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:
Any doula knows, this profession can be taxing to family life -- who hasn't missed a holiday or milestone? Chelsea is a local doula and friend. Here she shares the struggles of not only working toward doula certification, but also what life is like for a busy mom whose passion is doula work.
From the beginning of my research about starting my doula career, I’ve heard nothing but: “You should wait until your baby is older.”
I started my certification just shortly after I found out I was pregnant with my second baby. I had just decided the month before to start the process of certification when I got two pink lines on that beautiful test. As I went through my certification, the process was slow and hard. I had a hard time concentrating on my assignments and getting my births done. Every time I started to struggle, those negative thoughts came into my mind time and time again: maybe I should wait, maybe I can’t do both.
But I wanted to. I wanted to be not only a great mom, but also a great doula. I persevered. I did assignments as often as I could, and I kept at it.
We then found out just three short months after giving birth to baby #2 that we were expecting baby #3. That’s right folks! Three babies in three short years.
Again, the thoughts came.
But I stuck through it. And you know something? I’ve learned that I can love my job and my babies at the same time. I admit it is hard to leave my babies for a birth sometimes. I just had a birth whre I was gone in bits and pieces for 38 hours. I had to pump every time I got a break! It was hard. No sleep. Missing my babies. First time away from baby #3 for more then a few hours since he was born. That's tough stuff.
I’ve missed putting them to bed and reading them goodnight stories. I’ve missed them having fun. I miss family events because like most doulas, I don’t travel within my on-call period.
The one thing I’ve had to learn as a doula, and as a mom of 3 under 3, is the importance of self-care. I was going to births, being there until the early hours of daylight, then coming home and trying to be super mom. I was trying to clean house and take care of all 3 babies. I was exhausted after my first few birth. I was already burning myself out.
I realized I needed to come home and eat, shower, and sleep, and with a supportive husband, I get help in this area. Bubble baths are still my favorite thing to do post birth -- you can’t give what you don’t have right?
Being a mom of 3 under 3 while balancing doula life is hard, but I get to see women at their strongest moments. I get to see life come into the world. I get to be a part of a family's greatest moment! And I can’t see much changing in the foreseeable future!
Chelsea is a birth doula in the Bakersfield, CA area. She is married to a strong, supportive husband, has a daughter and two sons, and loves Disneyland. She is a passionate breastfeeding advocate, and is happy to still be nursing her third baby after struggling with undiagnosed low thyroid and losing her milk with her first two. Chelsea is also a proponent of informal milk-sharing, as it has helped her little guy grow and thrive before she understood why her milk supply was decreasing. Find out more on her Facebook Page.
As doulas, we must plow through and process our own birth experiences -- and those we have grown up hearing -- before we are able to help other women face theirs. Although Denise is not technically a doula, as a counselor, she surely has felt this weight. Her thoughts and experience on this are too valuable not to share. It is our responsibility, as doulas, birth workers, and professionals serving women, that we take the time to process our experiences of birth or they can easily get in our way, making themselves known to all those we try to help.
I had all the tools I thought I needed to overcome my fears, my doubts, and my worries about my first child. I researched everything I could about natural birth. I enrolled in an expensive birth education class, and, obsessively, I read everything I could get my hands on. I was determined to make my birth different from what my mother experienced. I would be the natural-birthing, breastfeeding, attachment-parenting warrior I often criticized my mother of not being.
To be fair, my mother had the chips stacked against her. She was from Puerto Rico, spoke very little English, and had little support from my father. A mixture of mental illness and lack of family support made for a scary experience bringing her first child into the world. When my mother told me my birth story, it was filled with fear of the unknown, being in horrible pain, being drugged and knocked out for the “main event”, and ending in my mom only having vague and indistinct memories of the process of my arrival. “This will NOT be me!” I declared triumphantly. But inside, the fear turned over and over in my stomach. I rehearsed my birth plan in my mind and told the father of my children to do the same. As a therapist in training, I was engaged in my own therapy, and discussed in depth with the therapist my fears related to the baby. My therapist gently reminded me that I was not my mother, and that I was not doomed to repeat her mistakes; but the ghosts of my mother’s “not-so-perfect” birth lingered inside of me. What if things didn’t go as planned? What if one of my choices caused me to experience exactly what my mother had been through? I couldn’t enjoy my pregnancy fully thinking about the potential hazards that may or may not lay ahead.
