies and birth.
So, to the gray hair, I say, “Bring it on!”
To the Mama who sees that there is a generational difference between us, I say, “Let me share with you some stories.”
And, to the OB who asks if I am this child’s grandma, I say, “If I were only so lucky!”
Emily is an "Al Dente Mom"TM, navigating the space between ultra-crunchy and mainstream mothering. As a birth doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding peer counselor, she founded Mommy Matters in 2011, with the hopes of educating and supporting mothers in her community. Emily is passionate about helping mothers find their voice, and confidence, while following their unique parenting path.
I recently had a family reach out to me looking for a doula in the Bakersfield area. I knew I was not available for when they were due, so I offered the names of three other doulas, with reasoning as to why I thought they would be good matches. I also shared the resources area of my website, where I try to keep a running list of doulas in the greater Bakersfield and Visalia areas. I kept in contact with this family for a while, to ensure they had their doula needs met.
A couple weeks ago, after coming away from a prenatal with a current client, I noticed I had a Facebook message, and a text message. I thought, wow, someone has been looking for me! I opened them both to see it was one of these three local doulas, thanking me for the referral, as this family hired her. I was tickled with surprise and appreciation for this small act! We are all busy, and I am sure we often think, that was nice of her, I should let her know; the reality is, we don't always follow-through. I know I will remember this doula faster the next time I have a referral, and I also know I will rush to thank the next person who offers me a similar favor.
When working towards my certifying births for DONA in Chico, CA, there was one experience where the doctor left before I could ask for an evaluation. Hoping for the best, I wrote her a note and included an evaluation form and a SASE. Honestly, this doctor wasn't my favorite...but she didn't have to be my favorite to provide good care to my client. I thought of authentic statements I could share to show I valued her place in this birth.
"Dear Dr. Doe,
I had the privilege of helping Jane and John Person during the birth of their baby, Baby. Jane said nothing but good things about you during our prenatal contact -- it is clear to me she felt you two truly connected. I appreciated the way you cared for Jane throughout the pregnancy and birth, helping her feel confident about the experience...."
The next paragraph explained the certifying process, a bit about DONA, and that an evaluation from her would be helpful. I closed with: "Thank you for taking the time to do this for me."
Guess what? She sent it back, and I was able to use it for my certification.
Once at my pediatrician's office, I was telling my friend (nurse manager of the clinic), how much I appreciated the woman who worked at the registration counter. Every time we came in, she knew our names. She always asked how we were doing. She even remembered things we had talked about before. She felt like a friend, and I noticed this was not just how she treated us -- this was how she treated everyone in this clinic, which had a high rate of patient appointments where many families had Medicaid. She never seemed annoyed, she never acted like people were an inconvenience. As I was sharing this with my friend, she handed me a paper and pencil and asked me to write a note to the hospital which oversaw this clinic, sharing my feelings with them. I thought nothing of it -- it took less than 5 minutes of my day, and then honestly, I forgot about it.
The next time we visited the clinic, this woman came rushing toward me, arms open wide, and she thanked me heartily for what I shared. She said it meant so much to her, to be acknowledged and praised for the work she does daily.
Expectant families often ask if they can do anything for their nurses, not only to show appreciation for the long, hard hours nurses work, but also gain a happy member of their birth team. I was impressed when a client showed me the basket of goodies that would accompany her and her husband to the hospital. Knowing nurses often get gifts of yummy (but not always healthy) food, she wanted to be different. Her basket was thoughtfully packed full of hand lotions and sanitizer, Propel packets, pocket-size tissue packs, gum, Chapstick, Jolly Ranchers, and tiny chocolates. This woman had a fast labor, and she didn't go through as many nurses as she expected, but every nurse that walked in -- even her doctor and I -- were encouraged to pull things from the basket we wanted. "Now I don't want to take any of that home! I brought it all for you!" she told everyone, happily. The nurses were tickled at this sweet gesture. Her doctor, at first reluctant, did finally concede, "I do always need Chapstick."
Some might say this is unnecessary, that nurses are being paid at their jobs, so why are "gifts" necessary? One L&D nurse I know shared, "I love the thank you cards. I am shy about gifts and food. It's very nice though, but not necessary." A second one told me: "I absolutely love when patients bring in something special for the unit. We are there for joyous occasions and heartbreaking occasions. When patients acknowledge our work it makes us all feel good about the job we are doing. It lets us know that we made a difference during a very important time in their lives."
