I have often thought I need that wonderful old t-shirt, "Frankie say relax!", to wear when I am teaching classes or attending a birth. Could you imagine? I often joke that telling someone to relax is like telling someone to calm down -- it isn't helpful, it irritates people, and it often feels accusatory or as if someone overreacted to something. In labor we must learn when to actively relax, and when to work -- here Connie offers her thoughts on the subject.
If you were to believe the movies –- coping in labor means that you look like “The Buddha of Birth.” You sit in a lotus position, gently breathing, eyes closed. People in the birthing room often think that if the laboring person is doing well, they are completely quiet and deeply relaxed during each contraction.
While that might be nice, it is an unrealistic expectation of someone who is working hard! And that is what Labor is – Work! When I go to the gym, I see lots of people working hard. They don’t look relaxed at all. They make noises, move around and look to others for encouragement and assistance. Why do we expect less of a person giving birth?
Real coping in labor often looks and sounds like someone at the gym, especially during a contraction. But remember, a contraction lasts for about a minute. Then there will be several minutes that there is No Work to Be Done because the contraction is over. That is when we can relax!
Having a doula there to remind to you let go, release, and relax between contractions helps you to feel more in control. It allows you to rest and restore, so that when the next contraction comes, you have more energy to work with it -- more confidence and less fear.
It may help between contractions to think: “My forehead is relaxed. My shoulders are dropped. I sink down into my pillow. I am at rest.” Your support team can say these words to you to help you relax when you actually need to. In this way, then (if you want to be!) you can be “The Buddha of Birth”!
Connie Sultana is grateful to the 900 families that have taught her about relaxation in birth. Connie is a DONA Birth Doula Trainer, former member of the Board of Directors of DONA, a Lamaze Childbirth Educator and a trainer for Passion for Birth, a Lamaze Accredited Childbirth Educator Training. Learn more about her by visiting her website.
Today Sharon Muza shares one of her most embarrassing moments as a doula. We can all recall our missteps -- those times we wish we would have done something a little differently, said something else, or held that poker face a bit more tightly. We are human, and these things will happen. All we can do is laugh at ourselves when appropriate, and try to do better the next time!
As a doula, I always try to do my best. And sometimes, doing my best results in funny outcomes. I am sure that we all could share a funny story or two about our birth work. This is one of my favorites.
I had been at a birth of some clients. I was with them for about 15 hours. It was a perfectly normal birth, things moved along as they should, and a baby was born. I took my leave at the appropriate time, said my goodbyes and made my way home to rest and return to the rest of my life, which as you know, had been put on hold. It was mid morning, and I took a quick nap, thinking I would just go to bed early that night.
Another baby had a different idea. I received a call from a client about four hours after I got home from that first birth and soon joined another family at a different hospital. This birth took a bit longer and I was with family number two for about 24 hours, including through what was now my second consecutive night of missed sleep.
This baby arrived and once again, after providing post birth support, I began to say my goodbyes with baby number two and its family. It had been a long 24 hour birth (after a long 15 hour birth) and I was now officially and totally wiped out and ready to throw myself in bed for a long sleep.
As I was heading for the door, I looked back over my shoulder for one last goodbye. I called out “Goodbye Samantha, goodbye Jason, I will talk to you tomorrow.”
Before I could open the door and go through it, the dad called out to me. “Oh Sharon, by the way, my name is Kyle, not Jason.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. What?!?! I had been calling him Jason for the past 24 hours. How could his name not be Jason. Then it hit me. Jason was the name of the dad from the first birth I was at, the day before. This indeed was Kyle. I had called him the wrong name probably a 100 times over the past 24 hours. On the day of his child’s birth, the doula had called him by the wrong name every single time.
I was mortified when I realized what I had done. But why did no one correct me. Not the birthing person, not the partner, nor any hospital staff. Not one person questioned why I was calling Kyle by the name Jason. I had never realized my mistake due to my exhaustion and back to back births with Jason.
I did not know what to say. I mumbled some apologies and rapidly shuffled out the door. I was stunned and ashamed. What a fool.
When I saw them next at the postpartum visit, we laughed, sort of, at my mistake. They told me not to worry. I worry about this to this day, probably ten years later. I wonder why he never told me that I was using the wrong name? Why wait till I was walking out the door? I can laugh at it now, but I am still completely curious why I was not corrected. Strange but true.
Have you had strange or funny things that have happened at the births you have attended? Please share in the comments below while respecting client confidentiality.
Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA) BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE has been an active childbirth professional since 2004, teaching Lamaze classes and providing doula services to more than a thousand families through her private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is an instructor at the Simkin Center, Bastyr University where she is a birth doula trainer. Sharon is also a trainer with Passion for Birth, a Lamaze-Accredited Childbirth Educator Program. In September 2011, Sharon was admitted as a Fellow to the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators. In 2015, Sharon was awarded Lamaze International’s Media Award for promoting safe and healthy birth. Very active in her community, serving in a variety of positions that promote maternal-infant health, Sharon enjoys active online engagement and facilitating discussion around best practice, current research and its practical application to community standards and actions by health care providers, and how that affects families in the childbearing year. Sharon has been an engaging speaker at international conferences on topics of interest to birth professionals and enjoys collaborating with others to share ideas and information that benefit birth professionals and families. To learn more about Sharon, you are invited to visit her website, SharonMuza.com.
