Recently I was watching The Labyrinth, that incredible movie of my early teenhood. I watched that VHS tape so much it started to warp. I know just about every line, I sing every song, and I am ALWAYS ready for it to have a different ending, even though I know that never really happens.
I was struck by the opening credits -- when the words "It's only forever," play. This one day, when we birth our babies, stays with us forever. Shouldn't we do all we can to improve our experiences so the memories bring us happiness instead of disappointment? Enter, the Labyrinth...
The basic premise: Sarah is an imaginative girl who loves to dress up and pretend play. She has to baby-sit her half-brother, Toby, and she dreams her story to be that of having a wicked stepmother and she being forced to work and have no life. Her brother begins to cry from his crib. She accidentally sends Toby off to the Goblin King, Jareth. She then has to rescue him, through the maze of a huge labyrinth, or he will be lost to her forever. Ultimately she has a few choices -- live in her pretend world forever and forget about Toby, become Jareth's queen and live happily ever after with him, or fight to get Toby back -- and of course, that's what she does.
But did I mention who Jareth is?
Um, yeah -- that's why I was always Team Jareth...but I digress.
1. This is a piece of cake!
Often labor starts out so small, we work up confidence and think, like Sarah after making a good choice, "this is a piece of cake!" That's right before she falls into a hole with nothing to stop her except a bunch of "helping hands."
While early labor is often something we can handle on our own -- occupying our minds, resting, bouncing on a ball, relaxing in a tub or shower -- as things progress, our bodies will demand more from us. Instead of worrying that this is a predictor of how hard labor may be (at some point in the future -- I call this 'catastrophysing,' and in real life, I am pretty good at it), we need to enlist support from those around us. This is where partners, doulas, midwives, mothers, nurses -- whoever is there to fill that role, come in.
Labor WILL get more intense -- that's the nature of the process. With support, we can be lifted up by those caring people on our birth team, those helping hands.
2. There can be a lot of waiting!
There is an average amount of time women will labor. For first time pregnant people that is 12ish-24ish hours. Be mindful of that when you start telling people you are in labor, people forget birth is a marathon, not a sprint. It may only be an hour of time that has passed and well-meaning friends and family can start to ask if your baby has been born yet!
Some families consider sitting with this information for a while until there is something more exciting to report. Often the invitation (or expectation) that people will wait happily in the lobby can be a lot of pressure to the laboring person! I have been at more than one birth when a guest pops into the laboring person's room, unannounced, and either there was nothing going on, or the person had to be shooed out quickly because it was pushing time or naked time or toilet time -- this doesn't have to happen to you! You can decide where your loved ones will bide their time, and it doesn't have to be at the hospital.
3. It may help to lose your head
Whether it comes as a loss of control, or a needed suspension of reality, staying in our left brain where logic and reason try to make sense of things isn't always productive in labor.
As labor progresses, we need to move to our right brain and listen to what our bodies are saying. Linear flow of time, labor math, and trying to make predictions according to what we know and what has happened all need to go by the wayside. Our team should help protect this state of mind by moving with us, going at our pace, finding another place for their fears besides our ears, and knowing how to help if we are truly lost -- like getting into take-charge mode. Labor is challenging, and we are working hard enough to keep our own heads straight -- partners and others can respect this and flex to it as long as we are feeling safe and moving forward.
4. Ultimately, birth isn't fair
We learn. We read. We immerse ourselves in information and do our best to plan for our births. But in the end, there are so many things that aren't in our control. Does this mean we shouldn't even try?
What can we really plan about birth? We'd like to think we can plan a lot -- hospital, support team, safety. But we've all seen videos of women birthing unexpectedly in their cars (as a doula I had that happen once). So what's a pregnant person to do? I'll tell you: take a comprehensive childbirth class where you'll learn your options in a nonbiased way. Understand the labor process, how to cope, and what to expect. Build your dream birth on a foundation of sound evidence-based information -- this will ensure if your Plan A becomes a Plan B, you will know exactly what your new set of choices are -- because you ALWAYS have choices. Birth, like life, may not be fair, but you can adjust the scale in your favor with knowledge and options.
5. "You have no power over me."
I recently had a conversation with a pregnant woman who shared: "I know no one can make me do anything I don't want to do. I can always say no or ask for other options. That's my right."