Anxiety can suck the life out of you. Worse yet, many people fail to understand how a person suffering with anxiety feels. Hearing someone tell you, “Oh, stop it”, or “Just stop thinking about it,” or my personal favorite, “Relax!” can actually cause more anxiety. Anxiety disorders can cause distressful emotional and physical symptoms, and can be severe in intensity. It can range from a general uneasiness and worry that won’t go away, to feeling an intense amount of fear that causes you to believe you are going to die. With the ebb and flow of feelings one has during a pregnancy, anxiety can be easily exacerbated, especially if you have struggled with it in the past.
After the birth of my daughter, I was severely traumatized. Things did not go as I had planned. My midwife and husband stood by me as my “perfect birth plan” unraveled. I got an epidural after 2 days of slow labor at home, followed by Pitocin at the hospital. After my baby was born, the doctor cut the cord right after birth, and I didn’t get to hold the baby very long after she was born. Then, my uterus would not contract and the doctor had to manually and painfully stop me from bleeding out. I almost died giving birth; after the birth, the thought of this would not leave me alone. Looking at my baby would cause a wave of fear to flow through me, and I fought tooth and nail to keep close to her at every moment. Truthfully, there were times I wanted to be away from this “little reminder” that everything I had planned went wrong, and I had almost lost my life because of this. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt because I blamed myself for what had happened. My dark fear was that I had missed out on attaching to her, just as I believed my mother had.
To add insult to injury, I tried to get my daughter to breastfeed; after days of trying on my own, I tearfully gave her a bottle full of formula. I must have cried every single time I filled that bottle with formula for at least two weeks after that day. After all that planning and prepping, I felt the ghosts of my mom’s “not-so-perfect” birth were haunting me. I started berating myself; telling myself I had failed. I would look at my child every feeding and think how much of a failure I was, and how much she would suffer because of it. I imagined gloom and doom for both of us, because I had not achieved the perfect birth.
Weeks later, in therapy, a thought struck me. What if the “not-so-perfect” birth could be a way to exorcise the ghosts from my mother’s experience? If I made an active choice to walk a different path after the events I had been through, maybe the ghosts wouldn’t control my emotions and actions the way they had for my mother. Instead of living in fear that I had done some incredibly damaging things to my child, maybe I could believe that despite the “not-so-perfect” start, I could have a “pretty-damn-awesome” motherhood. Maybe I could learn to hear the ghosts’ voices and gently reply, “Even though I hear you, you will not be as loud as before, and I don’t have to follow you.”
I won’t pretend doing that was easy. It has probably been the hardest thing for me to do in my life, and still have to do it every day. Because wish though I might, the ghost lingers. Albeit a whisper, it is there. I don’t believe it will ever go away. What I do know is, it no longer holds me the way it once did. I faced the nightmare and the fears it contained, and it served to birth a stronger, more vibrant birth story for myself and my daughter. Not one of being a victim to circumstances, but one of taking adversity and transforming it to fit my life, my vision, and my version of motherhood.
Two years later, I found myself in the same situation, ready to give birth to my son, with a plan in hand; but this time I held the loving intention in my heart that “even if things don’t go the way I plan, the birth will still be good.” I cried as my midwife told me we couldn’t have the water birth I wanted, and as I got the epidural and Pitocin once more, I grieved because I knew this was my last child, and my vision of a “perfect birth” was lost. The voices rose up in a chorus, yelling to me of impending doom, and of critical insults; but I moved forward. My son, to everyone’s surprise, was born in the caul, which brought many a nurse out from behind the nursing station. My midwife exclaimed that this was indeed a special birth. “Take that ghosts!” I thought to myself.