Isn't that what a true thank you is about? Acknowledging someone's good work? Isn't that something we all want? To know someone noticed, someone cared, it mattered to someone what we did? It's not a hard thing to do, and it can mean so much. I dare you to care enough to say "Thank You." Two little words.
I came across Samantha's project early in the year, and of course, intrigued, I emailed a submission. I love blogs, and projects, and drawing out stories from others...there is such value in what we have to share. It was natural to invite her to the 31 Days project. Samantha's insights and challenges about motherhood are timely and pertinent -- I hope they get us thinking.
My husband was the one who came up with the idea for The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project. We were watching the snow on a cold, cold Cleveland day in December and talking about stereotypes of pregnancy, birth and parenthood that we see everyday. I wanted a platform for real people to share their stories. And my genius partner came up with this idea. I would collect stories from people who have lived experiences of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period and I would feature the stories weekly, corresponding to each week of the year. We are now in our second trimester, entering week 18.
The goal of The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project is to show the reality of the first 52 weeks of motherhood—from conception through the 4th trimester—from the points of view of people who have actually gone through the experience, instead of the idealized or scary images fed to us daily. So far there have been stories of surprise pregnancies, women who feel utterly awesome and others who feel the worst they've ever felt, reactions to the news of twins and a rainbow baby, and a family dog who knew Mom was pregnant before anyone else. I've loved seeing how different people’s experiences are, but how there are still some threads of similarity that weave throughout the stories. All the stories express at least a twinge of both hope and fear, and lots of expectations. There’s also the eternal negotiation of internal and external pulls and pushes. Being focused on and centered in your body, sensing the internal changes that are so subtle but so profound, while simultaneously working and playing and interacting with the “outside” world... has there ever been a pregnant person who hasn't experienced this?
But over the past months, I've been thinking a lot about motherhood and what it means for individuals and our collective culture, and now I’m trying to take a critical look at the subtle implications of a project like this. I did a little unpacking in a recent post because I wanted to clarify the language I've been using to talk about pregnancy. I wanted to be more purposeful and inclusive. Specifically, I wanted to clarify that I recognize that, so far, these have been stories from women who have wanted to be mothers and who have been able and willing to deal with having a new baby and who have been generally excited about the prospect. First off, this doesn't mean that I think that the concept of motherhood is strictly reserved for those who are born female. Secondly, I need to put it out there that I am a firm believer in the right for pregnant people to decide what to do with their own bodies, and I don’t want the stories I share to imply that every pregnant person needs to think of their growing fetus as a baby or a blessing. My thoughts about this are perhaps made a little clearer in this post.
That said, my understanding of “motherhood” has evolved throughout this project because I have been simultaneously reading the book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, written by Adrienne Rich in 1976, and delving into the feminist research surrounding motherhood that has been published since. I’m struggling to understand the nuances of all I’m reading, but thus far something has become very clear to me: our experiences of being mothers and of mothering our children and families are inextricably linked to patriarchal culture. There is a constant struggle for us to be mothers and to mother in a way that is empowering to ourselves and our children within a culture that has pervasive and highly limiting ideas of what motherhood should look like. This is the context surrounding this project right now, and what I’m exploring mentally and emotionally as I read the myriad experiences of pregnancy and motherhood that have been shared with me.
As a postpartum doula and a mother myself, I get to see and experience the give and take between the cultural ideals of motherhood and the individual meaning of mothering on a daily basis. In my doula work I strive to create a space for mothers to feel safe and supported so that they can (re)discover their place of power and self-confidence and autonomy. I enter families’ homes with an open, nonjudgmental mind because I don’t want to contribute to the blaming, shaming, and competition that are so common within the cultural discourse of motherhood.
I hope to raise recognition of what postpartum doulas do—we’re not babysitters or night nurses or housekeepers or laundresses, although there are aspects of these jobs that overlap with the role of the postpartum doula. Essentially, our job is to support the mother while she learns how to mother. I believe that mothering isn’t instinctual, but rather learned. (Another way of saying this could be that mothering isn’t a passive endeavor, but actually an active, powerful role.) But it’s not learned by using the left-brain methods of analysis and strategizing and reading every parenting book out there. Instead, I think that learning how to mother (or, rather, how you mother) involves learning about yourself and your baby in an intuitive way. And the fastest way to do this is to spend time really focused on developing that relationship between you and your child and to stay alert to the creative powers that emerge during the transformative processes of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum change. Postpartum doulas provide the support and attention mothers need as they explore these changes.