It can be daunting to try and show the world how you differ from other doulas -- and this can often set us up for competition. In Day 4's selection, Natasha Longridge shares her feelings about the race between doulas, and how we can realistically shape our ideas about competition.
I've been a doula for over 10 years. I've seen a lot of doulas come and go in this profession for many reasons, but the one reason for leaving doula work that always hits at my heart, is when other doulas say "There's too much competition". I wish to flip that perception.
Take a step back, and think of where you heard the term doula. Was it from a friend? You're own birth? In the news? Chances are, it wasn't a common discussion, no matter where you heard it.
Statistically, in the US (because nothing is coming up for Canadian doula stats) only 6% of birthing families chose to have a doula. If we are talking about over saturation in the job market, that number would be a lot higher! It also goes on to mention that another 27% would have liked to hire a doula.
I like to look at that as a challenge. Obviously, we know that the word doula is still relatively unheard of in most mainstream circles. For as long as I've been a doula, I still run into people that say - I don't know what that is.
How do we change this? How do we get the word doula to roll off the lips of every beautiful birthing person? This is the challenge; to make it part of everyday conversations. The way for it to make it into more conversations, is if it becomes the norm, and a way to make it the norm, is if there are more doulas! Abundance.
I often share fellow local doulas info, blogs, etc on my business page. I have people ask me all the time why I do this. Why should I share and promote the "competition". To that I say, until every family on this vast planet knows what a doula is and does, I will keep sharing. I share because I'm not the right doula for everyone. I share because my doula sister has some great info, I share because even if I don't get the client, I know they are getting who they need and now one more family has doula support. One more family can now share the word doula with honour and love. Abundance.
I'd like to change the word competition (rivalry for supremacy) to abundance (overflowing fullness). If we believe that we do this work out of love, then we need abundance. The world we raise our children in, that we bring future parents into, needs more love. By believing in abundance of love and support we all win.
When we flip the idea that other doulas are competition, we lose the fear, we start to see how strong we are. We start to see the tribe of support that stands around us, holding the space for big things to come. That there is strength in numbers, and with those numbers, we have the power to create a birth world revolution.
Natasha is the mother to 4 spirited children who, along with their dogs, cats, and reptiles reside in Spruce Grove Aberta, Canada.
Natasha has been a practicing doula for over 10 years, and has worked in all Edmonton area hospitals, along with the local Lucina Birth Center and home births.
She takes her role as doula very seriously, and in doing so she is forever upgrading her skills. Natasha has taken training through DONA, Stillbirthday University, and GK University. She is currently enrolled in The Cultured Doula Program, and has recently completed her Masters Rebozo with GKU. As a placenta specialist she trained with PBiU.
Natasha can be found at Supermomma Doula & Placenta Edmonton, and her Facebook page.
Pursuing your passion once you've found it isn't easy. Often a lot of time and growing pains come with becoming a doula. Most of us have gone through this, or are going through this, or have to go through it again and again when other life changes occur, such as a move or having a baby of our own. Darby Morris shares her struggles in Day 3's post -- and I'm sure many of us can relate.
I sat next to one of my closest friends from college in the hospital room. Her husband and I were desperate to help. The nurse came in to the room: “you seem to be in pain, you should really get some pain medication,” she said for the fifth time with one glance at my friend. It was only a few more hours until my friend agreed and the nurse sent us out of the room while an epidural was administered. Her husband and I went to get some food from the cafeteria. He returned to the room with her mother for the birth of his firstborn. I spent the first few nights postpartum at my friend’s home doing all I knew to help her and her newborn. I was obsessed. In love. Infatuated. Though my friend would go on to be buried in postpartum depression, she saw my passion and suggested I become a doula.
I took as many classes as I could possibly find and attempted to create my own company. My first potential client was excited to hire me. I was petrified. How could they put me in charge of their birth? I had never attended a birth before. Was I crazy to want to be a doula? What if I just wanted to be a mom?
With that thought, my career as a doula ended. The answer was a resounding: yes. I did want to be a mom. With that I turned my back on the birth world and continued my pursuit for a career path, eventually getting two masters and starting my journey towards a PhD. In 2015, I had to drive two hours round-trip to get to work every day. My boyfriend had recently introduced me to podcasts and, in an attempt to find a new podcast to listen to, I decided to punch “birth” into the search bar. The Birth Hour, Birthful Podcast, Longest Shortest Time, and Mom and Dad are Fighting. (Today I have some new favorites: Fourth Trimester Podcast, Informed Pregnancy Podcast, Sprogcast, and All Things Breastfeeding Podcast.) I would come home from a full day spent collecting field notes only to spout birth facts -- until my boyfriend begged me to stop talking about birth.