Since these events, I have felt a pull to work with women who have been through similar situations, and describe the birth of their child as traumatic. Some have a great sense of fear surrounding their upcoming birth because of what they have heard about birth in the past. I hear them filled with resentment towards well-meaning people who, trying to help, do more harm than good by minimizing their fears or telling them to “relax.” They suffer silently at times, not wanting others to call them crazy, and they feel a deep sense of shame, guilt, regret, pain, worry and fear when things don’t go exactly as planned. Birth can be a wonderful, orgasmic, enjoyable, life changing event for most. It can be a traumatic, scary, life changing event for others. In my opinion, no matter what the circumstances around the birth are, it is life changing. You have the choice of how you will move through the events that shape your birth. The ghosts of the “not-so-perfect” births of our mothers, our sisters or even ourselves may try to lead you down a dark path, but remember the steps you take regardless of where you are on your walk into motherhood are yours to take. And if your birth was “not-so-perfect”, there is support, counseling, and a sisterhood of other women out there that have heard the ghost’s voices, and can help you lower the volume to a whisper.
So, how do you transform a “not-so-perfect” birth into a “pretty-damn-awesome” motherhood? It’s a long journey. It’s a different journey for everyone. Some women can say they walk it on their own. Others need to walk with a professional counselor. Some need medical interventions, natural or pharmaceutical. Some need to process the past, and learn to live in the present. Some must come to terms with the trauma they survived and walk a path towards healing. None of the paths are easy or short.
You may be trying to keep positive, and I encourage you to hold that warm intention in your heart for your birth; but if outcomes don’t occur as planned, the ghosts of trauma, guilt and shame may be screaming in your ears. Instead, voice the fears but welcome the possibility that things will go well. Hold the possibilities of the good and most positive birth experience possible while holding the knowledge that what will be, will be. Most of all, love yourself and accept the birth for what it is – a transforming, movement into motherhood full of excitement, joy, hardship, disappointments, courage, strength, awesomeness, sleeplessness, feminine power and a little of all of the above – regardless if it is an ideal birth or a “not-so-perfect” birth.
Denise Varela, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in New York, has been in the field for over 14 years, and has worked with clients from infancy to age 101. Denise is the founder of Nurture We, a team of professionals who desire to help women find the fun in life again in easy and healthy ways. Nurture We is dedicated to providing classes, blogs, life coaching and counseling on mental health and related issues. Denise understands depression, anxiety, stress and other issues drain our joy and our childlike desire to have fun. When we address these issues, we can take back what we were born with -- the ability to enjoy life through its ups and downs, acknowledge all of our feelings, and still have fun in our daily lives! Our joy and laughter and fun will be contagious to those around us and our loved ones will be nurtured by our well-being.
Amy is a fellow doula and friend from my Chico days. When I learned about the plight of refugee families, I, like many others, watched and read until my heart hurt and my head couldn't handle the helplessness I felt. Carry the Future came from mother Cristal Logothetis' idea to provide donated baby carriers to fleeing families. Genius! If I had to grab my family and leave my home, on foot, amidst thousands of people doing the same, carrying and keeping my baby safe would be my highest priority. A baby carrier would serve the crucial roles of keeping my hands free and keeping my baby near. I can't go to Greece myself, I can't be there. I am grateful for people like Amy, who can help make a difference in such a simple way, for this very complicated problem.
When did you train as a doula? Six years ago I became a doula. I have always been fascinated with birth. I witnessed my first baby born at age 12. For years, my work centered around supporting women becoming mothers, and also their new babies. Becoming a doula seemed a likely next step.
Did your own experiences of birth and being a mother factor into wanting to be a doula? Yes, I had amazing "birth plans," and used midwives, and my mother and sister -- I relied so much on their support. When everything about my plans went out the window with my first birth, I understood the power of that extra support person to speak to me, to help me navigate my options.
What is it you like about doula work? Witnessing the birth of the mother...her power. With each birth, I am always humbled to my core to be there as a supporter, to have been asked to help in this intimate, sacred space. The first gaze of mother to child is the most precious of moments for me.
How did you hear about Carry the Future? Carry the Future came to me through a text from an amazing mentor, Debbie Pierce. She casually asked if I thought helping fit refugee mothers with baby carriers was a possibility for me. When I answered that it sounded like a life goal, I quickly was put in touch with a group of mothers in a non-stop Facebook chat that was inspired by a woman's Indiegogo campaign to collect carriers. Two months later, I was traveling to Greece with nine strangers, who have changed my life.