I’m excited to see how The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project grows and evolves. I’m continually collecting snapshots of what motherhood means to each person—whether it’s a written story, a photo, an artistic portrayal, or a mixture of all of these. If you’d like to join the project, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. I look forward to hearing from you and reading about your own unique experience of mothering and motherhood.
Samantha Walters, MPH, owns Nova Doula & Lactation Services and is a postpartum doula and breastfeeding counselor in Cleveland, Ohio. Her background is in women’s sexual and reproductive health, and she also works as a teen sexual health educator. After living far from her hometown for over 10 years, she is so happy to be back on the shores of Lake Erie and she considers herself blessed to be a part of a growing, thriving birth community. She lives with her husband, 22-month-old daughter, and their funny dog. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram for #52WeeksofMotherhood updates as well as evidence-based parenting and breastfeeding information, updated daily.
Doulas love doulas. Moms and dads love doulas. But what intrigued me about this piece is, Crystal is an aunt who now loves doulas. She shares her experience witnessing a doula-supported birth -- after just learning what a doula even does. I can think of no other powerful witness of the care doulas offer than this -- one that comes from a family member who not only saw the affects of a doula offered to Mom, but also to Dad and the extended family.
My brother and his wife were expecting their second daughter any day and I desperately wanted to be there for her arrival. Now, it should be known that we are a family of “moderate hippies." Grow-ing up in the Pacific Northwest, you are subject to crunchy granola-ism by proxy. Like it or not, you will be more “green” than people from, say, Detroit, just by default. So I was confused, but not surprised when my sister-in-law announced that she would be using a doula for her second child’s delivery. “A what?” I asked…”a doula.” was the reply. “What is that? Is that like a midwife?” “No, it’s like a birthing coach or a mother’s helper.” “Huh.” I was picturing a stern matronly woman that smelled of patchouli and wore Birkenstocks. Someone that espoused the virtues of going drug-free while standing on your head and breathing like an Iditarod racer through contractions…no thank you. With three children to my credit, I have always been happily pro-drug, pro-hospital, pro-doctor.
Despite the fact that I have given birth more than once, I still became quite excitable as we timed the contractions. My sister-in-law braved the pains from the comfort of her upstairs bedroom as we waited for her doula to arrive at the house. I was timing them at three minutes apart and was wondering why we weren’t just meeting this delivery person at the hospital. I harbored secret fears that my niece would be accidentally born at home and I don’t know if I could’ve kept from passing out if she had tried that business…
The doorbell rang and I was quite surprised to meet the woman that (I still thought) was coming to deliver this baby. She looked fresh from a yoga workout and she drove a Volvo. What happened to the flowing mu-mu and the hippie mobile, I wondered silently. Brief introductions ensued and Ashley the doula was ushered upstairs. Right away, I was impressed at how she commandeered the situation. She went directly to Carla, asked a whole series of questions in a very calming way, and the whole mood in the room changed. I fear that between my hushed anxiety, and grandmas verbal duress, you could have cut the tension running through that house with a knife. In came the doula and palpable anxiousness lifted from the room like a fog. In its place, there was a quiet calm punctuated by breathing and gentle coaxing. I think I could actually see the colors of her aura, that’s how calming her demeanor was.
It was also interesting to watch her “work the crowd." You could tell she had assessed the situation (slightly hysterical grandmother, worried sister-in-law, sick husband – did I mention at that very moment, my brother, the father-to-be, had been struck by a gastrointestinal bug?) Ashley diffused all that was ramping up. Focusing on mom, but speaking to all present, she assured everyone that the baby would not be there in the next hour and that we would calmly work our way to the hospital. I’m certain that my sigh of relief was audible when she made it clear that this baby would not be born in the upstairs bedroom of their family home.