A year and a half later, in November of 2016, my boyfriend found a job in California, we moved across country, and I decided to be a volunteer doula instead of immediately starting my own company. Volunteering as a doula is a unique opportunity. There are not many hospitals nation-wide that have volunteer programs. What I did not realize back in North Carolina in 2009 was that the University of North Carolina had its own volunteer doula program. Had I decided to volunteer the first time around my life would have taken a very different path.
San Francisco also has volunteer programs at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and St Luke’s. SFGH’s volunteer doula program is well established. It took me five months to get into the program after applying and another month to get my badge so I could work there.
SFGH is primarily shift-based doula work. We were required to do one twelve hour shift once a month at the hospital’s labor and delivery ward. I did not enjoy it. There were times when I would sit for hours in the staff break room with nothing to do, staring at a screen trying to decipher the abbreviations that at the time meant nothing. When I was asked by the nurses to help a patient out I would find myself in a situation like this: a woman had barely acknowledged her desire for the epidural that was administered. It was explained by several hospital staff how it worked. Once we were alone she turned to me, “what is this?” she asked, pointing to the epidural button.
If I had been there earlier, I could have helped her understand all of her options, cope with her pain, have the birth she wanted, or at least explained to her the confusing birth hospital system she had been thrown into: all things I was able to do while on call with families at St Luke’s. Instead, the women we serve in shift-based work at SFGH only get support from a doula midway through their births, and at that point I was little better than the drugs the hospital had set her up on: another unexpected, confusing intervention to a natural process that modern medicine has somehow turned into an esoteric exercise for medical technicians.
I no longer do shift-based volunteer work and no longer volunteer at St Luke’s. Instead I work at San Francisco General Hospital for their small on-call program where I help with high-risk births: substance abuse survivors, rape victims, women whose babies will need surgery immediately postpartum, etc. I also started Sweetbay Doula as a doula who works to nurture the relationship between birthing individual and their partner that I believe is so important. And I love my job.
Since May 2017, Darby Morris has been serving private clients, and volunteers at both San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and St. Luke’s Hospital as a birth and postpartum doula.
Darby believes in providing doula experiences based upon continuing education and spreading that knowledge to families. Her business, Sweetbay Doula, is named after the Sweetbay Magnolia tree. Magnolias are known for their strength, flexibility and beauty. They can be found in both warm and cold climates, and are either deciduous or evergreen, depending on the environment. Their blooms are not affected by frost so they are able to bloom into late spring.
In short, Sweetbay Doula, like its namesake, is highly-resilient, flexible, and open-minded in all of the ways an expectant parent needs.
Recently I was asked to doula a fellow doula for her upcoming birth. A close member of her family, who supposedly knows what doulas do, asked, "So Stacie is going to deliver your baby?" This pregnant doula was exasperated by the question, because she has explained many times to her family members (who have been her biggest supporters) what she does when she is hired by families -- and that is always punctuated by, "we don't deliver babies." Erica shines a new light on the answer to this question, and the idea to me is lovely and accurate.
Through almost a decade of discussions with friends and family, this has been the most frequent question asked: what DO doulas do? A loaded one. In the few instances where someone does know the word doula, I typically see generalized notions picked up from media, college, or that hippy-dippy aunt of yours that had her baby at home, such as labor and delivery support, birth assistant, maid, personal assistant, stand-in for unsupportive partners, etc. And while I could speak on the subject for days, I often find myself explaining over and over again how integral a doula can be in any birthing experience from a planned cesarean to an unmedicated home birth, even a high-risk pregnancy and loss of pregnancy. Doulas wear many labels, often times several: birth doula, postpartum doula, antepartum doula, bereavement doula, etc. This led me to find out what the leading experts say about the modern-day doula.
In the fourth edition of The Birth Partner | The Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions, Penny Simkin states:
"The [birth] doula is on call for you, arrives at your home or the hospital when you need her, and remains with you continuously, with few or no breaks, until after the baby is born. The doula is trained and experienced in providing emotional support, physical comfort, and nonclinical advice. She draws on her knowledge and experience as she reassures, encourages, comforts, and empathizes with the mother."
Ann Douglas, in The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, writes:
"[Postpartum doulas] offer a similar service [as birth doulas] during the postpartum period, providing hands-on assistance to new parents during the first few days or weeks of parenthood. Postpartum doulas are “jill of all trades,” who bring a range of different skills to the table."
The Doula Book, written by Marshall H. Klaus, MD, John H. Kennell, MD, and Phyllis H Klaus, MFT, LMSW, explains:
"…a doula needs specific skills and insights. A successful doula is comfortable with giving of herself and is not afraid to love. She also can enter another’s space and be highly responsive and aware of another’s needs, moods, changes, and unspoken feelings. At the same time, she is able to be flexible in this process, adapting herself to each mother’s needs, and has no need to control or smother."