We hear about human tragedy a lot, and wish we could help -- what motivated you to actually take the steps to travel to Greece? My children are a little older now, but I also have been practicing saying "Yes" more, and almost without too much thought, I committed, and it felt like something bloomed in my heart...it was right, and I have never been the same since.
How did you feel when you finally saw for yourself the situations these families faced? The refugee families were MY family! I was these mothers. I felt the fierce protection they had for their precious children. I saw the men holding their families tight, offering support to their wives, and often being the person to carry the babies on their chests. I was so taken by the grace of the families as they arrived, coming through the shock and unspeakable loss many (most) had endured. I was able to see how they could teach us, in solidarity, how connected we all are -- how the same we all are.
How safe is it for volunteers like you? I have never felt in danger on my trips. I have been to Athens two times, and Lesvos once. We would arrive sometimes at 4 am and stay until past midnight. There are eyes on everyone, caring for and keeping everyone safe. The situation has become slightly more volatile with the terrible EU deal with Turkey and the boarders closing. There is desperation, but I am returning June 3 to do the work, sit with these mothers, share and hold space like some do for each other. [A true doula's heart~SB]
Can you describe a typical day? As a group, we created jobs for ourselves, like a mama bear to make sure everyone was eating and crying and laughing enough, ferry trackers to watch the ships come in on a boat, watch apps on the phones, and photographers and journal writers to record this work. We would be up most days around 4 am, shovel a protein bar or an apple in, and taxi to the ports. The ferries carry 1000-2500 refugees at a time, and some days, we received 6 boats. These are the large boats bringing all the people from the islands after they made it from being smuggled overnight from Turkey. We would maybe take a nap at the cafe or back at our apartment if there was time between arriving boats, or travel to the short term camps to distribute aid and carriers, or even just sweep the floors. We spend time in the warehouses collecting specific needs for the camps we are going to that day, and organizing if there is a ferry strike. Many late nights, we would gather to decompress, cry it out, and share a plate of pita or Greek salads. The next day would often start 5 hours later. I have never been so glad to be so tired. It was like having a newborn child, you just "do it" and love hard.
I have always been impressed by your mother's kind and gentle, generous nature. How has she shaped your desire to help others? My mother's kindness and amazing compassion has absolutely created the desire in me to help others. I saw her always welcoming a new neighbor with dinner, or helping to feed or clean for a new mother. I have always believed we are all neighbors and connected, because of my mother's nature. She inspires me every day to be more giving and gentle, even with myself.
How many times have you been to Greece now? Are you planning to go back? What is required in planning a trip? I leave June 3rd for my 4th trip (I did a back-to-back trip in February from Lesvos, and then met and led a team in Athens six days later -- my first trip was in November last year). Buying a ticket is the first step. Everything for my personal needs has to fit in a carry-on. Each team member meets up at a distribution center (we now have three across the country) and picks up about 400 pounds of carriers to travel with. What is needed? A valid passport (not expiring within 30 days), an "anything-could-happen" team player attitude, and a desire to show love are all the requirements you need. Most of our trips are planned the same way until a situation changes, then we must be fluid and rearrange locations and accommodations -- the love and dedication stay the same.
This next trip will be more solo, and I will be working in the camps and directly with a female-friendly space for breastfeeding support, re-establishing lactation, and a place for mothers to bond with each other as they will likely be in camps in Greece for what may be a long time. I will continue to do this work, and I will return until I am no longer needed -- in Solidarity.
May is International Doula Month. And here we are again! The third year of celebrating 31 days of stories for, by, or about doulas! For day one, we feature my dear friend and fellow Bakersfield doula, Emily Willett. I will admit, a year ago a nurse mistook me for my client's mom! I wanted to say to her, "I am only 9 years older than she is!" I simply said, embarrassed, "I'm just her doula." I really appreciate Emily's response, and I fully plan to steal it in the event this happens again!
When I began my work as a doula, I envisioned myself as a laboring Mom’s professional peer. When I would attend a birth in the hospital, the OB would generally ask the laboring Mom, “Is this your sister?” And, I didn’t mind at all. Because it was quite obvious that we were close enough to the same age.