I stopped perspiring when it became more-and-more clear that this gal knew what she was talking about. So far the baby had not fallen out en route, despite my misgivings about contractions that were three minutes apart and our not being hauled by screaming ambulance to the emergency department. Remain calm faithful reader.
Our doula (yes, at this point she has become “our doula”) was as steadfast in her calm and patient demeanor as I was borderline hysterical. I watched this magical gift of a woman do her thing. Yes, at the risk of sounding like a crazy, hippie-dippy, magical loving, fruit loop of a nut job, I will put it out there. I will say it: This magical gift of a woman, this doula, was wonderful.
In what was, for me, the comfort zone of beeping machines, copious hand sanitizer and droves of personnel equipped with advanced degrees and special badges, I watched the most basic of all things natural unfold: A woman, comforted, coached and calmed a laboring mother while the laboring mother brought her baby into the world. It was a revelation for this mother, how a delivery could go so smoothly…
Because we are led to believe that laboring women need monitoring, constant checking, IV’s, medications, interventions and whole carts of instruments to bring a human being into the world. When maybe the most effective, and dare I say, most important vehicle to assist in delivery is a calm companion -- someone who knows, with unshakable conviction that women were designed to have babies. That birth is not an instantaneous process. A person comfortable with the fact that labor and delivery take as long as they take, a person adept at soothing a laboring mother through the pain and anxiety of childbirth.
Having seen it for myself, watching a team work with a laboring mother in that hospital room, it dawned on me what a genius arrangement this was. Dad was watching the progress, eagerly engaged, free to ask questions and procure ice chips while mom was fully tended by a constant, unwavering support person.
During my own delivery, six years ago, the assigned labor nurse whom I had grown to love, had her shift end smack dab in the middle of my laboring! And she left! She went home because her work day was done. The second shift came on as I was transitioning into hard labor and I hated that second delivery nurse. She was loud and obnoxious, interjecting her belligerent opinions with every breath. And I was too wrapped up in birthing a baby to tell her where I really wished she’d go. What a different experience that could’ve been. If I’d had a doula, as a personal support person at my side, “Nurse Ratchet”, as she’s become infamously known in my birthing story, could have gone away. Or at least shut up. But I had not known there was this option. I only knew what the hospital staff told me…
And let me tell you another story where a doula could have quite possibly changed the course of history. A couple of years back, I was invited to photograph at a delivery. Not a National Geographic-type assignment, but a tasteful, photo-journalistic capture of the first moments of life. Mother laboring, father cord cutting, baby weighing in, all of those moments. At three centimeters, this laboring mom was beside herself with pain and she became petrified at the prospect of having to birth a baby. She screamed frantically until an anesthesiologist came in and gave her an epidural. She was dilated to four centimeters. As her contractions continued, the epidural was not enough and she became terrified. Her mother could not talk her down, the daddy had to leave the room – everyone was asked to leave the room. The epidural was turned up and medication was administered intravenously. The shrieking subsided as we all waited in the hall. She was dilated to seven centimeters. Her labor progressed. Before she was ready, she was at ten centimeters and there was no more medication to be given. This birthing woman screamed and cried and swore and shrieked and there was nothing more to be done (pharmaceutically) as she endured that transition into second stage.
The doctor arrived amidst chaos and hysteria while a crowd stood, wide-eyed, in the hallway. Suddenly and abruptly, all of the ruckus stopped. Dead silence. Minutes later, a nurse emerged with a silent, swaddled infant. I will never know what actually happened in that delivery room in the wee, wee hours of the morning, but I do know there was no audible first squeal from that baby, there was no “war cry” as that laboring mom delivered her infant with her own body. I can speculate that when her practitioner walked in, he evaluated the hysterical situation and whacked that mom up with something akin to the old twilight sedation that women in the 1950’s delivered with, and he pulled that baby out before things got any crazier. That is what I honestly believe happened, but I will never really know for sure. What if she had a doula?
The two experiences I’ve been witness to, (outside of my own personal deliveries) were so vastly contrasting that I’m not even sure they were the same situation. Granted, the outcome was akin – a baby was born – but one was a controlled, comforting example of what every expectant mother hopes for, and the other was an uncontrolled barbaric exper-iment in hysteria. Seriously. I would go that far. And I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that they both could have been calm, satisfying moments. I will tell you that I am now the spokesperson for doulas. I will shout it from the rooftops. If you could have a personal, private labor coach that helped you to implement your birth plan, kept the hospital personnel on track (or at bay, if that’s what you needed), kept your pain levels down, utilizing natural methods – visualization, massage, quiet coaching, positioning, breathing instruction, even aromatherapy – and acted as a liaison between you and the delivery personnel, why would you do it any other way?