Clearly, there are a wide-range of definitions available for a doula, and often times doulas vary in what they offer to clients and their families. I’m reminded of a term I learned while watching animated films with my husband and son: Inbetweeners. In animation, these are assistants to the animators that ‘fill in’ drawings around the key frames to maintain smooth evolution from one to another. Just like a doula, they do not control the story line (that’s left to the writers, directors, editors, etc.), rather they assist progression to accomplish the end goal of a successful film. In birth, doulas are the Inbetweeners.
Doulas do the inbetween work – applying counter pressure on mom while she leans on her partner, managing meal prep and household upkeep while mom, dad, and baby adjust to their new life together, offering words of encouragement during a challenging transition. She does not control your birthing experience. You may not see her in birth photos (just like we rarely notice credits for Inbetweeners), but she is there, assisting progression to accomplish the end goal of each mother.
Her face isn’t what you’ll carry with you. A birthing experience void of confusion, desperation, frustration, or regret is the ultimate service of a doula, and this is a passive one. She is dedicated to facilitating an experience as close to the wishes of the mother as situationally possible.
What DO doulas do? Everything inbetween.
Erica Verbeck, born and raised in Southern Indiana, is the owner of Doula the Damn Thing. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication and Culture with studies in Anthropology, Family Studies, and Early Childhood Education from Indiana University.
She values homeopathic restoration of our natural bodies through healthy diet, minimalism (work-in-progress), and unschooling her toddler. She works to balance her traditional upbringing with the ancient methods of our predecessors to enlighten her journey through pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.
When not playing with her young son or discussing birth and babies, Erica enjoys wire-wrapping jewelry and reading the latest research on pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. Through a mother's most intimate and primal journey, she hopes to build a trusting and informed birth experience for all who desire one. You can find her through her Facebook pagedoulathedamnthing.com, or her website, Doula the Damn Thing.
This post was born from a Facebook comment Sejal made about not understanding why professionals are hesitant to share their knowledge. I asked her if she could think about it and share something for the 31 Days project. Sure enough -- she gives her back story, and then shares how fortunate she has been to be mentored by amazing, open IBCLCs.
A few days back while I was in the hospital visiting a friend of mine after their surgery, I saw a family with a brand new baby heading home from the hospital. As I walk past them, I see a lady walking next to them, pushing a hospital cart filled with a few balloons and flowers resting on top of a couple of Trader Joe’s reusable bags and a duffel bag.
This brought back so many memories of my own discharge from the hospital I gave birth at and how it was a cold December morning that we walked to the parking garage with our newborn daughter dressed in a red fleece dress and buckled up in her car seat. I don’t think we realized how cold it was for her tiny little feet to be outside in the breeze.
My baby girl was upset with the draft of the cold breeze and I was so upset with her crying as we tried to get her into the car. Fumbling through the seat belt and a bunch of other stuff to keep her warm, we managed to at least get out of the parking garage. I sat down in the front passenger seat (mind you this was the one time I hated sitting down because of the perineal pain). If I had known what I know about mother infant separation and how I could have been closer to her and kept her less stressed and more warm by being in the seat next to my daughter I would have been able to keep her calm. But what did we know as new parents, apparently nothing, but as they say ignorance is bliss and bliss we did feel when we had her in our arms after a long traumatic birth.
Here we were leaving the hospital, embarking on this journey as three of us instead of two of us, completely oblivious to what was ahead of us. The drive home was not too pleasant and every bump in the road was causing me pain. It felt like I was hanging on to the handle on the inside of car so I did not have to put any pressure on my perineum. At home my kind and loving parents were waiting for us to get home with our little nugget. I just wanted to lay down but the pain was too much and by the time I reached home, my feet had gotten half a size bigger. I still had no idea what was going on. I could not walk properly or sit properly and then the idea of breastfeeding my baby without any help from the nurses seemed daunting. My mom was really willing to help and she did try but somehow my daughter could not latch without a nipple shield. Also no one at the hospital had shown me how to breastfeed my daughter lying down and that was a completely foreign concept to me. Every time that my little girl needed to breastfeed I would sit upright in my bed, get my Boppy pillow ready, cover it with a receiving blanket to protect the pillowcase (mind you I was a clean freak back then) and have my mom bring my baby to me to feed, and every time she tried to latch, either the nipple shield would fall off or she would accidentally whack it out of place and then the whole saga of a screaming baby and flailing hands and crying mama would begin.
By Day 3, my breasts were getting engorged and my feet were super swollen. I could not walk to the bathroom, which was only 10 steps away from my bed. I called my OB's office and they said I needed to come in as soon as possible because they were not sure what was going on with my swollen feet. When my OB came in and saw my face, my feet, and my hands, she smiled and said, “You look like the Michelin Man”. I was unfamiliar with who the Michelin Man was but figured it was a character out of some movie. She gave me a script for diuretics and sent me home. She did not even tell me that the number of times I would need to get up to pee would be exhausting in and of itself. I came home and breastfeeding was still difficult for me and my baby. I kept using the nipple shield and having the struggles. I went to develop mastitis and had a really high fever which put me into a delirium. I kept telling my mom, that she should take care of my baby in case something terrible were to happen to me. The pain with breastfeeding was excruciating and I was feeling like I was going to die.