Not sure what your rights are? According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pregnant people:
This is what ACOG is laying down that many physicians aren't picking up: no one can guarantee the outcome for you and your baby -- and because of that, the choices we make during pregnancy and birth are ultimately our own. This doesn't mean you have to be contrary out of the gate, this simply means when you have researched, thought over, pondered, prayed about a decision which may differ from that of your medical provider, no one holds more power than you.
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.
The excitement that surrounds an expectant mother starts building as soon as the good news is shared. As her burgeoning belly grows, so does the attention from others. Baby’s arrival brings relatives, friends, and neighbors…at first. But as the much-awaited birth comes and goes, so do the people. Often this can leave a new mother feeling isolated, tired, and depressed.
In some cultures, the new mother is relieved of her daily duties and attended to for up to 40 days postpartum. Special restorative foods are brought to the mother, she is taken care of by members of her family, and her sole responsibility is to bond with her new baby. In our culture, 40 days after birth typically sees the end of a mother’s maternity leave!
You can help meet a new mother’s needs simply by using your heart and your hands, and sometimes your ears. Never expect to just plop in and be entertained – always ask what you can do to help. Often mothers have reservations about letting you pitch in with cleaning or laundry. If this is the case, place a simple list numbered 1, 2, 3 on the refrigerator. Ask her to write down three things she would feel comfortable accepting help with. The next time you visit, glance at the list and get going! If she insists life is great, do something unexpected for her. Bring her a pot of homemade soup and some warm bread. Drop off a new pair of pajamas for her, or the baby, or both! Demonstrate your active listening skills by using attending body language and summarizing her shared feelings; suspend your judgment and offer suggestions only if she asks for your opinion.
I have the fortunate opportunity to nurture and support women of the Bakersfield and Visalia areas during their experiences of pregnancy and birth. I have noticed the mother who functions well, feels good, and exudes confidence early in the postpartum period is the mother who continues to be blessed with help and visits from her extended supporters. Babies bring joy, but they bring demands as well. By meeting the needs of the new mother in your life, whether she is a friend, a neighbor, or your own daughter, you are enabling her to better care for and meet the needs of her own baby.
Three things that can help after the baby comes:
You may not even know it, but you and your baby have been working hard, preparing for the next step in your relationship after pregnancy and birth -- breastfeeding. Just as you provided everything your baby needed to grow on the inside, you are sequenced to continue this job once baby is on the outside. Currently I am working toward increasing my formal lactation knowledge to better serve the Bakersfield and Visalia areas. To add to my current 6500 direct breastfeeding counseling hours, I am completing 90 hours of specific lactation education (required to become eligible to sit for the exam to become an IBCLC). I came across these quotes while studying, and I was struck by the timing of these events!
While we are designed to nurse our babies, that doesn't mean it will happen easily. If you are experiencing breastfeeding issues, reach out for some help! There are many places to look, starting with the hospital where your baby may have been born, WIC offices, local public health options, private practice IBCLCs, and group support gatherings, such as La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA. Often you can call any of these resources for some phone help or questions answered. If you need more support, hopefully the person on the other end of the phone can further direct you to the best resources for your situation.
Just because we are mammals and breastfeeding seems like it should be "natural," that doesn't mean we won't need some good information and ideas from others who are in positions to help. Don't be afraid to get some guidance -- you are your baby are in this together!
For more resources, view this past post.
It is hard to admit, staying home with a baby can be a lonely time. It is ironic that, on one hand, you have a baby that needs you all.the.time, and yet we can still feel alone. Sarah shares some great ideas in this feature. As doulas, we can work to create space for new moms to make friendships, and we can offer support for their changing emotional needs. As moms and women, we can look for opportunities to build and nurture friendships. And it's all good for growing families.
So you find yourself sitting at home, looking at your new baby who has finally settled into a sleep after feeding for what might seem like the last six hours continually. Your home might be a little untidier than usual, the washing is piling up, you have given up on the idea of bothering to iron anything (flat clothes are slightly over-rated anyway!) and you can’t remember the last time you got to have twenty minutes of “down time”.
Your partner is spending long hours at work (still trying to catch up on the backlog from his paternity leave) and the influx of visitors that wanted to greet the baby have slowed to zero as everyone else returns to their day to day lives.
And here you are… coming to terms with your new “normal”.