“Our doula” as I like to think of her (she was, after all, a huge part of a tremendous family event) met with my sister-in-law for weeks prior to her delivery; she got to know mom and dad. She knew their wishes, their preferences, and mom’s plan B if things were to change. Ashley the doula made sure a birth plan was on file and that the hospital stuck to mom’s wishes. She was invaluable in getting Carla through the tough transitions, sans epidural since she knew Carla’s previous back fracture would be an impediment to epidural placement (as it had after three attempts during the delivery of her first child). My sister-in-law knew what she wanted, and she knew from previous experience how hospital staff struggled to keep up with the wishes of patients from room-to-room. She knew how tough it would be to go without that epidural and I believe Ashley got her through it with confidence and an empowering sense of control regarding her own body. From the time she arrived on the scene, Ashley did not leave Carla’s side. She massaged, coached, offered sips of drinks and held the emesis basin. She kept the nursing staff informed when things changed regarding contractions and transitions. She was a relief for every person involved. I haven’t had a chance to talk to my SIL in-depth about her version of the doula experience since the arrival of their new bundle, but from what I witnessed, a doula is a real birth-saver
Crystal is not what you would call a "doula." In fact, she's not a doula at all. This makes her judgement of doulas all that more credible. She has a zany, crazy, outrageous family she resides with in North Carolina. A passionate blogger, she began writing as a creative outlet and a way to share tales and projects with her extended family who live thousands of miles to the west. Crystal is also a photograper. A Pacific Northwest native, she is currently trying to deny the small twang that may or may not be appearing in her speech. Ashley Greenwald is the one affectionately referred to as "our doula," and she serves the Reno, NV area.
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
Today, a dad and former client shares his feelings on hiring a doula. Enjoy!
My wide (oops! wife!) is the one suggesting doula in our house. I am the one who scoffs at this idea. Women and men have been having babies forever and I am obviously capable to be there to support her (like all the dads before me right?). When we have disagreements we have a system where we each right down 5 reasons for our point of view and we share these with each other. . . sometimes it ends up fixing our issue and sometimes it ends up a way for me to sleep on the couch. We tried it. I had some good ones.
1. Money factor when we would have lots of bills and expenses
2. Stranger at the most (almost most) intimate time of our life
3. Doctor P. said he wouldn't recommend it
4. Hurt our moms' feelings since they both want to come and we told them no
5. I really think I will feel bad if you have someone else taking care of you. I am sure I don't need a doula to help me take care of you.
Well my wife decided to hit each of my points with her own points (she even used a red pen and underlined things twice. Did I mention she is a teacher?):
1. Money factor when we would have lots of bills and expenses
YOU AREN'T HAVING THE BABY. SO WE CUT BACK ON EATING OUT.
2. Stranger at the most (almost most) intimate time of our life
WE WILL MET HER AND HIRE HER, WE GET TO CHOOSE HER. YOU AREN'T HAVING THE BABY.
3. Doctor P. said he wouldn't recommend it
DR P. ALSO SAID HE DID HIS OWN VASECTOMY. HE IS NOT HAVING THE BABY EITHER.
4. Hurt our moms' feelings since they both want to come and we told them no
REMEMBER HOW MY MOM ACTED AT OUR WEDDING? AND HOW YOUR MOM ACTED AT YOUR NEPHEW'S CHRISTENING? WE DON'T WANT THAT CRAZY IN OUR HOSPITAL ROOM. AND THEY AREN'T HAVING THE BABY EITHER.
5. I really think I will feel bad if you have someone else taking care of you. I am sure I don't need a doula to help me take care of you.
I AM SCARED TO HAVE A BABY. I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE. I WANT A DOULA. I AGREE YOU DON'T NEED A DOULA. YOU ARE NOT HAVING THE BABY.
So in the interest of sleeping in my bed I agreed to meet some doulas. And guess what? I was right that I didn't need a doula. But my wife did. And I admit she knew what she as doing.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)