The doctor’s office called in a prescription for antibiotics and I started them immediately. They told me to use the manual pump that I had to relieve any engorgement. I ended up using the nipple shield for 3 months before I went in for a lactation visit at our local hospital where I met a lactation consultant who helped me breastfeed my baby for the first time without a nipple shield. I had never pictured myself not using the nipple shield.
Fast forward my life 10 years and now I was a veteran mom who has helped her friends through their postpartum journey, and my kids were growing up and I was doing the best I could to fit this mold of a supermom, partly created by the expectations of the society, the family and myself. Due to a life event, I had to make the choice of going back to school to get a vocational certificate that could get me a job and somehow I chose to go to nursing school. I became a CNA and then started taking my prerequisites to apply for nursing school. I was also working as a CNA at a private nursing home. I worked 4 half days and learnt so many things on the job as well. During my year as a CNA, my younger sister who was pregnant at the time sustained a fall and broke her leg. She could not move and had to have surgery. She had to stay in bed until her baby arrived and I left my job to care for her. She had her baby and I was there to help her during her postpartum recovery and so were my parents. She was having breastfeeding troubles, her baby was not gaining weight very well and had jaundice. The hospital lactation consultants came and helped as much as they could and then we went home.
The breastfeeding continued to be a struggle and she had to start supplementing with formula. We tried to look for someone who could come to her home for a lactation consult and finally found a lady who did. The lactation consultant started her visit and I was a mute spectator in the room, and all I could think was, who is this person who is so knowledgeable about breastfeeding and was able explain everything to us so clearly? Her name was Meg Stalnaker. Why did I not meet her when I had my first baby ? I absorbed and listened to everything she did and said, as did my sister and brother-in-law. I just had a lightbulb moment. I wanted to do what she does. That was it. I did not want to be a nurse. I wanted to be a lactation consultant. I talked to my sister and she told me that I should ask for the contact information for this angel who helped her. I don’t know why, but I did.
I kept doing my own research about what classes I needed to take and signed up for them at the local community college. I kept in touch with the Meg via email. After I finished my community college classes, I contacted her again and asked her if she could be my mentor. She said yes, but there was a caveat. I needed to wait until she finished mentoring two other students she had at the time.
I was really sad that there was not enough guidance on how to find mentors for the pathway I had chosen to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. It also felt like there were a lot of negativity in regards to choosing to become an IBCLC as a career. I kept looking to see if someone would be interested in being my mentor and taking me on as a student.
During one of my lactation classes at the community college, we had a guest speaker by the name of Peggy Andrews, who was giving a lecture on the topic of jaundice and breastfeeding. I saw a tall woman with golden and white hair walk into our classroom with a smile. She had the brightest smile I had seen on someone’s face. She started the lecture and I was just mesmerized by her way of teaching and felt like I was back in India in my middle school, listening to my favorite biology teacher. At the end of her lecture she shared her email address with our class and something in my head said, “Sejal, you need to email Peggy and ask her if she could be your mentor.” I mean that was a spur of the moment thought and I acted on it by sending her an email asking if that was possible.
The next moment I thought, oh boy, have I made a big mistake by asking this guest speaker to be my mentor. I was hoping that I would get an email saying how inappropriate that question was. To my surprise, I hear back from Peggy saying she loves to mentor students. I was cooking and jumped up and down in my kitchen saying, YESSSSSS!! Wait that is not it, I actually got a call that evening from Peggy asking me if I wanted to go on a lactation visit in Washougal the next morning. I said, I most certainly would, but then I thought, where in the world is Washougal? Well it is in our neighboring state of Washington.
The next morning I meet Peggy at a designated location and she said to me that she will be driving me to the appointment since it is so far. I was so excited and off I went on my first official visit. I started learning about how to talk to a new mother, ask specific questions and give her plenty of time to tell her story. We were there for an hour and a half and I felt like I still made the right choice by asking Peggy to be my mentor. I have learnt so much about being a good listener from Peggy.
I never for one moment thought that Peggy was keeping any information from me when it came to lactation. I had asked a few other local lactation consultants and they said that they don’t mentor students and I was quite discouraged. I am sure other students like me were discouraged as well. Meg, also let me go on a few lactation visits with her and I kept learning from both Peggy and Meg.
One day I saw a class on hand expression at a local boutique taught by another lactation consultant named Bryna Sampey. I immediately signed up for it, and when I went to the class I was secretly happy that I was one of the two people in class, although I also felt sad that people did not sign up for this informative class. I felt like I had learnt so much about manual expression of breastmilk in this class and that little voice in my head said, “Sejal, ask Bryna if she would mentor you.”