During Birthability coffee mornings we always try and have a “topic” of conversation which people can dip in and out of as they wish. We have always been so humbled that our mums don’t “play pretend” with each other. They don’t sit there and dress up their weeks to show off how brilliant parenting is. Instead they are brutally honest and share their experiences openly, offering a realistic perspective that sometimes it is hard to cope, and gain solace that they aren’t the only ones feeling that way.
One week I asked the mums to share how they felt emotionally. Of course a few people said they loved being with their baby. A couple of mums felt that they would take time to adjust to their new roles, and were wondering if they could ever accept that this was “the future” for them. But worryingly, the most common feedback was that our mums felt “lonely”.
Lonely despite always being in contact with another human (albeit a baby!)
Lonely despite seeing their partners every day and often seeing pre-baby friends on a weekly basis.
Lonely despite being part of a new network of hundreds of other mums that have recently gone through their experiences .
And Lonely despite visiting coffee mornings each week.
Since we set up our weekly Bumps and Newborn support sessions, we have had many mums telling us that we provided the most important service that they accessed. Mums feel that we provide an “anchor point” in the week – and if they can just make it through to that day then they can come along, chat through any issues, sit down and be waited on with a cup of tea and a biscuit, and feel like an individual again, rather than just “babies mum”. Don’t get me wrong – our small team loves to coo over their babies as they come in – but actually we are really more interested in offering the mums a listening ear and hearing about their week. Our group has organically grown into a peer support session, where new mums are always identified, welcomed and introduced to another set of mums with the same age baby. We often choose a “buddy” mum that we know is comfortable chatting with new mums and able to help them feel part of the group quickly. In truth we don’t know how we achieve a “non cliquey” group – but somehow we do!!
So, we could pat ourselves on the back for running a great session – But what happens at the end of a coffee morning? Well, the mums pack their stuff up – put their babies back in their car seats – and drive back home where some of them will feel lonely again until next week.
So as I stand watching my mums sitting around the room and freely chatting, I have to wonder why it is that women are often unable to continue those friendships with strangers outside the room, and it strikes me that we are pretty useless at being forward! How easy would it be to say to another woman that you have met at a coffee morning “Hey, you know its been great to chat with you, it feels like someone else really understands my perspective – would you like to meet up during the week for a coffee?”
Scouting has a wonderful motto – “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met before”
So, if you are feeling lonely, afraid, overwhelmed or just a little bit bored by the monotony of parenting, why not look into your local groups? When you go in just ask to speak to the leader and explain that you don’t know anyone and would really appreciate it if they could introduce you to a couple of mums.
I can tell you that a number of our mums joined us like that – and have gone on to form lasting firm friendships.
Some of our more experienced mums invite new people to join them after in the pub for a quick lunch – and a couple of them have even grabbed unsuspecting mums walking past the venue with a new baby in a pram and said “Hey, why don’t you come in and join us for coffee? It’s a great group and they would love to meet you!”.
Women need to start loving each other. We all have lonely days. Be brave and reach out to “strangers” around you – it could be the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
Sarah is a co-owner of Birthability. She has been teaching antenatal courses in Warwickshire, England for over 7 years, and has taught over 3,000 couples across the region. She trained as an NCT birth companion in 2010 and received certified accreditation from the University of Worcester. She loves to meet couples in early pregnancy, watch their journey through labour and birth and offer support at coffee mornings until mum is feeling confident enough to move on. Sarah has 4 children, and in her spare time is often running around to Hockey matches with her boys, and walking their dog “Luna”. You can find Birthability on Facebook as well.
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.
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
When I initially read this story, I was struck by the challenges Katrina faced while pregnant -- a reminder that there are many health issues that can make pregnancy more difficult than normal, whatever normal means! I also loved how her doula set things up for Katrina to not only ease Katrina's adjustment to the hospital, but to also ease her mind. Katrina makes unique, comfortable gowns for moms to labor and birth in -- so when you are done reading her story, go check out her website!
I think it is important to tell you the story of how baby Graeme (pronounced grey – UHM) came Earthside because the more we hear about birth the less we fear birth and that is a catalyst for the continuing change towards mother centered birth. This is his birth story.