Fast-forward 5 years…I’m sitting in a client’s home and we’re talking about standard childbirth topics. She looks at me and says, “I’m not sure about in your generation, but in my generation...” And inside a little part of me is totally caught off guard. I think to myself, I’m not that much older than her. Remember, we could be sisters, right?
And then about a week later…I’m with a client in the hospital. She just had a beautiful birth, and the OB turns to me and says, “You must be one happy Grandma!” Grandma? I’m supposed to pass as her sister!
And then I remember…6 years ago I was sitting in the home office of my midwife. I was recounting to her how my husband and I were so surprised when we met her that she didn’t have gray hair, or knit, and that she was young. And she said, with a gentle smile: “But someday I will have gray hair, and I will be old. And I will still be a midwife."
Today…I don’t have gray hair, YET, but I am beginning to feel the change of no longer being seen as a birthing mama’s peer -- maybe being seen more as an experienced woman or mother and doula instead. And as much as I enjoyed the sisterhood of age, I think I am learning to appreciate and cherish the role as an older doula.
There are moments when a woman presses in, burying her face in my chest and gathers her strength to pass through her next contraction, and I have words for her. Words that have brought many mamas through intense moments in their journeys. And I am thankful for the years of experience I have had leading up to that moment.
There are moments when a daddy looks at me, referencing my face, to see if what is happening is “ok.” And, when he sees my soft lines and smile wrinkles, he finds comfort in that visual embrace. For that, I am thankful.
There are moments when a nursing mama calls me in tears, wondering what is happening in her body, and I can share the stories of all the women who have come before her, feeling the same feelings, wondering the same things, and ensure her that she too will find her way. And, for that, I am humbled, and blessed, and thankful.
Yes, being young and new can be thrilling, and exciting, and somewhat ego-stroking. But if there is anything that I am learning as the years add up, it’s that there’s nothing like settling into something you love, and being allowed to pour out all that has been given to you. And, age is just a marker of all the time I have been given to learn to love, and cherish, and pass along to this world the beauty of women and babies and birth.
So, to the gray hair, I say, “Bring it on!”
To the Mama who sees that there is a generational difference between us, I say, “Let me share with you some stories.”
And, to the OB who asks if I am this child’s grandma, I say, “If I were only so lucky!”
Emily is an "Al Dente Mom"TM, navigating the space between ultra-crunchy and mainstream mothering. As a birth doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding peer counselor, she founded Mommy Matters in 2011, with the hopes of educating and supporting mothers in her community. Emily is passionate about helping mothers find their voice, and confidence, while following their unique parenting path.
Although Chelsea is in my area, Bakersfield, I "met" her in an online doula group. I love connecting doulas together, so immediately we began talking, and soon after we met. I knew she was busy last week, with some surprise early babies. I asked her to share what she learned as far as meeting the need of her clients and her families -- thus this post was born!
I believe I’m the youngest doula in my area at just 20. I have two young babies of my own and I’m learning to balance work life with mommy life, along with being married and having my own home. This last week has been crazy with two births back to back -- six long days of trying to get my footing and figuring things out. I learned five key facts this week that will help me get through many more times just like this one!
1. Have stable childcare! I’m serious. I wasn't expecting two clients to have babies so early so I still hadn't set up childcare. I was rushing around like a mad woman trying to find people to keep my two while I ran off at odd hours to births. My dad and my best friend ended up taking the blunt force of my lack of planning. Random calls of “Can I drop them off right now?” and having to answer the question of, for how long with, “ I HAVE NO IDEA." So this is definitely of primary importance as a doula and a mom of 2.
2. Remember you need to eat too! We are constantly encouraging moms and dads during births to eat and stay hydrated. Well I forgot that I needed to, too. I got home from day one of births this past week and realized I had eaten a pack of mini donuts and a Dr. Pepper -- and that was it all day! I suggest having small snacks in your bag like granola bars and a bottle of water that can be refilled. How can you care for mom and dad if you, yourself, have no energy whatsoever?