After the class, Bryna asked if I wanted to have a bite to eat at the place next door. I jumped at the opportunity to hang out a few more minutes with this brilliant brain. I was practically salivating. We talked about what I did as a postpartum doula and how I was studying to be an IBCLC and she mentioned to me that she also mentored students. I almost wanted to give her a hug and say, where were you a year ago and why did I not meet you earlier. I did not want to be a total psycho so I did not hug her, but told her that I would love to be her mentee. She said that she would let me know as soon as a spot opened up.
What I learned from Bryna and her brilliance made me think critically about breastfeeding and the challenges that come with it and how she made breastfeeding a breeze with all the techniques and tricks that she shared with her clients. As I followed these three amazing women, as my mentors, each one of them taught me how to help with breastfeeding challenges in their own special ways. I feel blessed to have learnt from them and will be eternally grateful for them sharing their wisdom, knowledge and time with me.
I was talking to other lactation students like me one day, who were in the same boat as I was and one of them told me that when they asked a local IBCLC to mentor them, the local IBCLC said to them, and I quote, “Why would I let you shadow me ? You will take my knowledge and compete with me once you get certified.” I was so shocked to hear this. I have no idea who the IBCLC is and don’t even want to know, but it made me realize how fortunate I was to have mentors like Peggy, Meg and Bryna.
With the struggles I had in finding mentors, I had decided in my mind that if I ever become an experienced lactation consultant, I will mentor students. I am an IBCLC now, and I am a brand new IBCLC, but I hope to someday mentor students. I think it is our responsibility as professionals to mentor the future IBCLCs. My dad used to say, knowledge only increases by sharing. He is a brilliant surgeon and he has helped many other doctors become surgeons and I am certain he never thought this way.
So, why do some people have a hard time sharing their knowledge with others who are seeking mentorship in the field of lactation consulting ?
Maybe the experienced professional does not have the time or the resources to mentor someone. Maybe the experienced professional thinks that, sharing their knowledge with newbies will reduce their chance of personal success.
Maybe the experienced professional does not trust this newbie. Trust building does take time.
Maybe the experienced professional in the specific field is a knowledge hoarder.
Maybe the experienced professional wants to have monopoly in their field.
Maybe the experienced professional feels more powerful if they don’t share their knowledge.
Being a mentor and taking on mentees is also a huge responsibility and one that is not easy. I understand that it may be difficult to take on students, but in the field of lactation consulting, I wish we had more mentors. I wish students had access to mentors without having to wait for a long time. I wish experienced IBCLCs would be willing to share their knowledge and expertise with them.
Mentors are an inspiration. Mentors can connect you with opportunities. Mentors know ways to make you succeed professionally. Mentors keep you motivated. Mentors invest their time and energy in you to help you grow. Mentors teach you about finding a good opportunity. Mentors have been where you are and can empathize with your struggles and help you find your way through the obstacles and hurdles. I am so thankfull to have found such mentors who continue to be there for me and do not feel threatened by my success.
Sejal Fichadia, owner of Kindred Mother Care, is the first 31 Days participant to be featured four years in a row. In 2014 she wrote "Our Culture's Needs for Postpartum Doulas," in 2015 she added "Growing Happy, Healthy Moms." Last year she added "Hitting the Pause Button." She has a love for babies and mothers, and feels it is important to help families learn skills to help them on their parenthood journeys. Sejal works hard at expanding her education and working to improve her knowledge base so she can provide families with up-to-date, evidence-based information, which in turn gives them the tools to parent with confidence. This year she passed the exam to add IBCLC to her credentials. She has a caring heart, and as soon as she can, she will be mentoring others wishing to get to IBCLC.
Debbie called me at 8:30 am to let me know contractions had started. I joined her and her best friend Lisa at the hospital – Debbie was 2-3 centimeters. Debbie and I worked through the contractions. She would really have to focus. Lisa and I would stand on either side of the bed rubbing Debbie’s arms and shoulders, smoothing her hair, and giving her space to focus. Lisa was not quite respectful of Debbie’s need to focus and go within herself to endure, and Lisa would ask Debbie questions about unimportant things while Debbie was trying to concentrate. I kept redirecting Lisa respectfully, reminding her that Debbie needed space to focus, and could we wait until the contraction is over to get an answer? A vaginal exam at 1:15 revealed Debbie to be 100% effaced, 4-5 centimeters dilated. Debbie had AROM followed by her epidural at 2:00. The contractions spaced out to 8-10 minutes, and Debbie’s blood pressure dropped dangerously low. Debbie’s nurse, Mary, stayed with us in the room for almost 2 hours charting and watching Debbie and her monitors. Debbie’s blood pressure did eventually increase. At 4:30 pm Debbie was checked and found to be complete. She started pushing at 6:00, and baby was born via Mighty Vac at 6:52.