My mother had lived with us for several months before Graeme made his entrance. This was because I have Rheumatoid Autoimmune Arthritis or as it is now called Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease (it does NOT have me. :)) and it was actively flaring during pregnancy. I was unable to keep up with the demands of a household and our high-spirited toddler. This made for a unique environment with both good and bad points. By the end I believe we had become weary of the dynamic so you could feel the sizzle of anticipation in the air both from waiting for the baby, waiting for my disease levels to subside, and waiting for the end of our situation. I was told during pregnancy that having another child would be a very bad idea because of the many mounting health problems so having mourned that and come to terms with that I was very very ready to be done. When you come to terms with something, accept it, and move on and you have to wait several months for the moving on to come to an end it gets tedious. You are just waiting and pulling forward one day at a time to see a goal. It’s like closing the chapter to a book but you are watching the two covers come together in slow motion and it catches your breath. Ready to be done.
I had followed the pattern like my daughter’s labor I had labored off and on for 2 weeks. Real bouts of labor followed by several days of nothing. I thought this was Braxton Hicks, but my doctor once again told me otherwise. Graeme was born on a Monday morning. The Thursday before I had my last prenatal appointment and my doctor who has practiced over 30 years said “You are a 7 and you are 78% effaced. See you at the birth center this weekend or Monday.” Having seen it all he is never wrong. He told me with my daughter “see you in the next day or two” and she was born the next day. Yes he sent me home. He is one of the few doctors out there who trust the natural birth process completely. Trusts a mother’s body to do what it is intended to do. He only intervenes when it is absolutely necessary. I am fortunate to have had him as my doctor for the births of my children.
On February 10th, 2014 at 3:35 am I went to the bathroom. I felt a ton of pressure and was unable to go to the bathroom. This felt different to me. I had felt pressure sitting down for weeks but it became clear to me that this was different. I literally could not contract the muscles to go to the bathroom. This was a lot of pushing down. It didn’t feel like contractions to me but I felt “opening” and so I continued to sit as the half squat was helping that action . I was 39 weeks 4 days pregnant so I wasn’t sure if this was “it” or not. Then I began to feel the pressure come and go. This hadn’t happened this intense before. I started timing these “pressure “waves”. Before I could even get the timing app started I felt my body lurch forward. Labor is like that. You feel yourself being pulled and pushed down from inside. It is a powerful, earthy, painful and at once strange feeling. I texted my husband and said “Hey I’m stuck on the toilet in labor. Finding pants now.” He said “Ok. Waking Nana. FYI Blowing snow”. It was blowing snow across the highway and there was an advisory to avoid travel if possible. I feel very fortunate that we had my Mom living with us and we could just go, no having to wait or anything. We would ordinarily stay home until later stages of labor but my contractions STARTED at 3 minutes apart and we didn’t want to end up on the evening news as that couple who gave birth on the side of the road in blowing snow. (Congrats to those who do. You have bigger balls than I do.)
3:40 am Got in the car. Contractions 2 1/2 minutes apart. Cascading one on top of each other. Couldn’t breathe. I texted our doula/longtime friend that I was “going to the hospital now” and off we went.
White knuckle driving in the dark on an icy highway with no lines, high wind, and snow.
Growl at husband “No” when he attempts to put music on. Growl at him “No” when he attempts to turn it off. Poor fella couldn’t win. Yell at him “IF YOU COULD ATTEMPT TO NOT HIT POTHOLES THAT WOULD BE GREAT! THANKS!!!” with my eyes shut breathing through the wham wham wham of hard fast labor. Didn’t realize that we were two blocks from the hospital when he hit the pothole and this car trip was almost over. Laboring in the car sucks butt. I don’t recommend it at all.
4:10 am. Arrive at hospital. Nurse Stacey comes out. She is pretty great, she recognized me because she had talked to my doula. Nothing like being recognized to bring the walls down. My amazing doula had pre-arranged many of the nurses and people who were a part of our team. One was a homebirth midwife in another state, my post birth nurse who cared for us was a doula for many years and was wonderful. RN Stacey has many children herself. I had a 180 degree experience from last time. I am a sexual assault survivor so this was all pre-arranged to preserve my mental health and command the respect my body needed to do what it needed to do without the anxiety. This time no one asks me to do intake paperwork. My contractions are still 2 1/2 minutes apart. I am trying to keep cool through the pain. Fast labor is no picnic. It is like taking the entirety of regular long labor and smashing it into a few hours. Intense, overwhelming, terrifying and at times makes you doubt yourself and your ability to do it.
We get into the room and I had to sit on the bed because we needed to get antibiotics in. I don’t want to but I have to. I tested positive for Group B Strep during pregnancy and despite measures to get rid of it at home we didn’t succeed.