3. This one is super difficult. Balancing sleep/work/ motherhood. I was coming home from nights at the hospital at 3 and 4 am. I would come home to my very lived-in house and shudder, knowing that I needed to do housework. I would go and lay down in my bed and fall asleep doing none of it. My husband, I’m one of those super lucky women by the way, would get up with the kids in the morning allowing me a few extra hours in the bed. I would then get up, still exhausted, to spend time with my kids, not knowing when I would need to rush off again. You have to find a balance between them all. I know its hard, but it's a necessity!
4. I had to learn when enough was enough. I sat in a client's room until 3am while she slept, and I watched her every movement, waiting to get up and walk her through the next contraction. When she was asleep and her meds were working, I was still on that super uncomfortable doctor's stool. I waited and waited until finally, I was okay to head home. I was burning myself out much too quickly. I was tired and hungry and frustrated that I couldn't have done more. You have to learn that it's okay to take care of yourself, too.
5. This one is the closest to home. I was sitting up at the hospital at random intervals for 6 days. I missed my babies. I missed my husband. I missed my puppy and sharing my bed with them all. I got close to crying several times from missing them. But I had to sit back and realize doing what I was doing was beneficial for us as a family. Jumping head first into my work while the timing is right, giving myself the chance to bring in more income helps my family! We plan to have more children, and I know doula work will come and go according to our family life. Right now I can show my babies that moms can do amazing things. Know that if you are doing what's best for you and yours, that not only brings security to your family, but also it offers support to the expecting family -- that helped me when looking at all the hours gone by.
This past week has been crazy for this brand new doula! Two births back to back. Preemie ones at that. I’m exhausted. I’m happy. I’m PROUD. I’m helping change our birth community one birth at a time, and that feels amazing.
Chelsea attended her first birth in February of 2015. She was led to doula work when she realized how little women understood about their bodies and their choices around pregnancy and birth. Motivated to help that change, she is training formally through Birth Arts International, with the ultimate goal of becoming a midwife. Chelsea and her husband have two little ones, and a brand new puppy. You can learn more about her by visiting her Facebook page.
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.
Today, a dad and former client shares his feelings on hiring a doula. Enjoy!
My wide (oops! wife!) is the one suggesting doula in our house. I am the one who scoffs at this idea. Women and men have been having babies forever and I am obviously capable to be there to support her (like all the dads before me right?). When we have disagreements we have a system where we each right down 5 reasons for our point of view and we share these with each other. . . sometimes it ends up fixing our issue and sometimes it ends up a way for me to sleep on the couch. We tried it. I had some good ones.
1. Money factor when we would have lots of bills and expenses
2. Stranger at the most (almost most) intimate time of our life
3. Doctor P. said he wouldn't recommend it
4. Hurt our moms' feelings since they both want to come and we told them no
5. I really think I will feel bad if you have someone else taking care of you. I am sure I don't need a doula to help me take care of you.
Well my wife decided to hit each of my points with her own points (she even used a red pen and underlined things twice. Did I mention she is a teacher?):
1. Money factor when we would have lots of bills and expenses
YOU AREN'T HAVING THE BABY. SO WE CUT BACK ON EATING OUT.
2. Stranger at the most (almost most) intimate time of our life
WE WILL MET HER AND HIRE HER, WE GET TO CHOOSE HER. YOU AREN'T HAVING THE BABY.
3. Doctor P. said he wouldn't recommend it
DR P. ALSO SAID HE DID HIS OWN VASECTOMY. HE IS NOT HAVING THE BABY EITHER.
4. Hurt our moms' feelings since they both want to come and we told them no
REMEMBER HOW MY MOM ACTED AT OUR WEDDING? AND HOW YOUR MOM ACTED AT YOUR NEPHEW'S CHRISTENING? WE DON'T WANT THAT CRAZY IN OUR HOSPITAL ROOM. AND THEY AREN'T HAVING THE BABY EITHER.
5. I really think I will feel bad if you have someone else taking care of you. I am sure I don't need a doula to help me take care of you.
I AM SCARED TO HAVE A BABY. I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE. I WANT A DOULA. I AGREE YOU DON'T NEED A DOULA. YOU ARE NOT HAVING THE BABY.