Debbie is a single mother and she felt a doula would help her feel supported and informed. My primary goal for Debbie’s birth was to make her feel special, strong, and empowered. I knew Debbie wanted an epidural. Debbie had a severe knee injury which happened about the time she became pregnant. That, coupled with being very overweight, greatly reduced her options for movement. I helped a lot before Debbie got the epidural with coping techniques such as counting backwards through contractions, and massaging her hands, which grew tired from gripping her bed rails. Debbie’s situation reminded me of something Penny Simkin wrote of a client who left an abusive relationship: I think Debbie did not need to feel any pain on this birth day.
Debbie reacted well to her labor! She really had to focus from about 11:45 until 2 pm. She seemed to leave for a minute and find someplace in her mind where she could cope, and once the contraction was letting up, she would slowly open her eyes and release her grip on the bedrails. When I would say, “Debbie, that was great. You have found a place and you are really doing a wonderful job focusing and relaxing,” Lisa would discredit what I was saying by replying with, “Yeah, Debbie’s thinking ‘Whatever,’” or “Debbie’s thinking, ‘Shut-up already.’” I don’t think Debbie was thinking any of those things. It really felt like I was being undermined. When I would ask Debbie the, “What was going through your mind…” question she would usually reply “I just wanted to get through it.” She never had a panicked or scared reaction. Debbie reacted very sweetly to her new baby.
I learned some good people-coping skills. Lisa is a tough kind of gal. When Debbie’s blood pressure fell, and then her legs went numb, Lisa was upset and wondered why they didn’t stop the epidural? Lisa ’s personal experiences led her to believe the numbing aspect of an epidural was abnormal (“That did not happen with my epidurals”). I tried to explain how epidurals worked, but she got very defensive. I finally said I did not know, and she should ask the doctor about it (he was also Lisa ’s doctor). I learned sometimes it is better to “not know.” I learned sometimes I need to stand away and be useless, like while the baby was being delivered and I was not by Debbie (Lisa was to her left, doc at the end, nurse at her right). After Leah's birth, I was able to help more practically. Lisa had left, and Debbie was alone. I stayed longer helping with breastfeeding and ensuring Debbie got a nice meal as well. Debbie’s father arrived about an hour later, and I was able to help him hold his granddaughter for the first time -- he swayed and shooshed her right to calmness. I learned even though a person only thanks you for bringing them dinner, that can mean a whole lot more.
Marivette is one of the doulas I have the pleasure of knowing in real life. She is an amazing woman I admire, look up to, and learn from. I loved this piece she sent me -- and with permission from the others involved, this creates a picture of what support can look like from your fellow doulas.
After being a doula for 20 years, I got the calling to become a midwife. I didn’t accept the calling haphazardly. About a year passed by, lots of contemplation, discussion with my husband, and then the application process, before I became an enrolled student in a MEAC-approved school. Now I’m in my third year, and things are getting hectic.
I have a circle of doulas around me, though! And do you know what these doulas do best? They doula me through this midwifery journey. Some of the best times I have is when we get together for doula lunches, and we just hang out together around a good meal. It never fails that they ask me how school is going, and encourage me with their kind words. It’s like I have my own support team, and they are wiping the sweat off my forehead with a cool rag.
I sent several of them a message a few weeks back, including Stacie. Just knowing that I have these few doulas, surrounding me, giving me encouragement, and simply being there, is a huge boost to my morale. They are helping me get through this active stage of labor! I don’t even think they know that they are doing this for me. It’s such a part of the fabric of being a doula, that it comes naturally for them.
Hey you all! I am just so thankful to have you all as part of my business circle, but I also consider you all my friends. You all giving me your support through this challenging midwifery school journey means so much to me. I'm in tears as I think about how your words lift me up. When I feel down and heavy with all the school work, your words encourage me. You don't even know how much your words of kindness mean to me. I truly appreciate your friendships!!!
To all of you Doulas who are there beside me, rooting me on, THANK YOU for being my encouragement doulas. Thank you for being MY Doulas during my labor as a student-midwife. Don’t stop doing what you do. I really need you all!!
Do you know someone who is going through a difficult time? Or do you know someone who has chosen to move forward into the midwifery journey? What do you do to encourage those people? A simple, “You’ve got this,” goes a long way!
Marivette Torres is the founder/owner of Tender Doula Hands, a rebozo trained instructor and distributor. She is a CBI certified birth doula with 19 years experience serving the Bakersfield, California area. She has eight children ranging in ages from 26 to 8 years old. Her first child was born via surgery at a community hospital due to breech presentation. Her subsequent seven children were all VBAC births, two of which were born at a hospital birth center and five were born at home attended by a midwife.
She is currently halfway through her dream of pursuing a midwifery career. You may visit her website and Facebook page. She also has a page dedicated to specific rebozo class information.
For Mother's Day, a birth-day slide show! My friend, Jen, just had her third baby. They didn't know the sex of the baby, and they already had two boys. Jen's first two dealt with tongue ties, and she fully expected her third baby to be tied -- she wasn't wrong! That's how we met, when we helped create Advocates for Tongue Tie Education. Jen has since moved from California to the East Coast, and I am thrilled she got to welcome her baby at home with a birth team who supported her in all the right ways.