They get a line in and get antibiotics going. They try to get a heart beat on baby. This time manually. I am not strapped to the machine thank goodness.
Doula Lindsay arrives around 4:30am
They want me to stand to get a heartbeat on the baby. Husband steps out to get water. My doctor has arrived and he is sitting with his feet up on the front desk chatting up the nurses. Typical for him. He’s a character.
I HATED standing. I had to rest my head on my doula’s chest to get through it. I kept moaning/half-crying “Get me in the water. I want the water now.” “I can’t do this without the water.” Water reduces pain levels greatly and it is SO MUCH EASIER to labor in water. 110% easier. A nurse is running the water while we try to get a heartbeat. In fast labors sometimes the baby gets squeezed so much, so hard that the heartbeat isn’t consistent at all. Fast labors are hard on mom and hard on babies; they aren’t completely “normal”.
About 5 am Graeme finally cooperates and I can get in the water. Thank the Lord! At this point I was in so much pain that I didn’t even realize my husband still wasn’t there. I was so hyperfocused breathing through the pain. Contractions are on top of each other. I can hardly breathe. My doula says “breathe.” I breathe in.
As I sit in the hot water I lean back. Worst idea ever. I almost throw up it hurts so bad. I lean forward into almost a squat. Doula pours hot water on my stomach. It doesn’t help much. These contractions are so much more painful than with my daughter. My husband comes back. I cry “I can’t do this. I need pain medication” My doula says “you are doing this. You can do this.” I didn’t know that I was so close to having the baby. This was transition. I wish someone had told me, in retrospect, because I know the stages of labor. I thought this level of pain was going to go on for hours and I started crying. I started to not know what to do with my limbs. Almost flailing from the level of pain.
“I need to stand. I can’t sit here any more. I have to stand.”
6:15 am I stand and get out of the tub supported by my husband and my doula.
Yanno how they say when your water breaks it is never like it is in the movies? This was like the movies. WHOOSH it splashes everywhere. The bathroom floor is coated in amnion. Sorry about the shoes guys! (Never wear shoes to a birth if you can help it. Feet are washable.)
As soon as I stood up I started to push. When natural labor is unencumbered and progresses on its own a beautiful thing happens. The body pushes on its own. No orders. No instruction to push. I have to stop every foot on my way to the bed to push. I half-squatted every time and groaned that gutteral, earthy groan, down into the floor using my husband and doula for support.
I reach the bed. I feel I need to sit up with my breasts right against my knees. I begin to push and the team gets ready. No one counts this time. I push as the contractions tell me to. Which is a wonderful thing.
My son was a big boy so the nurses and our doula keep saying “pull those legs wider” I do. I hear my hip pop slightly out of socket and feel the pain of that. But I know this is the end of it so I keep going. I push that pain to the back of my mind and focus on the goal.
Something crucial happens. My doula tells me to “relax”. When a person tenses while pushing she tears. If she relaxes then the baby does their work and they don’t tear. That tissue is supposed to stretch and it will if you relax it. This was the ticket for me. Every time she said “relax”, I did. I am ever grateful for that. My son slowly corkscrews out. On his way out, I didn’t know it, but he split a vein with his shoulder. There was a lot of blood. And my doctor, being the calm man he is, says “Don’t look down” even though there was a lot of blood. My husband retained composure holding my hand even though he said it was a lot of blood and freaked him out a bit. He said nothing. That is an amazing gift he gave me so I wouldn’t panic.
6:37am Graeme is born. He cries and they place him skin to skin on my chest. He latches like a champ. I cry tears of joy at the instant ability of my eager baby to nurse. We had a long trial with my daughter and his gulping noises fill my heart to brim. I rotate my hip back into place after my doctor stitches my vein and minor tears. We wait for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting. I deliver the placenta which turns out to be huge and my doctor says “I’m sorry” as it comes out because it is folded over on itself. It’s like birthing another baby. Kudos to you twin moms out there, you rock. The placenta weighed in at just over 6 lbs. This is not uncommon for moms with active autoimmune disease during pregnancy. The placenta had to work extra hard to keep my baby boy safe. I am grateful for this organ and what it did for my son.
He is here. He made it. Hello baby boy.