So in the interest of sleeping in my bed I agreed to meet some doulas. And guess what? I was right that I didn't need a doula. But my wife did. And I admit she knew what she as doing.
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.
I am incredibly thrilled to share today’s post. Samantha Morgan is the youngest trained doula I have ever known. She has faced adversity and prejudices, but that hasn’t stopped her from working toward her goals. At 14, I was thinking of boys and music – I certainly didn’t care much about birth and moms’ experiences! It has been inspiring to see Samantha’s passion, and her desire to help families.
I thought both of my doula trainings were amazing (birth & postpartum). I loved my trainers and they were able to bring fun into their trainings and put it on a level where everyone understood. I've been a vet tech for the last two years and I love getting to spend time with clients and I always love helping when an animal comes in with difficulties in labor. When a friend of mine told me about doulas, I couldn't believe there was actually such a thing, I was so excited. I have always loved kids and babies, and I love going above and beyond to help people. Thankfully DONA International doesn't have age restrictions, so I was able to take my trainings at 14, making me the youngest trained doula yet. I was able to graduate high school earlier this year and I'm now eligible to apply for certification having attended 6 births. At 15 (right before my birthday), I took a Lamaze workshop in Houston with The Family Way -- I am the youngest to take it and I plan on certifying in October once I take the exam.
Being young and not having children myself is actually one of my biggest problems (that I don't consider my problem!). Last year I joined in affiliation with another doula business, and after about 3 months, the head doula called me in and said “the other doulas in the group don't feel comfortable having you as back-up since you don't know what women go through having not experienced it yourself. They are also worried, since it seems like you just jumped into the doula carreer, you are not likely to stay in it.” So I was “let go.” I started talking with another doula who was young and childless herself. Together we found, looking down on doulas who have not gone through birth can be a very big problem in the doula community. This led to me create a Facebook group strictly for those doulas 25 and under who don’t have children.
I have never been turned down to be someone's doula. My clients always comment on loving my beliefs and personality. The local Midwife loves me, as I her, and she loves the fact that when I go to a birth, hospital or home, I'm dedicated to stay with my client no matter what. I have pulled all-nighter all the way to 3 nights with no sleep. Why? Because it's not my birth, I have plenty of time to sleep later. I was given great advice by one of my trainers to not freely give out my age. Of course if I'm asked I do tell, but you don't see it on my web page or in write-ups.
My main client base comes from literally all directions. I normally find myself traveling for births. I travel up to 2 hours away. I suppose most of my clients are ones who already know how they are wanting to labor or deliver. I make sure my clients have an opportunity to tell, express, and fight for what they are wanting -- whether that be natural, medicated, or even upside down, I support my clients 110%. My clients choose me because of my heart, not because of my life experience. I love working with clients to find an affordable price, to find what they need, what I can do, even the smallest things, to be able to help them. I'm always there for my clients, and I don't need to ever step away to make a phone call to check on kids, a babysitter or husband. I'm devoted and educated. I know the most recent research and facts that have been proven so that the client can make informed decisions immediately.
I love my job, my clients and everything in between. I don't worry about what client I will have next; my personal motto is that God will bring me what I need. He has never failed me. Often clients come from people I meet -- car sales man, bosses of expecting employees and such. For example, I needed a car and the salesman’s wife was expecting. He asked what I did, and I get the opportunity to share my passion. Guess what? He wants a doula for his wife. What an amazing divine appointment! I never let the strikes against me bring me down or discourage me; God will bring me exactly what I need and not a second too soon.
I am a DONA trained Birth and Postpartum Doula. I attended my Birth workshop in March 2013 along with a Childbirth Education Class and a Lactation Class (all DONA Approved). In April 2013 I attended my Postpartum Workshop. I'm currently working on my DONA certification. In April 2014, I attended a Lamaze Childbirth Educator Workshop and I'm looking forward to becoming certified in the late fall.
I believe every woman is empowered to give birth her way, naturally and confidently. My mission is to provide doula care and supply expecting parents with the information and education they need for pregnancy, labor, childbirth and the postpartum period. I want to give parents the loving support and encouragement they need during this special time.
For more information, visit my website, my Facbook page, or find me on Twitter.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)