Jen, her husband, and their three boys live in Washington DC. They love exploring all DC has to offer in the way of parks and monuments, and this new baby will fit right in on their adventures. Her doula was Justine Robinison.
Connie was my own doula trainer, and she has been mentioned a lot in the last few 31 Days project, as she was Monalisa's and Amber's doula trainer as well. I can't say enough kind, incredible words about Connie. From day one of me meeting her, she has championed me on in not only the doula world, but also the related world of birth. Connie brings her heart to all she does, and that has made her an excellent mentor and a dear friend -- we should all be so lucky to have someone like Connie in life.
23 years ago, when I started my work as a doula, I experienced some of the greatest highs of my life! After a birth I would sit on the phone for hours, processing this and that with my other new doula friends. I was excited to carry a pager, to know I had a prenatal visit coming up, to be thinking about my doula bag. My learning curve was steep and I was devouring every piece of information I could find. Newly married, my husband delighted in how happy I was. He said, “when I married you I knew I was getting a great woman. I didn't know I was getting a doula as well!”
The years have passed. I usually don't need to process a birth for several hours. Usually I come home happy, but not always high. I often feel pressure to get to bed at a good time, be sure my cell phone is charged, know that my childcare is perpetually lined up. The weight of being on call 24/7 sometimes feels heavy. I feel frustrated with marketing my work on social media because really, marketing is not what I love to do. Neither is social media.
And yet, the joy of this work continues to fill me. I feel honored to be trusted and invited into what is surely one of the most powerful experiences a woman will ever have. I am humbled as I witness her strength, his kindness, their love. I learn as I watch women make very hard decisions. I help her gather information. I act as a sounding board as she talks through her options. I am present for miracles.
Perhaps there is a selfish part of me as all this occurs. I learn so much from these birthing women and from these powerful experiences. When I return from births I try to write down what I learned from the experience. This is part of what keeps me thriving as a doula – it's the learning. While my learning curve about the labor process is not as steep as it once was, my learning curve about life still is. These women are my teachers.
One woman I labored with for a few days never once complained. Trust me – if I had been in her shoes, I would have complained. As we walked the hallways for the millionth time I told her that I was so impressed at how she kept a positive attitude. She told me her story of growing up watching her brother who was very ill. At some point she realized she could complain about their lifestyle, in which regular trips to the hospital were a part of her life, but when she considered what her brother was going through, she felt that to complain would be an unnecessary indulgence. She had developed a mantra in her life: I will not indulge in complaint. Listening to this I began to realize that, in fact, I sometimes did indulge in complaint. The hours we spent together taught me a valuable lesson about myself. I still complain, but maybe just a little less. And my life is better for it.
Then there was the mother who had everything stacked against her, but she just kept making these great calls for herself as she labored toward having a much desired VBAC. After two sleepless nights of non-progressing contractions, her doctor told her that even though her labor was very mild and she wanted to go home, she couldn't advise her to do so because there had been a few dips of her baby's heart rate in the last several hours. The mother listened to what the doctor had to say, asked a few questions, and then made a decision to leave despite her doctor's advice. This was not someone I thought would ever even consider signing out AMA (Against Medical Advice), but she said she dug down deep and just knew it would be worse to stay. She had never heard of signing out AMA but described doing so in her own words to the doctor. The doctor said she completely understood what the mother was asking for and that she only was telling her the hospital's policy. As I followed the mom out of the hospital, her nurse whispered into my ear that she would have made the same decision for herself. The laboring mom left the hospital, got some much needed rest, but went on to encounter many other obstacles. Despite them, she and her baby had a very healthy VBAC. The lesson to watch for miracles was reinforced for me at this birth.
I have learned that slow and steady progress often makes big changes. Not just in dilation! But even in birth advocacy. I have encouraged and watched as women kept asking for their babies to be taken out of the warmer and placed in their arms. Now it's standard for babies to be placed in mom's arms after birth. I have suggested to women that they might consider delaying their baby's first bath. Now I attend births in hospitals that post that they prefer not to wash babies for 24 hours. Episiotomies were routine. Moms complained. I haven't seen one in 6 years. I've learned that health care consumers really can make change if they are supported.
When I think about why I keep doing this work, it is because it fills me up. It makes me smile. This work helps me to learn and grow. The highs are not always as high as they once were – but the lessons are so much richer. Where else could I receive these powerful life lessons than at a birth?!
Connie Sultana, BA, CD(DONA), ICCE, LCCE has been a doula for over 20 years. She is a DONA-approved Birth Doula Trainer, and a Lamaze-approved Childbirth Educator Instructor. Connie is a former Director of Certification and Board Member of DONA International. Connie is forever grateful and appreciative to the over 700 families who invited her to provide support during their labors and births. She lives in Santa Rosa, California with her family and her two dogs.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)