Katrina Tholen is the mom of two, and owner and designer of Luna Labor gowns. Luna Labor started on June 3rd, 2011 as an idea. Katrina had made her own labor gown based on a basic scrubs pattern. She really enjoyed having the bright colors of her personal labor gown and the fact it was washed in her own home with her own detergent. The next day when Katrina's doula visited she said “those gowns are great, I bet you could sell those” and that was it! Katrina's gowns fit better than hospital gowns and have all the capabilities for laboring and breastfeeding. Her doula for Graeme's birth was Lindsay Bench of Welcome Baby Doula Care.
I hear people ask this questions a lot. There seems to be the belief that for a woman to truly support another woman during birth, she has to have experienced childbirth herself. I say with testimony, there is not truth in this -- it is a doula myth. While it may be important for certain families to know their doula has passed through the rite of passage of motherhood, being a doula means one thing and one thing only: this birth is not about you. And guess what? You have more of an opportunity to make it about you if you have had your own birth experiences! Read more to see why Amber feels confident in her abilities; just because you haven't mothered your own baby, doesn't mean you lack the heart and hands to mother someone else!
When I am being interviewed by families seeking a doula, I often get this question: “So you do have any children?” I smile sweetly and give my standard answer, “No not yet.” I know this question will come at some point during most interviews.
It used to be a question I dreaded. I used to have this nagging voice in my head “Why would they want to hire you? You’ve never given birth, and there are plenty of other doulas who have that experience.”
These days, though, my internal chatter has stopped. I know that regardless of whether or not a woman has given birth herself, she can still be a phenomenal doula. In fact, I think I have a couple perks to offer, since I don’t yet have children.
#1 I don’t have to worry about childcare. This is a big one! Many, many doulas out there that have children need to coordinate who’s going to watch little ones, drop off and pick up from school, or take care of a sick kid, if they get called to a birth or postpartum situation last minute. Being on-call can be challenging in and of itself, and not having to worry about kiddos yet may mean that I am more immediately available to families.
#2 I don’t have any baggage from my own births. Many doulas that have given birth are able to put their own birth experiences, joys, and struggles aside and simply focus on the family they are serving. But this can be challenging. Perhaps a doula wishes things had gone differently during her birth, and she may subconsciously steer her clients toward birth choices she herself made or didn’t make. Without any previous emotional ties to my own birth experience, I can fully hear families’ wishes and support them in their ideal birth or postpartum time.
Many women take an interest in doula training after they themselves have given birth. Maybe their birth was a life-changing ecstatic and empowering event, and they want to share with other women the potential for birth to be wonderful. Or maybe they had a challenging birth or postpartum time that they wish they could go back and do differently. As I do not have children yet, I come to doula work with a different background, although I share the same passion all doulas have for making birth and the postpartum time as empowering, positive, and supported as it can be.
My first experience with birth was witnessing my mother giving birth to my little sister when I was 13 years old. She had Maryann in a nice hospital in Southern California. I was at the hospital while my mom was in labor, but I wasn’t much interested in it. I remember she was in bed, on her back the whole time (or so it seemed). I was in the room when an epidural was placed, and I remember her vomiting a lot. All in all, labor looked like the pits. I remember there were a few family members in the room, but no one seemed to really be helping her. I remember everyone sitting around chatting, knitting, doing crossword puzzles. I remember thinking if I was in my mom’s shoes I would yell at everyone to either get out, or to get off their butts and do something like give me a massage!
After seeing enough of what looked like a hellish labor, I went out to the waiting room until my aunt came and got me when my sister’s arrival was imminent. The birth went by quick, and I don’t remember many details, other than holding my little sister soon after she was born. It was the labor that stuck with me; I was convinced that I never wanted to go through what my mom went through.
Fast forward to when I was 21 years old. Some of my girlfriends started having babies, and when I asked them about it, they all had horror stories. Most of them had cesareans, and seemed to think that if not for their cesarean/OB/other decision, they would have died or their baby would have died. I started adding these stories up, along with the memories of my mom’s birth, and it just didn’t make sense to me.
If birth was so exceptionally awful, how had all the generations of our ancestors made it through? This little idea started to develop in the back of my mind that maybe birth didn’t have to be so scary and dangerous, and gut-wrenchingly painful.
When I was 22, I had just gotten out of a yucky relationship and was kind of in a rut. Being close to my mom, she was privy to my interest in my friends’ birth experiences, and she suggested I complete a doula workshop that was coming to town. When she first sprang the idea on me, I wasn’t convinced it would be neat. I thought doulas were like woman shamans who attended births and oversaw the spiritual aspect of birth; was I up for that?
But by the first hour after my doula training began, I realized doulas were not old-lady shamans, we were the reclaimers of the potential for positive birth experiences!
I’ve been a birth doula for six years now and a postpartum doula for one year. It truly is my life’s passion to help every family have their best birth and postpartum experience as they define it.
Amber is one of my most favorite doulas. She even volunteered to come be my doula after I moved 6 hours south of her! I didn't take her up on it because with a baby coming, it seemed that might be hard to count on. But I love and appreciate her just the same, and I know she would have been awesome for me.
"I come to this field as a woman, and as a daughter. I am a teacher, and also a student. A former aspiring elementary school teacher, I was drawn to this work after hearing stories from my young mother friends who had less than ideal birth experiences. I truly know that a positive and empowered pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period is integral to creating a more compassionate species."
Find Amber online at her website or her Facebook page.
Tesa is a doula who, after my recent move, gave me my first insight into the local birth climate. She has such a passion for helping moms and babies through pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, working with families to ensure they have positive, safe experiences. A mother herself, with a 10 year career in the Air Force, she has an impressive story of how she even ended up in the birth world. She is currently overseas getting practical training to become a midwife; I appreciate that she took the time out of her educational pursuits to share this with us.
I discovered soon after training as a Doula that I wanted to pursue Midwifery. I was told by many my Doula experiences would translate into my midwifery training and the experiences of supporting Mothers in the hospital would be immeasurable. I focused intensely on how to interpret a woman’s body language during labor. I knew from experience that most women did not communicate their emotions or physical discomforts throughout labor. I knew that I needed to get good at feeling what she needed. I did not realize the extent of this intuition that I developed until my experience while interning for my midwifery clinical requirements.
Our family decided that I would take an opportunity to travel abroad to volunteer at a birth home in the Philippines for my clinical experience. I was a bit nervous about the language barrier, even though I was assured that most of the mothers spoke English to a point which we could communicate. I planned to learn basic phrases before I set out. Of course life was busy, and a lot of other preparations became a higher priority. So I landed in the Philippines without even knowing how to say hello. I know, bad planning on my part. Luckily I was met at the airport by an American and was never in a sticky situation where I needed to speak Tagalog (the language spoken by Filipinos). From the airport I was taken to the birth home where I met the other American Interns and the Filipino Midwives. Again no need for language skills there either.
The next morning I was integrated into the prenatal check up routine, and that’s when it all came and smacked me in the face. I quickly realized I needed to learn how to communicate with these women if I was going to assist in their care. So where am I going with this? Well after a few weeks I was ready to start attending births as student under supervision, and again I was nervous about communicating with the mother. How would I know what she was feeling? Up to this point my training had focused on the physiological changes to observe that would help me assess the stages of labor, the health of the mother, and fetal well-being. My first birth was a bit of a blur, but the second birth I settled into a very familiar role as this Mother immediately connected with me.
Reflecting I can recall the moment when I understood not a single word she said to me but I could feel everything she needed from me. My Doula heart took over the emotional and physical care of this mother as she labored hard and just needed to feel safe in her moment of vulnerability. I did not need to speak in her language to support her. I was able to express that I was there for her by not leaving her presence. With sincerity in my touch I think she was able to feel safer and more relaxed. I helped her with breathing patterns and movement, only through demonstrating it myself first. These unspoken instructions quickly helped her gain control of her labor and gave her confidence in her ability. Holding her hand through contractions, reassured her I was not leaving. Simple nods from me seemed to confirm to her that everything was normal. No words were required between us; it was a dance of sharing a common goal to bring her baby into the world safely and peacefully.
It’s now been almost 3 months since I have been here in the Philippines and I have since learned many useful Tagalog words to aide me in communicating with woman in the prenatal as well as labor and birth. Like sakit and pwerta, go look them up. Now more than ever I realize the value of my Doula experience, and how it will always be a part of me as a Midwife. The ability to communicate without words extends across many roles in life. I’m very grateful for my experience here and the woman that have allowed me to stand, rock, moan, and cry with them as they birthed their babies. They have given me more than I have given them, and I will hold it close as I move forward to serve many more.
Tesa Kurin is the mother of 6 wonderful children, each different in their own way. She believes that every pregnancy is different and every Woman’s needs are different. Tesa also believes you have the right to choose your birth path. Whether you choose to give birth in a hospital or home, she will provide you with the support and information you need. Find her through her website.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)